Count Paul Myerberg of USA TODAY among those who aren’t consuming any burnt orange Kool-Aid this summer, as the longtime college football writer recently slotted the Texas Longhorns as the No. 7 team in the Big 12 Conference.
So Myerberg is definitely not having what FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt is having — recall that the former Colorado quarterback predicted that Texas will win the conference this season.
Here’s what Myerberg is thinking:
It would probably be more accurate to have Texas essentially tied with Oklahoma State and Iowa State in the Big 12 pecking order. Seeing the Longhorns in seventh is jarring for two reasons: one, this is a talented roster infused with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and two, this is Tom Herman’s second season. Good things happen for good coaches in Year 2. But the Longhorns are young in spots and unproven in others. The defense loses its two most impactful starters in Malik Jefferson and DeShon Elliott. Quarterback play needs to take a significant step forward. This is the boom-or-bust team in the Big 12 in 2018: Texas could explode in Herman’s second year or remain an unpredictable bowl team that fails to crack the league’s top three or four.
In fairness to Myerberg, there probably isn’t that much difference between Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas in terms of reasonable preseason projections — the Horns have certainly underachieved for years.
Finishing the regular season at .500 and then winning a bowl game for the first time in half a decade isn’t exactly the ideal standard in Austin.
Sure, Texas is young and unproven in areas, but a number of players return from injury, graduate transfers filled in some key spots, and there is a lot of talent.
The defensive concerns are legitimate, but too many national writers seem to forget that the Longhorns played the Texas Bowl without DeShon Elliott and Malik Jefferson. And while Poona Ford is basically irreplaceable inside, Chris Nelson had an impressive sophomore season at nose tackle and will fill in ably this season as long as he can stay healthy.
The Horns don’t need that much boom to improve this season’s record. Just a little better finishing.
Yet, combine Bill Snyder’s resurgent wizardry with a host of returning players on both sides of the ball and consider that the Wildcats somehow won eight games last season. Ten wins was closer for Kansas State than it was for Texas in 2018.
Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State have won 10 games in six of the last eight seasons. And while the Cowboys haven’t been able to consistently get past the Sooners, no other programs have either. However, the bottom line is that despite the loss of talent, it’s a reasonable bet that Gundy can get around eight wins out of his team. For the standard he’s set, that would be underachieving.
Iowa State seems like the most questionable inclusion above Texas. Sure, Kyle Kempt is back for another year at quarterback and running back David Montgomery will continue to run through most every Big 12 defense he faces. The losses at skill positions and several other key spots limit the team’s upside this season. Here’s a thought, though — underestimating head coach Matt Campbell and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock would be dangerous.
Of course, there’s also reasonable disagreement from a deeper analytic perspective — SB Nation’s Bill C. put Texas in the second spot of his second tier of conference teams at No. 3 overall behind Oklahoma and TCU.
So there are some arguments for and against Meyerberg’s ranking, but perhaps his most incisive analysis is pegging Texas as the Big 12’s great boom-or-bust team of 2018. And busting is something that head coach Tom Herman can’t allow to happen in his second season.