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Alamo Bowl will provide glimpse into the future for depleted Texas team

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In addition to all the opt outs, the Longhorns will also be without several players who have COVID-19.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Texas American Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK

Take some time over the holiday to study up on that Texas Longhorns roster, friends.

Next week, there’ll be a pop quiz on Tuesday evening at the Alamo Bowl for a program that will only have one of its seven captains available against the Colorado Buffaloes due to opt outs and the injury suffered by senior center Derek Kerstetter in Manhattan.

Head coach Tom Herman also revealed during Sunday’s Alamo Bowl press conference that the COVID-19 outbreak suffered by the team in the aftermath of its last game against Kansas State will impact the availability of several players against Colorado.

“We’re still dealing with some COVID issues ourselves,” Herman said. “We’ve got a couple players that will not be able to play. We’ve got a couple players that we’ll get back later in the week of practice. We’ve got a couple players we hope to get back Monday or Tuesday.”

Three players tested positive the day after the team returned from Manhattan and six more players subsequently tested positive in the following days, forcing a pause in all team activities and eventually resulting in the cancellation of the regular-season finale against Kansas. Texas is not expected to announce which players will be out against Colorado until gameday.

In addition to the players who will miss the game after testing positive, the medical staff will also spend Monday evaluating several players with injuries. Junior safety BJ Foster missed the Kansas State game with a hamstring injury, junior cornerback Jalen Green sat out with a high ankle sprain, and freshman cornerback Jahdae Barron did not play due to a back injury.

Since junior safety Caden Sterns and senior safety Chris Brown already opted out to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, the Texas secondary could be without at least five players in the bowl game due to injuries and opt outs.

Freshman safety Jerrin Thompson stepped up against Kansas State with the absences of Foster and Sterns, intercepting one pass, nearly intercepting another, and finishing the game with three tackles.

If Foster can’t play, other Longhorns will receive significant playing time against the Buffaloes, with redshirt junior Montrell Estell and sophomore Tyler Owens the next players up at the safety position.

The availability of junior running back Keaontay Ingram is also in question after reports that he will not return for the bowl game and could enter the NCAA transfer portal. Ingram hasn’t played since the Oklahoma State game when he suffered a high ankle sprain. However, there haven’t been any new developments on that front since the initial reports emerged nearly three weeks ago, so it’s not clear if Ingram will be available or whether he will play if he’s healthy enough to go.

Along the defensive line, opt outs from senior defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham and junior Jack Joseph Ossai will provide significant playing time for freshman defensive tackle Alfred Collins, who had the best game of his young career against the Wildcats, but it’s less clear what will happen at the Jack position.

Former walk-on Jett Bush hasn’t been especially productive when he’s been on the field this year — although he did have four tackles against Kansas State — and redshirt junior Reese Leitao has mostly been a special teams contributor since suffering an early-season knee injury.

Is it possible that freshman Prince Dorbah could see some playing time as a result? With such a big hole looming at the position heading into the 2021 season and nothing on the line in the Alamo Bowl other than Herman’s undefeated bowl record at Texas, it may be time to look to the future at that position.

The group that could suffer the most from missing a starter or two due to illness is the offensive line. Freshman center Jake Majors and freshman left tackle Andrej Karic both played extremely well against the Wildcats given their inexperience. The bowl game will benefit both, but if any other starters are out, Texas could struggle offensively — there’s a reason why Majors and Karic passed older players on the depth chart to earn that playing time in Manhattan.

So even though the staff is unlikely to take senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger off the field in what is likely to be his final appearance in burnt orange and white, there will be a number of young players on the field at the Alamodome.

“We’ve got some more COVID issues than we did in three weeks ago or two weeks ago when we headed to to Manhattan, so that might elevate a few more young guys into some key contributor roles, but I know that the young guys that we have played with have fared very, very well and I expect the ones that will be playing for the first or second time this year will do much in the same,” Herman said.