When Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman touted the strength gains his team made during winter conditioning, skeptics were quick to disregard it all as typical offseason hyperbole that gets especially pronounced when a new strength and conditioning coach takes over.
When Herman talked about how excited he was to coach this team, it was easy to disregard it as typical offseason hyperbole.
But in a Monday appearance on The Audible podcast with Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports football analyst Joel Klatt provided an endorsement that carries with it the credibility of distance and perspective.
“What jumped out to me, I was down there last spring and there were just a couple of guys that were, ‘They’re clearly really good players.’ Connor Williams was one of them,” Klatt said. “Malik Jefferson was one of them. Then there were just a lot of question marks. The wide receivers looked good, but hadn’t really proven anything.”
To Klatt, the gains that the players have made in the last year were remarkable when he saw them in person.
“Then this year, when I went down and I’m standing there with coach (Tom) Herman, it hits me like a ton of bricks. It’s like, ‘This team looks drastically different.’ From size, speed potential, athleticism, it looks drastically different than it did a year ago at this time.”
So perhaps it’s time to give Yancy McKnight some credit and Herman the benefit of the doubt for the praise that matches up with Klatt’s observations. In fact, Herman specifically mentioned in public and to Klatt that this team has come a long way.
Now Klatt is a believer.
“I really believe — pending the health of their quarterback who I believe is going to be Sam Ehlinger and should be Sam Ehlinger — that’s a really good football team,” he said. “I could see them, and I could see them competing for the Big 12 Championship this year, his second year.”
Right now, ESPN’s FPI projections agree, as Texas is ranked as the No. 17 team nationally, behind only Oklahoma in the Big 12. With a projected number of wins at 8.6 and a 20.8-percent chance of winning the the conference, the Longhorns do project as a contender in that metric.
Of course, the program has hardly done much in recent years to deserve the benefit of the doubt heading into the season. And there’s plenty that can happen between now and the start of the season, especially in regards to injuries, as last season showed. For Klatt, though, there’s some cause for optimism.
“Listen, it all has to do with health and clearly that team in week three, it’s as a big one against USC in terms of the momentum and so on and so forth, but this is a really good football team,” Klatt said. “They kept all of their assistant coaches. They paid them a lot of money, including Todd Orlando. I think they could legitimately take the next step. I came out of there very bullish on Texas.”