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Are the best days of Texas football behind them?
That answer depends on how you view the program. If you are a younger fan of the Longhorns, then a ten win season and good bowl game may be acceptable. On the flip side, any fan who watched during the Darrell Royal or Mack Brown eras may see these results over the last decade as unacceptable.
When discussing the overall history of college football, Texas has been viewed as an elite program. With all of the recent struggles, the national spotlight has been removed from Austin, Texas. Let’s begin with the issues that bar the return to national supremacy:
When Tom Herman took over after Charlie Strong’s horrific tenure, fans were patient. They knew he was handed a 5-7 football team that was trending down. That is, until he pulled in the third overall recruiting class in his first full cycle as head coach. That class contained 11 of the top 15 guys from Texas, which is fantastic.
The classes following 2018 are where the problem begins. In the 2019 class, Texas only managed to pull in three guys out of the top 20 prospects from their home state. Top 20 nationally ranked talents like Garrett Wilson and DeMarvin Leal went on to other programs.
In the 2020 class, Herman did better numbers-wise on recruiting players in-state. Of the 20 enrollees, 19 came from Texas. The problem is the five players who were five star prospects all signed elsewhere.
For the upcoming 2021 class, the post signing day numbers aren’t good. Texas is coming in with a 17th ranked class nationally. Of their signed guys, only eight are four stars or better. Only one of those signees is in the top 25, for the whole state of Texas.
The bottom line is that if Texas can’t at least compete in its own state on the recruiting trail, the battle is all but lost. The Longhorns used to pull anyone they wanted out of their own state. Now it’s hard for them to pull any top talent, and that’s showing on the field.
Play Style Problems
On the defensive side of the ball, Texas has glaring issues. Though defensive coordinator Chris Ash did his best to correct the mistakes, they’re still prevalent. It was a ton of missed assignments and blown coverages that led to the lowly rankings.
Texas ranks 109th nationally against the pass with 266.4 yards per game. They ranked better against the run, sitting at 140.2 yards per game and 37th nationally. These numbers may be skewed a bit but they did get better over the course of the season.
On offense, it seems like Texas always runs the same exact plays in certain situations. When it’s third or fourth down and short, you know that there is going to be a quarterback run. Yes, Sam Ehlinger was a load to bring down, but that’s how you get your quarterback hurt.
This is the same type of game management heat Herman received, when he was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State. The passing game looks nowhere near as explosive as their rival Oklahoma’s. Lincoln Riley, the Oklahoma head coach, runs a diverse scheme that gets players wide open. Herman should take pieces and install them into his game plan.
Regardless of aforementioned recruiting woes, Texas is always going to produce NFL talent. Next season, the Longhorns will be losing some day one and day two NFL draft picks. That includes left tackle Sam Cosmi, safety Caden Sterns, and All-American linebacker Joseph Ossai. Sam Ehlinger, the long time quarterback will also be out the door, but there is definitely hope on the horizon.
Texas can and likely will return to prominence. Here’s how:
Young Talent Is Incredible
Let’s start with the obvious. Bijan Robinson is an absolute animal in the backfield. He carried the Longhorns to a dismantling of the Colorado Buffaloes in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The last time a Big 12 true freshman running back received this much hype, a guy named Adrian Peterson was suiting up for the Sooners.
Tom Herman needs to realize what he has with Robinson and feed him the ball. Not only is he effective in the running game, but he’s great as a receiver. For an NFL outlook, Bijan Robinson is very comparable to Kareem Hunt. Look for him to be a Longhorn legend and a future NFL star.
The other man in the backfield with Robinson put on a show in limited action. Quarterback Casey Thompson definitely looks the part as the signal caller. In his short stint in the Alamo Bowl, Thompson slung four TD passes going 8/10 for 170 yards. His deep ball was on point and he looks primed to step in and lead a vertical passing attack.
On defense, the Longhorns will need someone to step up. That role is destined to be for B.J. Foster. Reports came out that he quit on his team during the UTEP game early this season. However, he apologized and served his disciplinary actions to rejoin the team.
Once he returned, Foster had a solid season at safety. Foster is a five star talent that hasn’t fully reached his potential. If Chris Ash and his defensive staff can unlock that talent, Foster will become an All-Conference talent.
Big 12 Declining
With the coming out of Iowa State this year, the Big 12 seems to always be a two horse race between Oklahoma and someone else. It’s very likely that Matt Campbell could leave Ames for a more lucrative job in the near future. Recent powers like TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor have fallen off immensely.
Texas could take advantage of this over the next few seasons, as they’ve seemingly found their future backfield. The Big 12 isn’t built to stop star running backs like Robinson. That’s why Herman needs to feed him like he did Ezekiel Elliott at Ohio State. As long as Texas can get above average play from their defense, the offense should keep them in contention.
So Are They Done?
No, but one foot is out the door. If the Longhorns don’t claim a conference title in the next two seasons, Herman could be looking for a new job. Texas offers all the resources a program could get. If Texas can’t win their own conference in over a decade, they can’t be labeled an elite program anymore. It’s up to Herman to flip that script.