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Texas ranks No. 35 nationally in preliminary S&P+ rankings

Given the lack of returning production and mediocre weight five-year rankings, this isn’t surprising, but there is a major caveat here — Tom Herman.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Texas Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get started with this, let’s just take a moment here.

Take a deep breath. In. Out. Repeat. Repeat.

Say this mantra along with me — “the numbers are not designed to hate the Texas Longhorns.” Repeat. Repeat.

There’s no conspiracy here.

Okay. We good? Good.

On Monday, one of the big days of the early offseason arrived, at least for the wonky college football types and anyone else desperate for something to talk about with around 200 days until the season arrives — the release of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projections.

For the anti-intellectual, intangibles crowd, as well as the conspiracy theorists, none of this really matters, but it is an objective way to get a sense for how Texas compares to other teams nationally. And Connelly continues to work hard to constantly make tweaks to his formula to make sure that it performs as well as possible.

For the Longhorns, the projections are unsurprisingly underwhelming, with head coach Tom Herman’s third team sitting at No. 35 nationally, just behind TCU and Minnesota.

Why isn’t that a surprise?

For one, S&P+ didn’t particularly care for Texas last season, ranking the Horns No. 32 at the end of the season, despite the 10 wins and the Sugar Bowl victory.

S&P+ wasn’t favorable for Herman’s team largely because Texas wasn’t able to convincingly blow out the weaker teams on the schedule. Maintaining that 21-point lead against the Sooners surely would have helped, too.

In the early S&P+ projections for this season, which won’t change much until kickoff against Louisiana Tech, the lack of love from the 2018 rankings hurt, but not as much as the low-ranked returning production (no. 121 nationally) and mediocre weighted five-year rankings. Without the No. 9-ranked recruiting impact, the Horns would be even lower.

Other than the fact that S&P+ wasn’t able to capture the extent to which Texas was capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams last season, the good news here for the Longhorns is that the production from two of Herman’s four teams so far have been significant outliers in a good way. And that’s rare — Connelly listed Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald as the only other active coach who has done that with any consistency.

Herman’s ability to construct an offense last season that was consistent despite lacking explosiveness and his unwillingness to take many risks offensively with the lead are the best explanations for last season, so it will be interesting to see if the Longhorns are able to continue that potentially emerging trend.

Blowing out teams like Louisiana Tech, Rice, and Kansas would go a long way towards gaining some real credibility with S&P+, too, for whatever that is worth.

As a conference, the Big 12 ranks No. 3 in the projected conference averages, down slightly from last season, though there’s some volatility introduced with the arrival of three new head coaches, a full 30 percent of the league.

In terms of specific opponents, LSU is ranked the highest at No. 4, with Oklahoma at No. 5. Oklahoma State (No. 22) and TCU (No. 34) are both in front of Texas, as well, with West Virginia (No. 38), Baylor (No. 40), and Iowa State (No. 43) rounding out the rest of the conference’s top tier. So there’s a definite logjam of five Big 12 teams between No. 34 and No. 43.

Texas Tech (No. 55), Kansas State (No. 64), and Kansas (No. 108) are the three lowest-ranked teams in the conference. In the non-conference schedule, Louisiana Tech ranks No. 86 and Rice ranks No. 126.