Another year, another extremely difficult non-conference schedule.
For the Texas Longhorns, that’s no surprise — the athletic department set it up this way to create early-season exposure against top opponents — and the 2017 season features a showdown with the USC Trojans.
As a result, ESPN ranks the non-conference schedule as the fourth-hardest in the nation:
Sept. 2: Maryland
Sept. 9: San Jose State
Sept. 16: at USC
Tom Herman's "reward" in his first season as Texas' coach is a trip to the West Coast to face No. 3 USC in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That game is the third week of the season, and the Longhorns can always hope they get the version of the Trojans we saw last September and not the version we saw the second half of the season. The opener against Maryland also won't be easy, especially with the Terrapins riding the kind of recruiting momentum they haven't enjoyed in years.
With potential Heisman contender Sam Darnold leading the Trojans in the home game to end the conference slate, the ‘Horns will be in for a serious test — Clay Helton’s team won nine straight games to end the season.
Besides Darnold, one of the breakout stars of the 2016 season, USC also returns stud running back Ronald Jones, a Texas native, and experience on the offensive and defensive lines.
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly projects USC as the No. 7 team nationally next season.
As ESPN mentions, the opener against the Terrapins won’t be easy, either — Maryland signed the No. 17 class nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and already has seven of those signees on campus.
On the positive side for Texas, DJ Durkin’s team ranks No. 72 in the S&P+ projections, so the non-conference schedule might not end up being as difficult as ESPN anticipates unless Maryland can improve after a 6-7 season.
San Jose State replaced USF on the Texas schedule in late September, saving the ‘Horns from facing off against former head coach Charlie Strong.
While the athletic department never anticipated that potentiality, the move was made to provide an easier non-conference opponent for the Longhorns, as the Spartans are ranked No. 105 in the preseason projections after a 4-8 season.
For a second straight year, the Longhorns should avoid losing two non-conference games, but winning all three seems highly unlikely.