A few months ago, our annual rundown of Texas’ schedule would have looked quite a bit different.
There would have been a marquee matchup at LSU to discuss. And a scouting report on South Florida. Even the order of scheduled Big 12 games wouldn’t have even looked the same.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Texas now is essentially just playing a conference schedule. The season gets underway next Saturday at home against UTEP. The conference’s revamped schedule then kicks off on Sept. 26.
Media members picked Texas to finish third in the Big 12. Before determining whether the Longhorns will meet or exceed those expectations, let’s take a look at the challenges they will face.
Game 1: UTEP
Sept. 12, 7 p.m., Royal-Memorial Stadium (Longhorn Network)
Texas fans aren’t that far removed from the back-to-back Maryland letdowns of Tom Herman’s first two seasons, so maybe it’s too early to count this opener as an easy win. At least one website, though, has UT favored by 42 points. Texas last won an opener by that many points in 2013.
UTEP hasn’t posted a winning record since 2014, and the program is still rebuilding under third-year coach Dana Dimel. After going winless in 2017, the Miners have mustered a pair of 1-11 campaigns. No other FBS school in the country — and there are 130 in all — has failed to win at least five games over the past three years.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 5-0. Their five matchups — UT 41-7 (2016), UT 64-7 (2009), UT 42-13 (2008), UT 22-6 (1933), UT 28-0 (1930)
Game 2: at Texas Tech
Sept. 26, 2:30 p.m., Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock (Fox)
Texas’ last two trips to Lubbock have featured dramatic endings in the end zone. In 2016, Longhorns cornerback Kris Boyd picked off a Patrick Mahomes pass with nine seconds left, preserving a 45-37 victory. Two years ago, Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s 29-yard touchdown catch in the final minute was the difference in a 41-34 Texas triumph.
— Danny Davis (@aasdanny) November 5, 2016
— Danny Davis (@aasdanny) November 11, 2018
In their last two wins over Texas Tech, the Longhorns have faced a backup quarterback. Will Alan Bowman stay healthy? Playing In 11 games over the past two years, he has thrown for 3,658 yards and 23 touchdowns. As a freshman he had a 605-yard game against Houston.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 52-17. Their last five matchups — UT 49-24 (2019), UT 41-34 (2018), Texas Tech 27-23 (2017), UT 45-37 (2016), Texas Tech 48-45 (2015)
Game 3: TCU
Oct. 3, Royal-Memorial Stadium
TCU has won five of the last six games against Texas, including perhaps the Longhorns’ most damning loss of the 2019 season. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was picked off a career-high four times in last year’s 37-27 loss.
Keep an eye on both backfields in this one. There were only three five-star running backs in the 2020 recruiting cycle, and Texas and TCU signed two of them. Bijan Robinson, who was the nation’s No. 1-ranked back, is now a freshman with the Longhorns. Zachary Evans, who was ranked second, ended up at TCU after a whirlwind recruitment.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 63-26-1. Their last five matchups — TCU 37-27 (2019), UT 31-16 (2018), TCU 24-7 (2017), TCU 31-9 (2016), TCU 50-7 (2015)
Game 4: Oklahoma
Oct. 10, 11 a.m., Cotton Bowl, Dallas (Fox)
Over the last three years, Oklahoma has thrown two Heisman Trophy winners and a Heisman runner-up — who went on to become the first, first and 53rd overall picks of their respective NFL drafts — at the Texas defense. Redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler, this season’s starter for the Sooners, was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in 2019. He has thrown 11 passes so far in his college career.
Speaking of quarterbacks, don’t overlook the importance of his game to Ehlinger. For legacy purposes, Ehlinger has gone 1-3 against the Sooners. He ranks seventh in UT history with 33 career starts and should end up passing Peter Gardere’s 41 starts for second place. Six Texas quarterbacks have logged at least 34 career starts. Of them, only Marty Akins and Bret Stafford failed to beat the Sooners at least twice.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 62-48-5. Their last five matchups — OU 34-27 (2019), OU 39-27 (2018 Big 12 title game), UT 48-45 (2018), OU 29-24 (2017), OU 45-40 (2016)
Game 5: Baylor
Oct. 24, Royal-Memorial Stadium
In 2017, Texas made it to the Texas Bowl. That next year, it was Baylor representing the Big 12 in that game. In 2018, Texas got to the Sugar Bowl. That next year, it was Baylor in the Sugar. Since Texas appeared in the 2019 Alamo Bowl, should we just pencil the Bears in for San Antonio already?
Baylor likely has bigger ambitions, but achieving them won’t be easy. After leading the Bears to an 11-3 season last year, head coach Matt Rhule left for the NFL. Denzel Mims, last year’s leading wide receiver, is now with the New York Jets, and All-American defensive lineman James Lynch is a Minnesota Viking.
New head coach Dave Aranda, though, did inherit an experienced quarterback in Charlie Brewer. The senior from Lake Travis enters this season needing 2,625 yards to pass Robert Griffin III to become Baylor’s career passing leader. Last year Brewer threw for 221 yards and a touchdown against the Longhorns, helping Baylor snap a four-game losing streak in the series.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 78-27-4. Their last five matchups — Baylor 24-10 (2019), UT 23-17 (2018), UT 38-7 (2017), UT 35-34 (2016), UT 23-17 (2015)
Game 6: Oklahoma State
Oct. 31, Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
This game could end up determining who plays in the Big 12 championship game; the Cowboys were picked second and the Longhorns third in this year’s conference preseason poll. Oklahoma State boasts two tantalizing offensive talents in running back Chuba Hubbard — who led the country in rushing last season — and wide receiver Tylan Wallace, a 2018 Biletnikoff Award finalist. The Cowboys averaged 32.5 points and 453.9 yards a game last year.
Texas recorded a 36-30 win over the Cowboys in 2019, but replicating that result on the road won’t be easy. Texas has fallen the last two times it’s gone to Stillwater. The Longhorns were ranked both times, Oklahoma State was not. A last-minute confrontation between head coaches Tom Herman and Mike Gundy provided the final fireworks in the Cowboys’ 2018 win.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 25-9. Their last five matchups — UT 36-60 (2019), OSU 38-35 (2018), OSU 13-10 (2017), OSU 49-31 (2016), OSU 30-27 (2015)
Game 7: West Virginia
Nov. 7, Royal-Memorial Stadium
Both schools have proven to be rude guests over the past few years. Last season in Morgantown, Texas’ 42-31 win was highlighted by a one-handed interception by D’Shawn Jamison and left tackle Samuel Cosmi’s touchdown run. West Virginia’s 42-41 win in Austin in 2018 came down to a late 2-point conversion.
West Virginia is the only Big 12 team that has an all-time winning record against the Longhorns. That margin is narrowing, though. In fact, Texas can tie the series with a victory this year. Can West Virginia defensive lineman Darius Stills, the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year, prevent that from happening?
Texas history: West Virginia leads the all-time series, 5-4. Their last five matchups — UT 42-31, West Virginia 42-41 (2018), UT 28-14 (2017), West Virginia 24-20 (2016), West Virginia 38-20 (2015)
Game 8: Kansas
Nov. 21, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kan.
Kansas has six quarterbacks. They’ve thrown a total of 19 career passes for the Jayhawks. Still, experience may not be the determining factor in this one since the biggest job a KU quarterbak has is handing the ball to Pooka Williams Jr., who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two years. In two games against Texas, he has 41 carries for 293 yards and three touchdowns.
The Jayhawks again have been picked to finish last in the Big 12. But it’s unlikely that the Longhorns are thinking this one will be a cakewalk. A field goal on the final play has determined two of the last four games between these rivals. Texas also had to hold off a Jayhawks rally their last time in Lawrence in 2018.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 16-3. Their last five matchups — UT 50-48 (2019), UT 24-17 (2018), UT 42-27 (2017), Kansas 24-21 (2016), UT 59-20 (2015)
Game 9: Iowa State
Nov. 27, Royal-Memorial Stadium (ABC or ESPN)
Ehlinger threw for 3,663 yards last year, but he’s not the Big 12’s leading returning passer. That would be Iowa State junior Brock Purdy, who totaled 3,982 yards. But Purdy threw 27 touchdowns; Ehlinger had 32, which makes him the conference’s returning leader in that category.
Want another quarterback storyline? Last month, Austin High senior Charles Wright flipped his commitment from the Cyclones to his hometown Longhorns.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 14-3. Their last five matchups — Iowa State 23-21 (2019), UT 24-10 (2018), UT 17-7 (2017), UT 27-6 (2016), Iowa State 24-0 (2015)
Game 10: Kansas State
Dec. 5, Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
Last year, Texas kicker Cameron Dicker beat a ranked Kansas State team with a 26-yard field goal on the final play of the game in Austin. That 27-24 win for Texas marked the fourth straight year that this game has been decided by six points or less.
A fun subplot to this game could be the performance of UT’s receivers against Kansas State’s cornerbacks. The Longhorns receivers are coached by Andre Coleman, a former Kansas State player and assistant coach. And the Wildcats cornerbacks are coached by Van Malone, who earned all-Southwest Conference honors at Texas in 1993.
Texas history: Texas leads the all-time series, 14-3. Their last five matchups — UT 27-24 (2019), UT 19-14 (2018), UT 40-34 (2017), Kansas State 24-21 (2016), UT 23-9 (2015)