Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger enters his final season this fall. He'll likely leave as one of the school's three most prolific quarterbacks ever along with Colt McCoy and Vince Young. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Our 12th annual preseason Top 25: For No. 11 Texas and Sam Ehlinger, it’s now or never

It's Year 4 for both Tom Herman and his star quarterback, and the Horns have been building for it.

Posted July 15th, 2020

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The 2020 college football season is less than two months away. Right? As it approaches with question marks, our 12th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff, breaks down who we think are the top teams in the country.

Last year’s eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in our 2019 poll.

No. 11 Texas

It’s now or never, right? Entering his fourth season, coach Tom Herman has put together four strong recruiting classes. He revamped the coaching staff this offseason. He’s got a senior quarterback who should finish second in most statistical categories in the UT record book. The offense has a solid left tackle and some talented threats out wide. The revamped defense brings some welcome changes, like turning Joseph Ossai into an edge pass rusher. In Mack Brown’s fourth season, Texas broke through for 11 wins and played for the Big 12 title. This is the season Herman himself has pointed to as the breakthrough year. It has to happen, right?

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Texas was ranked No. 9 in our preseason poll last year.

 

About the Longhorns

2019: 8-5, 5-4 in the Big 12; beat Utah 38-10 in the Alamo Bowl

Coach: Tom Herman (47-19 overall, 25-15 in three years at Texas)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense

Shoes to fill: WR Devin Duvernay (all-conference, 3rd round, Ravens); WR Collin Johnson (5th, Jaguars); S Brandon Jones (all-conference, 3rd, Dolphins); DE Malcolm Roach; C Zach Shackelford (all-conference)

 

Catching up

There will be plenty of attention focused on Herman’s two new coordinators — Mike Yurcich (offense) and Chris Ash (defense). Yurcich isn’t new to the Big 12; he worked for six seasons at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys averaged 38 points per game during his six-year stay in Stillwater. He’ll be the primary play-caller as Herman returns to a more CEO-like role. … Ash has worked with Herman three times during their respective careers. He was the co-defensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national title run in 2014. … The Horns signed the nation’s eighth-best recruiting class, and there’s incredible excitement over five-star RB Bijan Robinson. … Michigan WR Tarik Black also arrived as a grad transfer, giving UT a solid weapon. He has 40 career receptions for 507 yards, but also had multiple foot injuries.

 

Texas’ Joseph Ossai, right, will take over the hybrid outside linebacker/pass-rushing defensive end “Jack” position this season. He’s coming off a defensive MVP performance in the Alamo Bowl win over Utah. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

Returning leaders

Passing: Sam Ehlinger (led team), 296-454-3,663 yards, 32 TDs, 10 INTs

Rushing: Keaontay Ingram (led team), 144-853-7; QB Sam Ehlinger (2nd), 163-854-7

Receiving: Brennan Eagles (3rd), 32-522-6; Jake Smith (4th), 25-274-6

Tackles: LB Joseph Ossai (led team), 90; S Caden Sterns (3rd), 58

Sacks: LB Joseph Ossai (led team), 5; Ta’Quon Graham (2nd), 3.5

Interceptions: DB D’Shawn Jamison (led team), 3; LB Joseph Ossai, (T-2nd), 2

 

Returning all-conference

Offense: LT Sam Cosmi (2nd team); QB Sam Ehlinger (hon. mention)

Defense: LB/DE Joseph Ossai (hon. mention)

Special teams: K Cameron Dicker (hon. mention)

 

FYI

Healthy backfield?: One of the rare positives of getting spring football canceled was that it limited the amount of punishment on the running backs. It was hard to keep anyone healthy last season, and coaches even moved 2019 quarterback signee Roschon Johnson to running back to help. Keaontay Ingram and Johnson are the incumbents, but Robinson is expected to get playing time, too. UT averaged 176.5 rushing yards per game last season, but a lot of those came from Ehlinger, too.

New-look defensive line: The biggest change on the defensive side is Ossai’s move from linebacker to a stand-up hybrid role called the “Jack” position. He played off the edge in the Alamo Bowl and went wild. The Horns have Keondre Coburn and Ta’Quon Graham but they need more beef to emerge. The defensive line produced almost no consistent pressure on quarterbacks last season. That must change.

‘DBU’ shakeup: The defensive backfield has been making headlines all offseason for both their play and their actions. Caden Sterns and Josh Thompson were two vocal leaders when a group of players marched to the State Capitol in June to protest racial injustice. Those two, along with B.J. Foster, will help fill the void left by Brandon Jones’ departure. There’s a host of talented corners to choose from. Ash and new corners coach Jay Valai have lots of talent at their disposal.


2019 national stat rankings

Where Texas ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Longhorns ranked in 2018.

Scoring: 17th (2018 — 45th)

Scoring defense: 65th (57th)

Total offense: 14th (58th)

Total defense: 97th (67th)

Passing: 20th (35th)

Pass defense: 127th (110th)

Rushing: 48th (91st)

Rush defense: 45th (28th)

Red zone offense: 12th (83rd)

Red zone defense: 104th (17th)

Turnover margin: 33rd (19th)

Time of possession: 42nd (22nd)

 

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Boise State figures to keep its perch atop the Mountain West

No. 24: Might this pandemic lead to not one, but two Iowa State-Iowa games?Inside the Cyclones

No. 23: Will Kirk Ferentz emerge from Iowa’s summer of discontent unscathed? / Inside the Hawkeyes

No. 22: Cincinnati’s picking up recruiting in 2020 where it left off in 2019 / Inside the Bearcats

No. 21: Former Gamecocks quarterback hopes to take over at Utah / Inside the Utes

No. 20: Central Florida, Darrell Wyatt are reloading with receivers / Inside the Knights

No. 19: Recruits are raving about Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck / Inside the Gophers

No. 18: A Q&A with North Carolina coach Mack Brown / Inside the Tar Heels

No. 17: Jim Harbaugh is fighting for Michigan, college football / Inside the Wolverines

No. 16: Oklahoma State’s Hubbard finds his voice / Inside the Cowboys

No. 15: USC is Zooming up the recruiting rankings / Inside the Trojans

No. 14: Is Jimbo Fisher taking Texas A&M back to the good ol’ SWC days? / Inside the Aggies

No. 13: Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst stands with his players’ new-found voices / Inside the Badgers

No. 12: Assistant coach will Auburn’s recruiting in Alabama / Inside the Tigers

No. 11: Texas Longhorns

 

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 10 team. Want a hint?

This school’s mascot? An Anas Platyrhynchos, for you science-niks.

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