Typically, Texas fans have sky-high expectations heading into the season opener. Optimism bubbles to the surface in the media, too. Not this year, though.
ESPN’s Lee Corso drew snickers from the “College GameDay” crew when he picked Texas to win the Big 12. Over on Fox, Robert Smith got some serious side-eye when he picked the Longhorns to make the College Football Playoff.
Those two pundits aside, there’s been a wait-and-see approach about these Longhorns from most national reporters.
“I would,” Texas coach Tom Herman said Monday.
So that’s fair? “Yes. Fair,” he said.
So, bring on Maryland?
“You are what your record says you are,” Herman said in summoning the famous Bill Parcells quote. “We went 7-6 last year, and until we step out on a field and play a game, everything from our last game until now says that we are the last iteration of what you saw us.
“Do I feel confident in the fact that we’ve improved and developed?” he continued. “Do our kids, our players, our coaches? Do the players in that building feel confident that we’ve developed? Absolutely. But if I was Joe Fan, I would feel the same way.”
Saturday’s season opener at FedEx Field will mark just the fourth time since 1995, but the third since 2010, that the Longhorns are starting the season on the road. Maryland opened last season with a 51-41 upset win over the 23rd-ranked Longhorns at Royal-Memorial Stadium, spoiling Herman’s UT debut. The Terrapins finished the season 4-8.
On paper, it’s practically a similar setup in the return matchup. Texas is once again ranked 23rd in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The main difference is that Maryland has been engulfed in turmoil while things have been rather quiet in Austin. The Terps will likely be without head coach DJ Durkin, who is on administrative leave while school officials weigh his future. Offensive lineman Jordan McNair died on June 13, two weeks after struggling to recover from a workout. The school has admitted mistakes were made about his care.
But Maryland’s solid offensive line returns as does running back Ty Johnson, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
Herman’s enjoyed a rather uneventful August, by comparison. There were few surprises when the Longhorns unveiled their depth chart on Monday. Eight true freshmen were named on the offensive and defensive two-deep roster alongside four redshirt freshmen.
Sophomore Sam Ehlinger is listed as the starting quarterback ahead of junior Shane Buechele, who started against Maryland last year. Even Herman admitted that Buechele will likely play at some point. The coach said earlier this month he does not envision an in-game rotation, though.
“Shane made it very difficult to make that decision,” Herman said. “Probably the hardest decision that I’ve had to make as a head coach and coordinator.”
At running back, graduate transfer Tre Watson was listed as an either/or starter along with sophomore Daniel Young and freshman Keaontay Ingram, but it’s likely all will get on the field Saturday.
Collin Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Devin Duvernay were listed as the starting receivers along with tight end Andrew Beck. Herman called Humphrey a “Swiss Army knife” for his versatility. There’s a slew of youngsters behind them, though. Freshmen Brennan Eagles and D’Shawn Jamison are both backups.
Graduate transfer Calvin Anderson was listed as the starter at left tackle. Sophomore Derek Kerstetter got the nod over redshirt freshman Samuel Cosmi at right tackle.
On the defensive side, keep an eye on the linebackers, a group that had injury issues in training camp. Herman praised Malcolm Roach — “His versatility is off the charts” — and Gary Johnson.
Jeffrey McCulloch was listed as senior captain Anthony Wheeler’s backup. Wheeler will miss the first half of the Maryland game because of a targeting ejection penalty from last season.
Freshman Caden Sterns will start at safety, and the coaching staff has raved about freshmen B.J. Foster and Anthony Cook. Those two will likely play some in Landover, Md.
At kicker, Herman said he hasn’t made a final decision yet between senior Josh Rowland and freshman Cameron Dicker.
“I don’t think you’ll see both. I don’t,” Herman said. “The guy that makes the most pressure kicks here in the next couple days will be the guy that jogs out against Maryland.”
The pressure will start ratcheting up in the days and weeks to come.
Herman looked relaxed Monday, joking with reporters and praising this team’s offseason work. It cannot be overstated how continuity will help. After years of revolving offensive coordinators, players are working with the same playbook for the second straight year.
“First time in five years that these kids have been able to take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, I know what this is. I know what this means. I’m not learning a new language,’” Herman said.
And speaking of the offense, Herman continues to stiff-arm any questions about offensive coordinator Tim Beck, this team’s primary play-caller last season.
Herman hammered home the point that he’s got veto power over any play that’s called by Beck in the press box. Game-planning is a collective decision, one that’s done throughout the week, not a haphazard guesstimate in the heat of battle.
“Fans, the minute this offense gets a hangnail, blame me and the entire offensive staff. We good?” Herman said.
That’s the question, really. Will Texas be good?
Corso and Smith believe so. Texas fans would love to think so, too.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.