If we’re being honest, sportswriters hate filling out preseason polls. It’s a total guessing game.
Picking the No. 1 team is easy. Filling out the top 10 isn’t much trouble. Then comes slots 11-15, and things slow down. Hey, Google, who’s ranked 18th, 19th and 20th? Filling out the last five is brutal. Some use slot No. 25 to make some political statement. I like this coach, so I’m ranking his team 25th.
OK, sure. It doesn’t affect the outcome, but you feel better in the process. You showed ’em.
We could argue all day long over who belongs on the American-Statesman’s annual preseason top 25 poll. But I know with crystal-clear certainty one team that doesn’t — the Texas Longhorns.
Fourteen pollsters made up this year’s voting pool on the Statesman’s preseason top 25. When all the votes were tabulated, Texas slipped into the final spot at No. 25. Regional bias? Perhaps. More likely, there weren’t many other great choices.
Warhorses always get the benefit of the doubt. Look at the Associated Press’ Top 25 the last few years. Coming off back-to-back losing seasons, Texas started 2016 unranked. After a stunning overtime victory over Notre Dame, the Longhorns rocketed to No. 11 the following week. Then came a win over UTEP, then three straight losses, then a 5-7 finish and then a coaching change.
From unranked to the cusp of the top 10 after one game? Uh, no.
Last year, new coach Tom Herman was probably the main reason why the Horns — who were then riding three straight losing seasons — were ranked 23rd in the preseason (and 22nd by us, in July). Maryland fixed that issue right quick. Texas went 6-6 during the regular season.
The only reason to give Texas any consideration this summer was its 33-16 win over Missouri in the Texas Bowl. With multiple starters out, the Longhorns pulled together and knocked off a rather smug bunch of Tigers, who thought it’d be an easy night at NRG Stadium. Now, the phrase “secure the bag” is part of UT bowl lexicon.
The groupthink among the fourth estate is uncanny, and that’s why you’ll see the Longhorns in several preseason top 25 polls. Texas was 7-6 last season. Herman’s a good coach. Recruiting is going gangbusters. C’mon, it’s Texas!
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, per se. It’s all true. But how many Power 5 schools with a 23-27 record over the last four years get favorable consideration like that?
The 2018 Longhorns should be free from any and all preconceived notions. It should be a blank canvas.
Sam Ehlinger has incredible promise as a sophomore. But the quarterback was directly responsible for three late losses last season. Has he learned from those pressure-packed moments?
Graduate transfer Tre Watson and incoming freshman Keaontay Ingram give the Horns two fresh faces in the backfield. If Ehlinger leads the team in rushing for a second straight year, this program is likely going nowhere.
“You can have the best running back in the world,” Herman said after the spring game, “and if you can’t block anybody, it’s not going to matter.”
Malik Jefferson and DeShon Elliott, UT’s leaders in tackles and interceptions, respectively, last season, are gone. But is anyone really that worried? Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando isn’t.
“The way I look at it, we’re at the University of Texas,” Orlando said this spring. “We should recruit to that level, too.”
Herman was handcuffed by his kicker last season. Without a consistent scorer inside the opponents 20-yard line, Herman had to go for it on fourth down. A lot. Texas was 14 for 30 on fourth-down attempts. By adding Lake Travis kicker Cameron Dicker, Texas got the best kicker recruit in the nation.
Yes, there’s a ton to like about this year’s roster. The schedule lays out in UT’s favor, too.
Does anyone really think Herman won’t have his charges prepared for the Maryland rematch? Sitting here today, it’s unimaginable that the Terps will catch the Horns off guard this time.
Texas will be big favorites the second week against Tulsa. And then comes the rematch with USC. This one will be at home in front of a sold-out crowd at Royal-Memorial Stadium. If Texas can piece together a 3-0 start, it will be team not only gathering top-25 votes. The Longhorns will be talked about as a playoff contender. And it will be totally deserving.
Just not now. Not yet. This team — the 2018 team, not the program — hasn’t earned it. These Horns haven’t earned anything yet.
Herman should welcome any tamping down of preseason expectations. Conversely, he should embrace heightened expectations, assuming his team follows his mantra and goes “1-0.” Week after week after week. Fans should just enjoy the ride.
But it’s July, and preseason practice is weeks away. Save all the hyperventilating for September.
Now then, as far as the Statesman’s preseason poll is concerned, who’s 24th? Texas A&M?
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.