We’re 41 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We continue with our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked first, second, eighth and 13th in our 2018 poll.
Our No. 9 team: Texas
The Longhorns’ best-case scenario: The season may likely depend on whether QB Sam Ehlinger plays all 12 games. His hard-charging style was the primary reason why the Longhorns vaulted back into national prominence last year, including a win in the Sugar Bowl. But one awkward tackle and this becomes Casey Thompson’s show. UT’s defense will have plenty of new faces this year, and that unit will need time to gel. Ehlinger must be the team’s undisputed leader.
And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? Obviously, an Ehlinger injury opens the door to a 7-5 or 8-4 type of finish. But what if defensive coordinator Todd Orlando can’t get much production out of Malcolm Roach or Ta’Quon Graham? There is hope with the linebacker unit, but it’s young. Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns must patrol the middle of the field and wreck havoc. Playing three of the final five games on the road looks daunting if the Horns are banged up.
Last year, Texas was 25th on our preseason poll.
Inside the Longhorns
Coach: Tom Herman (3rd year, 17-10; 39-14 overall, 4 years at Houston and Texas)
2018: 10-4, 7-2 in the Big 12 (beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl). It was the most wins and the highest final ranking (No. 9) for the Longhorns since the 2009 season.
Returning starters: 5 offense, 3 defense
Shoes to fill: RB Tre Watson (led team in rushing); WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey (1,176 yards, 9 TDs); LG Patrick Vahe (4-year starter, now with the Ravens); LT Calvin Anderson (New York Jets); ILB Gary Johnson (led team in tackles); LB Anthony Wheeler (2nd on team in tackles); DB P.J. Locke III (31 career starts); CB Kris Boyd (first-team all-conference); DE Charles Omenihu (9.5 sacks, Big 12 defensive lineman of the year)
Spring cleaning: QB Cam Rising transferred out (Utah), leaving Thompson as Ehlinger’s de facto backup. But the bigger news was the arrival and then transfer of receiver Bru McCoy. He went back to USC after going through spring drills. The coaching stafff remains intact, a key sign of stability, and Herman also received a two-year contract extension. A $175-million stadium renovation has begun, and Texas’ long-term arrow appears to be pointed up.
PASSING: Sam Ehlinger (led team), 275-425-3,292 yards, 25 TDs, 5 INTs
RUSHING: Keaontay Ingram (2nd), 142-708-3; QB Sam Ehlinger (3rd), 164-482-16
RECEIVING: Collin Johnson (2nd), 68-985-7; Devin Duvernay (3rd), 41-546-4
TACKLES: S Brandon Jones (4th), 70; S Caden Sterns (6th), 62
SACKS: DB B.J. Foster (T-4th), 2.5
INTERCEPTIONS: S Caden Sterns (1st), 4
Returning All-Big 12 (6)
Offense: C Zach Shackelford (2nd team), OT Samuel Cosmi (hon. mention), QB Sam Ehlinger (hon. mention)
Defense: S Caden Sterns (defensive freshman of the year), S Brandon Jones (hon. mention)
Special teams: K Cameron Dicker (2nd)
Knowing how to close: Despite some crazy fourth quarters last season, Herman continually stressed that Texas needed to finish. UT wound up going 7-3 in one-possession games. Seven wins ended with Texas in the victory formation, taking a knee to run out the clock. That’s a huge difference from anything that’s happened previously this decade.
Ready to run: Keaontay Ingram was expected to have a major role last year as a freshman. But he was simply too light. He has added 15 pounds of “armor,” as Herman calls it, and the former Carthage star should be a major contributor in 2019. Ingram and freshman Jordan Whittington are likely to be UT’s top running tandem. Whittington was a high school All-American who enrolled early to go through spring drills.
Secondary reloading: Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns have become close friends, and both are anxious to play the two safety positions. The cornerback spot is still uncertain after losing starters Kris Boyd and Davante Davis. Junior Josh Thompson, sophomores Jalen Green, D’Shawn Jamison and DeMarvion Overshown all earned praise at various moments throughout the spring. Expect to see different combinations throughout August as coaches experiment.
2018 national stat rankings
Scoring: 46th (31.1 ppg)
Total offense: 57th (411.3 ypg)
Passing: 34th (258.2 ypg)
Rushing: 90th (153.1 ypg)
Red zone offense: 82nd
Time of possession: 22nd (32:28)
Scoring defense: 57th (25.9 ppg)
Total defense: 67th (392.8 ypg)
Pass defense: 110th (261.4 ypg)
Rush defense: 28th (131.4 ypg)
Red zone defense: T-17th
Turnover margin: 19th
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Aug. 31||Louisiana Tech|
|Sept. 14||at Rice|
|Sept. 21||Oklahoma State*||L, 38-35|
|Oct. 5||at West Virginia*||L, 42-41|
|Oct. 12||Oklahoma* (Dallas)||W, 48-45|
|Oct. 19||Kansas*||W, 24-17|
|Oct. 26||at TCU*||W, 31-16|
|Nov. 9||Kansas State*||W, 19-14|
|Nov. 16||at Iowa State*||W, 24-10|
|Nov. 23||at Baylor*||W, 23-17|
|Nov. 29||Texas Tech*||W, 41-34|
|* Big 12 game (Texas fell 39-27 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game)|
The key game? Sept. 7, LSU. This looks like one of the best non-conference games of the entire college football season. LSU QB Joe Burrow returns from a terrific junior year. The winner will likely draw early CFP consideration.
The last 5 years
|2014||6-7 / 5-4||— / —||Texas Bowl, L|
|2015||5-7 / 4-5||— / —||No bowl|
|2016||5-7 / 3-6||— / —||No bowl|
|2017||7-6 / 5-4||23rd / —||Texas Bowl, W|
|2018||10-4 / 7-2||23rd / 9th||Sugar Bowl, W|
|Total||33-31 / 24-21||3 bowl games (2-1)|
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 9: Texas
Our Top 25, by conferences
Big Ten — No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska
Pac-12 — No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Utah, No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford
SEC — No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 19 Auburn
Big 12 — No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Iowa State
AAC — No. 16 Central Florida
Independents — No. 18 Army
ACC — No. 23 Syracuse
Coming tomorrow: Our No. 8 team
Want a hint?
This school’s head coach was an offensive tackle at Miami in the late 1980s/early 1990s, where he played for Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson and won two national championships with the Hurricanes.