University of Texas linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch (23) and quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) stand next to Texas head coach, Tom Herman, before the team exits the tunnel for the Orange-White spring game held at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April, 13, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [Rodolfo Gonzalez for AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Five months out, what should be the right level of hype for the 2019 Texas Longhorns?

Preseason rankings? All-Big 12 predictions? What is an appropriate gauge of where the Longhorns should be slotted this preseason?

Posted April 16th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • In 2010, One columnist wrote simply, “Garrett Gilbert will do great things here.” Gulp.
  • “They can say whatever they want. We know what we can do.”
  • Did the Sugar Bowl win guarantee Texas a Big 12 title in 2019? Absolutely not.

Just for grins, go dig through the Texas spring football clippings from April 2010, four months removed from the national championship game loss to Alabama.

One local columnist wrote simply, “Garrett Gilbert will do great things here.” Another wrote, “it’s safe to say that quarterback is the least of Mack’s worries.” Sure about that?

A receiver, whose identity shall be protected for his sake, told reporters, “It’s scary how talented we are and how good we can be.”

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Oh, 2010 was scary all right. Texas went 5-7 as the program took a massive step backward. It took nearly a decade to recover.

Fast forward to today. The Longhorns are coming off a 10-win season capped by a Sugar Bowl victory. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger has already done great things here. Players have little doubt the program is headed in the right direction.

So just what exactly is the proper level of hype for the 2019 Longhorns?

Texas celebrates a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 2019. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Should Texas be picked to win the Big 12? Maybe second behind Oklahoma? Perhaps a College Football Playoff berth? Is Ehlinger a true Heisman candidate? How explosive can this offense really be? Should this defense be among the league and nation’s best?

“That’s y’alls job,” defensive end Malcolm Roach told reporters after Saturday’s Orange-White game.

OK, Malcolm, if we gave you the notepad, what would you write?

“I wouldn’t say nothing,” he said with a big laugh. “I mean, that’s y’alls job.”

So you wouldn’t say anything?

“I’m not saying that, so don’t write that down,” Roach added. “That’s y’alls job to create the hype.”

Right now, writers are putting the finishing touches on preseason magazine stories. Everyone’s making reservations for Big 12 media day in July. In early summer, preseason All-Big 12 ballots will arrive, and the Associated Press Top 25 ballot will come due.

If the preseason Top 25 was unveiled today, the guess here is that Texas would be ranked in the mid-teens — anywhere from 13th to 16th, perhaps. Chances are the Horns will be (and should be) second in the Big 12 preseason poll, behind the Sooners. OU holds the title until someone takes it.

Oklahoma offensive lineman Dru Samia (75) and fullback Carson Meier (45) throw the Horns down following their 39-27 win over against Texas in the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Historically, Texas has been a program that drowns in preseason hype. It’s somewhat refreshing to hear players echo coach Tom Herman’s company line. “The only opinions that matter are the ones in this (football) building,” he says often.

Herman will shrug off preseason rankings and hype, but let’s be honest, all coaches want to read good things about their team. Administrators, fans and everyone associated with the program want to feel good in August.

Texas fans are voting with their wallets. The American-Statesman reported Saturday that UT is at a 95-percent renewal rate on football season tickets. That’s about 54,500 and counting. Approximately 5,000 new season ticket-holders have jumped on board. Clearly, a few folks expect a big season.

The backup quarterback question appears to be OK with Casey Thompson stepping comfortably into that role. Coaches still need to work out the backup offensive line situation. There appears to be plenty of star power at running back and receiver. This spring, linebackers Jeffrey McCulloch, Joseph Ossai and Ayodele Adeoye appeared to be a solid group. There’s loads of potential up front with Roach and Ta’Quon Graham. The younger secondary players got more practice time with starters Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns out with minor injuries.

Center Zach Shackelford correctly pointed out how last year’s team had virtually no preseason hype and “we did what we did. So I’d say it’s irrelevant.”

Admit it, after the season-opening Maryland loss, most fans thought, “Here we go again!” Herman stuck with Ehlinger in week two — by far the most important decision of his UT tenure — and the train started rolling.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a right amount of hype,” Shackelford added. “They can say whatever they want. We know what we can do.”

During Saturday’s spring game, the 2018 senior class was back on the field hoisting the Sugar Bowl trophy during a timeout. So many fall into the trap of believing that past is prologue. Hang around college athletics enough, and you truly understand that every team has a different feel, different personality, different athleticism.

Texas junior Malcolm Roach (32) celebrates after he tackled West Virginia quarterback Will Grier at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Nov. 3, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

“We don’t use the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ when it comes last year’s team, because that’s not us,” Herman said Saturday night. “That’s last year’s team. What last year’s team did in no way shape or form will affect what this year’s team can do.”

Herman acknowledged the players who are returning have an idea of what worked, what didn’t and how Texas can improve.

“When there’s material testimony, there’s material proof, that our way of doing things can produce that kind of joy and those kinds of winning experiences,” the coach said, “then guys are a lot more willing to put forth the effort necessary.”

Did the Sugar Bowl provide a springboard into the offseason? Absolutely.

Does the win over Georgia guarantee that Texas will steamroll its way to a Big 12 championship this fall? Absolutely not.

“It’s a totally different team right now,” Roach said. “Totally different people, a lot of people have grown up, a lot of people have left. We’ve got to find our identity as a team. That team had their identity. We’ve got to find our identity.”

Roach is right. This August, there will be plenty of preseason hype on Texas. Let the media handle it.

Winning the daily battle to climb the Big 12 mountain, following Herman’s blueprint to the nth degree and staying totally focused internally? That’s y’alls job.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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