Our 13th annual preseason Top 25: No. 18 Texas turns keys over to a new coach, quarterback
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.
No. 18 Texas
No matter how you felt about the coaching change, Longhorns fans have to recognize this program is close. Texas lost to TCU by fumbling on the 1-yard line, lost to Oklahoma in four overtimes and missed a potential game-tying field goal against Iowa State as time expired. But that all happened with a senior quarterback, who is now gone. New coach Steve Sarkisian must determine whether Casey Thompson or Hudson Card is best to follow Sam Ehlinger. The offensive and defensive lines should be solid, but there aren’t enough proven standouts at receiver and linebacker. Big September games against Louisiana and Arkansas will set the tone for the entire season.
Texas was ranked 11th in our preseason poll last year. The Longhorns finished 20th in the final CFP poll and the coaches poll, and 19th in the AP poll.
About the Longhorns
2020: 8-3, 5-3 in the Big 12 — fourth place in the conference. Texas beat Colorado 55-23 in the Alamo Bowl, its fourth straight bowl victory in as many years.
Coach: Steve Sarkisian, 46-35 in eight seasons at Washington and USC. This is his first season at Texas after spending the past two as Alabama's OC.
Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Shoes to fill: QB Sam Ehlinger (Colts, 6th round); LT Samuel Cosmi (Washington Football Team, 2nd); JACK Joseph Ossai (Bengals, 3rd); S Caden Sterns (Broncos, 5th); DT Ta'Quon Graham (Falcons, 5th); WR Jake Smith (transfer, USC); RB Keaontay Ingram (transfer, USC); HC Tom Herman (Chicago Bears analyst); OC Mike Yurcich (Penn State OC); DC Chris Ash (Jacksonville Jaguars DBs); recruiting coordinator Bryan Carrington (USC)
The biggest offseason news was the change in head coach. Texas dumped Herman after four winning seasons and four bowl wins but only one appearance in the Big 12 championship game. Sarkisian has to find a way to push the Horns over the hump; the Longhorns are winning championships in practically everything but the signature sport. ... There was good news and bad news at receiver. Troy Omeire, a highly touted redshirt freshman, bounced back from a torn knee ligament and participated in some spring drills. But the Horns lost veteran slot Jake Smith to the transfer portal. Smith had nine career touchdown catches. ... RB Bijan Robinson will get most of the preseason hype, and perhaps for good reason. He rushed for more than 100 yards in three of UT’s last four games. But don’t forget about Roschon Johnson (5.3 yards per carry, 13 TDs) and new addition Keilan Robinson, a transfer from Alabama. This position is stacked for now.
Passing: Casey Thompson 12-17-225, 6/0 (2nd on team); Hudson Card 1-3-5, 0/0
Rushing: Bijan Robinson 86-718-4 (led team), Roschon Johnson 80-418-6 (2nd)
Receiving: Joshua Moore 30-472-9 (led team)
Tackles: LB DeMarvion Overshown 60 (2nd)
Sacks: DL Moro Ojomo 2 (T-2nd)
Interceptions: LB DeMarvion Overshown 2 (led team)
Offense: TE Cade Brewer (hon. mention), WR Brennan Eagles (hon. mention), WR Joshua Moore (hon. mention), RB Bijan Robinson (hon. mention)
Defense: DT Keondre Coburn (hon. mention), LB DeMarvion Overshown (hon. mention)
Special teams: K Cameron Dicker (2nd), RET D'Shawn Jamison (hon. mention)
How the pandemic affected Texas: The Horns had their COVID-19 outbreak last summer, giving players plenty of time to rest and recover. However, the South Florida game and the rematch at LSU were both canceled. UT will now play in Baton Rouge possibly closer to 2030. The regular season finale against Kansas was also scrapped after the Jayhawks couldn’t field a team, giving Texas just 10 games total. Sarkisian was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after arriving in January, which delayed him meeting his new players. The Horns then had another outbreak just after spring football began when players returned from spring break. After a week-long pause, the Horns completed their full allotment of 15 practices.
DKR facelift: Many Texas fans were kept away from Royal-Memorial Stadium last season because of COVID-19 restrictions. The Horns played just nine regular season games. When fans return, they’ll discover the $175 million south end zone project has been finished. The athletic department also installed a new FieldTurf surface with end zones that more resemble burnt orange.
Getting defensive: Herman’s UT offenses averaged more points per game each year before topping out at 42.7 last season — and it still wasn’t enough. The defense also allowed 28.5 points last season, a high on his watch. New defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski inherits a unit that was tied for eighth in the league in sacks (17) and struggled on third downs. DT Keondre Coburn has to help plug up the middle for a defense that was seventh overall in the Big 12 last season (406.6 ypg).
2020 national stat rankings
Where Texas ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Longhorns ranked in 2019.
Scoring: 7th (2019 — 17th, +10 spots)
Scoring defense: 61st (65th, +4)
Total offense: 19th (14th, -5)
Total defense: 64th (97th, +33)
Passing: 27th (20th, -7)
Pass defense: 108th (127th, +19)
Rushing: 37th (48th, +11)
Rush defense: 38th (45th, +7)
Sacks: 93rd (69th, -24)
Interceptions: 29th (31st, +2)
Red zone offense: T-43rd (12th, -31)
Red zone defense: 52nd (104th, +52)
Turnover margin: T-10th (T-33rd, +23)
Time of possession: 106th (42nd, -64)
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels have plenty of firepower to work with
No. 24 Washington: Huskies back for more after 3-2 season
No. 23 Louisiana: Ragin' Cajuns out to prove that they belong
No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum going
No. 21 Oklahoma State: Cowboys have offensive questions, for a change
No. 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes hope this is the year to bump the Buckeyes
No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Chanticleers are here, ready or not
No. 18 Texas
Our No. 17 team. Want a hint?
This school's mascot is named Bucky.