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BON roundtable previews the 2017 Texas Longhorns football season

Setting expectations for Tom Herman’s first season in Austin.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Considering all of the hype, what, if anything, has convinced you that 2017 will be the year Texas finally turns it around under Tom Herman?

Cody Daniel: As I detailed after the Herman hiring, he’s found significant success at just every stop of his professional career and the results are typically noticeable sooner than later. And now, unlike Charlie Strong, Herman inherits a team that looks ready to take the step forward, at least on paper. Quarterback? Check. Experience? Check. Talent? Check. If Texas is finally overcome the documented sense of entitlement and realizes the name on the jersey doesn’t win games (see Kansas) and Herman can get these guys to play with a chip on their shoulder and have fun doing it, 2017 should be a successful year.

Curry Shoff: Everything Tom Herman has done this offseason - increased social media presence, facilities upgrades, recruiting success - demonstrates that this guy is 100 percent the real deal. The hype exists because we know Texas has talent and we know that talent has been underutilized. Based on everything he's done, there is no reason to doubt that Herman won't have this team turned around quickly.

Cole Patterson: Tom Herman has had success at each of the previous two stops he’s been. At Ohio State, Herman helped develop J.T. Barrett into a legitimate Heisman contender all season long. He was clearly one of the premier quarterbacks in college football, and what Herman did with him and that offense was remarkable after Braxton Miller went down just before the season began. Then with third string Cardale Jones, the offense didn’t miss a beat. It may have gotten even better. His offense wasn't a fluke, either. When Herman took over the Houston job, he developed Greg Ward from a part time wide receiver into one of the nation's most electrifying quarterbacks. What he did what the program – beating Oklahoma and Florida State, landing Ed Oliver, and putting the football team on the map – really sold me on his coaching abilities.

John Lamons: The most impressive attribute the ‘Horns have shown me that makes me think they’re ready to compete in 2017 is their physical conditioning. The team has lost 500 pounds of fat and gained 380 pounds of muscle since the 2016 season, while increasing their average back squat max by 70 pounds. The most impressive statistic that Herman quoted when crediting Yancy McKnight’s conditioning program is the vertical leap, which increased by an average of one-and-a-half inches for the squad. That means that not only are the ‘Horns leaner and stronger, but they have built explosive strength, which results in more speed and better lower body power used in the basic football fundamentals like blocking, tackling, and shedding. It also will likely result in better, longer sustained leg bend, resulting in a lower center of gravity and more wins in the individual battles on the football field. Winning individual battles results in team wins, and based on their gains during the offseason conditioning program, the Longhorns look to be in excellent position make progress in 2017.

Wes Crochet: I don't know if "convinced" is the right word but I will say my confidence is about as high as it has been in over half a decade and that's because Tom Herman is leading Texas. He has great leadership qualities, a good football mind, and what seems like a real plan for this program.

Shane Buechele broke numerous freshman records, but there are concerns about his fit in Herman's offense. Is Buechele due for a sophomore slump or will he wrap up 2017 as one of the better gunslingers in the Big 12?

Cody: If all offseason reports prove true, Buechele has taken a praiseworthy step forward as a leader and field general, so I don’t expect a sophomore slump. How big the jump will be remains to be seen, but my concern for his development will come if Texas can’t find productivity from its running backs. As a freshman, Buechele enjoyed defenses focusing on D’Onta Foreman, but that’s no longer the case. It will certainly be interesting to see how he reacts to defenses emphasizing the passing game more and how he’s able to utilize the weapons at his disposal.

Curry: Herman made it to a national championship using three different quarterbacks at Ohio State. With Herman and OC Tim Beck, I can't imagine we see substantial regression in Buechele's quarterback play. He won't be the best QB in the Big 12, but this staff can make him a legit weapon.

Cole: I think we see an even better year from the true sophomore. Buechele showed glimpses of growing into an elite college quarterback during his debut against Notre Dame. Albeit the Irish did not turn out to be as good as advertised, but playing like that on that kind of stage to open the season was impressive nonetheless. Enter Tom Herman's offense and coaching, I expect the sophomore to make a huge leap.

John: That’s a tough question. Buechele played extremely well for a freshman in 2016, but by today’s standards of college quarterbacks, his statistics were largely average. Tom Herman has criticized Buechele’s ball security several times in spring and fall camp, which provides some concerns for his ability to learn the new offense. On the bright side, Buechele displayed the ability to play with the best college athletes early in 2016, prior to a thumb injury, which affected his late season performance. The sophomore quarterback has added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and may have the best receiving corps in the nation. Additionally, his offensive line returns largely intact from 2016, and the scheme should allow for him to get the ball quickly to receivers and more yards after catch. The deal breaker for Buechele could be the ability of the running backs to stay healthy and produce yards on the ground, providing opportunities for Buechele in the passing game.

Wes: I can't compliment Herman's football mind then turn around and say Buechele will regress. Herman has proven success with QBs and will put an offense around Buechele to succeed.

In a preseason world where anything is possible, what's your one bold prediction?

Cody: I won’t but the house on it, but I also won’t be surprised if Texas heads to California and pulls off the upset over USC. Sure, the Trojans are the better team, but there are plenty of questions: how does USC replace three starting offensive linemen, a tight end, a running back and the top two receivers all lost to the NFL? And that’s just on the offensive side of things. If Todd Orlando can get Texas’ defense to look anything close to how his Houston defenses did against Oklahoma and Louisville, this game could get really interesting.

Curry: Every game is winnable and the only one that truly terrifies me is Iowa State in Ames on a Thursday.

Cole: My bold prediction is that Texas goes into the LA Coliseum and gives USC its first loss of the season. Now, that might be too bold too quickly for Herman and company, but Texas certainly has the talent to pull it off. If Buechele can have a big game and the defense shows up, it's possible. That kind of win would show that Texas is on its way back.

John: I’m not going to go as far as guaranteeing conference championships, but I will step out on a limb and provide two big predictions for the upcoming season. Texas will have a top 10 defense nationally, despite playing in the Big 12, and will beat Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout.

Wes: Texas finishes in the top three in the Big 12 for special teams TDs.

Most agree Texas will finish somewhere between 9-3 and 7-5. What's the one deciding factor that will determine which side of the spectrum Texas finishes on?

Cody: Health, quarterback play and how the defense holds up against the pass in Big 12 play. The Longhorns depth isn’t ideal and losing Buechele could be detrimental. And with or without Buechele, Texas will have a hard time winning games if the defense allows as many yards through the air as it did in 2016.

Curry: Quarterback play.

Cole: I think Texas can win nine games because I believe the offense takes the next step under Tom Herman. The 'Horns lose Foreman to the NFL, but Connor Williams returns to anchor the offensive line, Buechele is back after a season leading the offense, and I believe John Burt grows into a legit go-to target this fall. Also, with Malik Jefferson leading the unit, the defense should only improve after another year of experience.

John: As a defensive coach, one of my favorite sayings was, “make them snap it again.” This refers to stopping the big plays defensively. Keeping offenses from achieving explosive plays has been a struggle for the Texas defense in recent years. Big 12 offenses are going to gain yards, but the Longhorns must minimize the explosiveness of these offenses if they hope to compete in the Big 12 in 2017. n order to achieve this, the Horns must be sound with their coverage assignments and tackling, both things the 2016 team struggled with. If the team can grow in those two areas, they will put Texas ahead of the curve in the rebuilding process, and potentially allow the team to compete for the Big 12 in 2017.

Wes: Whether or not the offensive line can stay healthy. The starting unit can be solid, the lack of depth behind it is concerning.

This team can finally boast the experienced label and that means guys could be in line to take the next step. Who's your breakout player for 2017?

Cody: I’d say Devin Duvernay. He’s the fastest player on the team and now a starter, I’m pretty confident Herman’s offense will lead to an abundance of opportunities for Duvernay to do what he does best in open space.

Curry: My guess is Collin Johnson will be the standard pick here. I like that, but I have two others – Devin Duvernay and PJ Locke. Duvernay is a speedster this offensive staff can have a lot of fun with and Locke is a guy who has been getting hyped up all offseason (named a team captain) and could really make a difference in the secondary at nickel.

Cole: My breakout player is John Burt. As mentioned above, I believe Burt will truly see a huge jump in production this season and finish as one of the Big 12's best wideouts when the season is done. Burt flashed the potential of becoming a go-to guy for the offense as a freshman, but fell off a bit as a sophomore. With a re-energized program and a returning starter at quarterback, I think Burt is primed for a big season for the Longhorns.

John: Kris Boyd has to be the breakout player in 2017. He may not be the most widely recognized player by the fans, but he doesn’t have to be. If Boyd can lock down the boundary side of the field in coverage this season, it will provide Orlando with the ability to get creative in his coverages against the pass-happy Big 12. While he may not be the silent hero of the defense, Boyd’s success will allow Orlando to confuse quarterbacks and bring pressure in multiple ways, leading to a successful season for the Longhorns defense.

Wes: Offense: Kyle Porter, Defense: Kris Boyd

More specifically, Sam Ehlinger is Texas' top-ranked freshman, but he may spend much of the year behind Buechele. Which true freshman's name can fans expect to hear throughout the season?

Cody: I’m going with tight end Reese Leitao. He’s suspended for the first two games, but has drawn raving reviews throughout camp and with Andrew Beck gone for the season, Leitao should be able to secure a role in the offense fairly early on.

Curry: There aren't a lot of guys from the 2017 recruiting class that standout as immediate impact players. If I had to guess, defensive end Ta'Quon Graham — who earned high praise from Herman during fall camp and is in a position group with not a lot of depth — will be the true freshman that gets the most attention this season.

Cole: As far as freshmen go, I think Ta'Quon Graham can have a productive season along the defensive line for Texas. The true freshman out of Temple has impressed this offseason and was the first to lose his 'red helmet stripe' under Herman. Also, look out for JUCO transfer Gary Johnson. A former Alabama commit, Johnson can have a big role behind Malik at the Rover position.

John: Cade Brewer is going to have a major impact on this team. He has the ability to line up in the slot and is an above average route runner, even for a wide receiver. He has added weight, and reports are that Brewer is serviceable in the run game. The depth chart lists him as the second tight end, with Garret Grey as the number one. This indicates that graduate transfer Kendall Moore has not proven to be the answer at the position with senior Andrew Beck out for the season with a fractured foot. As the season progresses, look for Brewer to be a major contributor for the offense, especially in red zone situations.

Wes: Ta’Quon Graham

Texas faces a fairly difficult schedule, which includes three preseason top 10 teams in the first seven weeks. What's the worst-case scenario for Texas that would still leave you feeling like progress has been made in 2017?

Cody: I’d say 8-4. If it weren’t for field goal issues in 2016, Texas may have been an 8-4 team last season so just 7-5 won’t be noteworthy to me. Texas is already favored in nine of its games and Herman is 6-0 against ranked competition as a head coach.

Curry: I can't see this team falling below 8-4. 7-5 is the absolute worst-case scenario I can imagine and some crazy things would have to happen for Texas to finish that poorly.

Cole: I believe the worst-case scenario against the top three teams that Texas plays (OU, OSU, USC) and sill feel like progress has been made would be going 1-2 against the three. If UT beats the Sooners but fall in a close battle to Pac-12 favorites USC on the road and in a shootout against Mason Rudolph and Oklahoma State, I believe that there would still be some optimism.

John: 7-5 will feel like progress, but anything less would be a disappointment. This team has the talent to win 10 games and should be ready to compete in the Big 12 in short order. Looking at the schedule, there’s no reason that Texas should lose more than five games.

Wes: Worst case with progress would be a 6-6 season derailed by injuries.

When it's all said and done, what would you consider a successful first season under Herman?

Cody: From a record standpoint, 8-4 and preferably, 9-3, but the goal is obviously to end the season saying Texas turned the corner and not can Texas turn the corner in 2018? Either way, I think Texas is a year away from truly competing for the Big 12 title, but that should be clear by the end of the season.

Curry: Beating Kansas.

Cole: I believe a successful season in year one of the Tom Herman era in Austin would be a nine-win season, including a bowl win. This program has gone too long without tasting any success, so in order for fans to completely buy in and commit, I believe at least an eight-win regular season and a bowl win over a quality opponent would be awesome for Texas in 2017.

John: I projected Texas to be an 8-4 team in 2017. With that, eight wins or more would be a successful season, but if the team can escape its tough October schedule winning two out of three against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State, Texas could compete for the Big 12 title.

Wes: Football is judged by wins and losses: eight wins, not including a bowl win.