Welcome to the offseason, y’all.
With a national championship game for the ages now in the books and just under eight months until the Texas Longhorns kick off against the Maryland Terrapins at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, it’s time for the Way-Too-Early 2017 rankings, with ESPN slotting the ‘Horns at No. 25.
Here’s the reasoning behind the hope for improvement from a team that returns eight starters on offense, 10 on defense, and All-American punter Michael Dickson:
Former Houston coach Tom Herman won't work miracles in his first season in Austin, but the Longhorns will have a chance to finish among the top four teams in the Big 12. Herman won 13 games in his first season as a head coach, and he'll be inheriting more talent at UT. Quarterback Shane Buechele gives Herman a chance to win right away, but the Longhorns will miss 2,000-yard rusher D'Onta Foreman. As many as 10 starters are expected back on defense, and that's where Herman and his staff need to do the most work. UT will get a big early test at USC on Sept. 16, and the Longhorns will play Big 12 road games at Baylor, TCU and West Virginia.
The Big 12 projects to be a tough conference in 2017 with five teams making ESPN’s list.
Oklahoma State earns top billing at No. 7 due to quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington both deciding to return to school for one more season, but the defense will have to survive a significant amount of attrition.
Rival Oklahoma comes in at No. 10 thanks to the return of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who will helm an offense forced to replace wide receiver Dede Westbrook along with running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
Following a bowl win over Texas A&M, Kansas State ranks No. 17 after an impressive nine-win season with a young team, while TCU ranks No. 19 due to plenty of returning experience.
By contrast, the power rankings from the Big 12 writers place the ‘Horns fifth, behind the Mountaineers and in front of the Horned Frogs.