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Bohls: Texas' Bijan Robinson looks to have it all, especially the workload

Texas running back Bijan Robinson celebrates a touchdown scored against Kansas State with teammate Jake Majors during last season's game in Manhattan. Robinson figures to be a key part to first-year coach Steve Sarkisian's offense.
  • Bijan Robinson led the Texas team in rushing with 703 yards last season and should double the total.
  • As a true freshman, Robinson never had more than 16 carries in a game last season.
  • With a new quarterback and the lack of a big-time receiver, Bijan is the focal point.

ARLINGTON — Make no mistake about it, Bijan Robinson is the face of the Texas football team.

Maybe he’ll actually become the legs of it, too.

That would represent great progress.

The use of the freshman running back in his first season became the most visited topic this side of Tom Herman’s binder and hopefully that issue can be put to rest early in 2021.

Robinson should get the ball. A lot. A whole lot.

He’s got everything you want in a back. Strength. Vision. Patience. Explosiveness. Hands. Lateral moves. The ball (hopefully).

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Robinson and new head coach Steve Sarkisian have had conversations about his workload, but Robinson reminds he never had as many as 20 carries in high school in Arizona.

"I just want to make sure my endurance is good," Robinson said, "so I'm prepared for whatever they ask, whether it's 25 carries a game or 10."

To top it off, he’s a 6-foot, 215-pound specimen and as polished and humble a player as there is in college football.

"Bijan's got the it factor," Sark said. "It's not a some time thing. It's in his soul. As good a football player as he is, he's probably a better human being."

Texas running back Bijan Robinson answers questions from the media on Thursday during the final day of Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The revolutionary innovation of name, image and likeness was made for Robinson because he’s a handsome guy, he’s got a sterling reputation and a great smile and — with a likely assist from his head coach — he’s building his name. Rapidly.

And he’s badly needed. His profile as well as his production.

During his 30-minute session with the press, he constantly talked about "how blessed" he is and how he loves doing those short videos that cost 100 bucks a pop in part because "I'm the type of guy who wants to put a smile on your face."

This is a floundering Texas program that has won just two conference titles since the shocking win over Nebraska in 1996 and fired its last two head coaches over seven years, three if you count Mack Brown in 2013. Since Texas’ last Big 12 title in 2009, five of the other nine league teams have had at least a share of the crown.

Enter Robinson.

Bijan Robinson hit the ground running as a true freshman and should hit the hole with the ball a whole lot more in 2021 as well as score big on the field and with name, image and likeness rules.

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With a brand new quarterback who has never started a college game or thrown a truly meaningful pass in the regular season and an average offensive line at least to start the year and no alpha receiver as of yet, Robinson should be the centerpiece of the offense. By default, if nothing else.

"Yeah, he'll be the center point of what we do," Sarkisian said, adding he loves play-action football and RPO. "Every year I've called plays in college football, I've had a 1,000-yard rusher. Bijan's got that one-cut ability where he can be going full speed, make one cut and not lose speed. I saw that every day with Reggie Bush (at USC), and Bijan is impressive."

So impressive, Robinson even wears the same No. 5 jersey that Bush donned.

Much like Mack rode Heisman winner Ricky Williams' coattails in 1998 and Fred Akers did Earl Campbell's in 1977, Robinson is a winning horse that Sark should bet on.

In truth, the tandem of Robinson and the electric Roschon Johnson to go with Alabama transfer Keilan Robinson and freshman Jonathan Brooks, Texas is in excellent shape at running back. A case could be made that the Longhorns’ stable ranks with the best in college football, not far behind those of Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama.

But Robinson looked special in his six starts as a true freshman with a team-high 703 yards and a school-record 8.2 yards a carry and enters his second season as a legit Heisman contender. His chances, of course, hinge greatly on a team that should win between eight and 10 games if all goes well in Sarkisian’s first season.

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Robinson’s coming-out party came in the Alamo Bowl when he ran roughshod over, through and around a lacking Colorado defense.

It should have come much sooner.

Instead, he was kept on a short leash by Herman to the point that Longhorn Nation and the entire Texas media corps were practically begging for more Bijan.

It was a no-brainer.

Or should have been.

Now it appears obvious that Texas will feature a run-centered offense for the first time since D’Onta Foreman cracked 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns in 2016. That, of course, also coincided with Charlie Strong’s final season and an unforgettable loss to Kansas.

That season was a wreck with exasperating defense and a too-often ineffective Shane Buechele.

Strong rode Foreman hard, giving the power back the ball a whopping 323 times that season. He all but finished his career in his next-to-last game with a 51-carry day against the Jayhawks that was good for 250 yards and two touchdowns, but a late fumble by the exhausted Foreman proved critical.

Foreman had the ball 51 times on one afternoon. Robinson totaled only 86 last season. While Foreman went over 30 carries a game in the six last contests, Robinson never had more than his 16 attempts versus Iowa State. Moreover, he was given the ball fewer than 10 times in almost half (four) of his nine games.

Robinson’s a much better talent than the one-trick bulldozer Foreman was and has NFL potential written all over him.

What’s amazing is that as a freshman, Robinson obliterated the Buffaloes in San Antonio when he ran for 183 yards. On just 10 carries. Just think what he might have done with a dozen. Or 15 carries. Or, dare we say it, 20 or more.

Not maximizing Robinson’s talents didn’t get Herman fired. It didn’t help his case, but Herman had other sins of commission than omission during his four years in Austin.

Herman was pink-slipped in January because he completely alienated his own players as well as the administration and media and fan base and pretty much anyone who regularly came into contact with him and could win bowl games but not the conference.

One big difference between Herman and Sarkisian, the guess here, is that the current head coach will play his best players. All the time, damn any hurt feelings or recruits’ parents or whatever.

He did it at Alabama, but then they were all great players. Najee Harris was clearly one of them and got the ball early and often. He had a whopping 251 carries for 1,466 yards and chipped in 43 receptions for 425 yards and four touchdowns as well.

Sark will use what he has and use it often.

If not, history will repeat itself.

Our preseason Top 25

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

Our previous Top 25 team stories:

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels are hoping, banking on good returns from Lane Kiffin 3.0

No. 24 Washington: Huskies' Morris looks like the quarterback to run with — for now

No. 23 Louisiana: Billy Napier could be college football's next big thing (if he wants that)

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions' safeties honed their craft at Lackawanna

No. 21 Oklahoma State: The next Gundy (Gunnar) begins his Cowboys career

No. 20 Iowa: Huskies' Dane Belton knows path to NFL goes through team's success

No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Ready or not, the Chanticleers intend to stay awhile