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The Sunday Morning Optimist: Texas is back folks

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Buy your College Football Playoff tickets now, folks — Texas is back!

247Sports

Prologue: It’s time for another season of the SMO - an emotional overreaction to the previous weekend’s game that does not deal in logic or reason.

The SMO is probably converting to the MMO because doing this on Sunday mornings can be a pain in the ass if I’m traveling. That being said, I could very easily do this on a Sunday morning if I’m hyped up and have some time to kill. Basically, never rely on the SMO/MMO to be published on time.

I have never been more optimistic about Texas football.

That was the general premise of my preseason SMO last year. Same thing year before that. And in Charlie Strong’s first season as Texas head coach three years ago, I think I predicted something along the lines of a potential invitation to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The optimism typically drained pretty quickly in each of the last three years. Two years ago, it was Nick Rose going wide right at home against Cal on a PAT to tie the game with only seconds to play that crushed my spirits. Last season, apathy kicked in after multiple missed PATs against Oklahoma State only two weeks after traveling all the way to California to watch the Texas defense completely collapse against a terrible PAC-12 team.

That apathy morphed into something darker by the end of the year - when I found myself actively rooting for Kansas and hammering the Jayhawks +21 knowing Charlie Strong and Co. would somehow screw up that game in an embarrassing fashion.

At least one prediction was right.

This season though - it feels different. This isn’t fluff either. Texas football has already made some radical changes under new head coach Tom Herman that demonstrate his knowledge of the current landscape of college football and the actions Texas needs to take if it wants to compete among the “college football elite.”

But talk is cheap - and Herman would probably be the first person to say that recognizing a problem doesn’t mean much if you don’t immediately take action to resolve it. In the last eight months, Texas has made tangible changes to the program that have made a monumental difference to students, alumni, fans and recruits.

Perhaps the most noticeable change with Texas football is its presence on social media. In the short time since Herman was hired to lead the program, Texas has placed an emphasis on engaging fans, students and – most importantly – recruits on its social platforms – using enhanced graphics, videos, photos and even gifs to elevate the Longhorns’ presence online.

An easy example that comes to mind – a 30-second video posted by Herman in July – garnered extensive attention online – with more than 11,000 retweets and shares on national accounts, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

While some of you might be rolling your eyes because social media is obnoxious, consider for a moment how Texas has been doing on the recruiting trail not even a year off the worst loss in program history (yes, worse than Route 66).

Per 247 rankings, Texas has the nation's No. 16-29-30th-best players, the state's No. 2-3-4-5-9-11th best players.

Herman hasn’t even coached a single game yet.

On top of the increased social presence, enhancing the Texas facilities was necessary if the Longhorns wanted to compete on the recruiting trail.

Like it or not, the current Texas recruit has no idea or simply does not care about the 2006 Rose Bowl. For them, Vince Young and Ricky Williams are as foreign as Earl Campbell and Tommy Nobis. Since today’s high school seniors were 10 years old, they’ve only seen two winning seasons of Texas football.

The name recognition is not enough anymore - especially going head-to-head with SEC programs who have infiltrated the state - watching top talent leave for LSU or Alabama because playing on the 3:30 p.m. Saturday game on CBS is far more appealing than 7 p.m. Longhorn Network specials against Kansas, Iowa State or Texas Tech.

So Herman built the best locker room in college football. He renovated the weight room so that it matched what other top programs have. He’s even enhancing graphics throughout the whole complex.

I have never been more optimistic about Texas football.

EXTREMELY OPTIMISTIC - Texas WRs

This class of wide receivers is so damn good that it almost feels like we are cheating. At any given time, Texas quarterback Shane Buechele will have the option to throw to Collin Johnson, John Burt, Devin Duvernay, Armanti Foreman, Jerrod Heard, Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, Dorian Leonard, Lorenzo Joe and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. I mean, this could be the most talent we’ve ever seen at this position on the 40 Acres - and that is saying something.

MMO PREDICTION: Burt’s sophomore slump is over. He grabs 10 TDs this year.

EXTREMELY OPTIMISTIC - Connor Williams and the offensive line

Connor Williams is getting seriously hyped up as a potential top-five NFL Draft pick for next April - the first Texas offensive lineman to get drafted since I was eating microwavable pizzas in my middle school cafeteria. General consensus among scouts is that this guy is as good as advertised and the only thing that will hold him back from signing a multi-million dollar check in 2018 is an injury.

Williams anchors a left-side of the offensive line that Buechele should be extremely comfortable with this year. With Patrick Vahe at left guard and Shackelford at center, Texas should be able to rely on at least 60 percent of this offensive line to hold their own this season. The questions, unfortunately, begin and end at right tackle. Tristan Nickelson or Denzel Okafor will need to step up big time this season to solidify this spot or it could end up costing this offense some games.

MMO PREDICTION: Connor Williams is a top-two NFL Draft pick in 2018.

EXTREMELY OPTIMISTIC - The DBs

Who would have guessed that P.J. Locke, a guy who had his bags packed for Oregon just hours before signing day two years ago - would become the leader of a talented secondary that includes Brandon Jones, Deshon Elliott, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd? Locke, who was named a team captain this week, and the rest of these guys are going to give opposing quarterbacks fits this season. That is a MMO guarantee.

MMO PREDICTION: In 2012 and 2014, Texas had 15 interceptions - tied for most this decade. In 2009, with Earl Thomas (8) and Blake Gideon (6) anchoring the secondary, Texas had 25 interceptions - most in the last 10 years. My prediction: Texas grabs 16-20 interceptions in 2017.

EXTREMELY OPTIMISTIC - K Josh Rowland, P Michael Dickson

The kicking game literally can’t get worse than it was last season. If you watched Strong’s USF Bulls this past Saturday have one punt blocked, another punt go for 18 yards and a kickoff go out of bounds, it probably triggered some form of football PTSD. I know it did for me.

MMO PREDICTION: Rowland misses ZERO (0) PATs and Texas fans weep with pride.

EXTREMELY OPTIMISTIC: Running backs

Texas will not have a bell cow for the running backs in 2017. Instead, running backs coach Stan Drayton - the man who developed Ezekiel Elliott at Ohio State and Jordan Howard with the Chicago Bears - will have running backs by committee. Nobody stands out yet - not even Chris Warren.

More touches for more backs means less injury opportunities (someone should tell this to UGA) so it’s not a bad thing to split carries if no one is standing out during summer and fall camp. That being said, Drayton’s track record means someone on this roster is going to exceed expectations.

MMO PREDICTION: No Texas running back will go for more than 1000 yard this season, but Kyle Porter rushes for 800 and Chris Warren leads the team in rushing TDs.

GREENVILLE PAT

Meet Greenville Pat - he’s a South Carolina grad with zero connection to Texas who loves to gamble on college football. He’s here to give it to us straight with five picks and a one sentence prediction for the Texas game this week.

“College football’s sleeping giant has a wake up call for noon Saturday. Texas 38, Maryland 17.”

PAT’S PICKS (0-0)

Florida State +7 v. Alabama

Georgia -14.5 v. Appalachian State

Tennessee -3 v. Georgia Tech

West Virginia +4 v. Virginia Tech

LSU -16 v. BYU

MMO PICKS (0-0)

Texas v. Maryland OVER 56

Appalachian State +14.5 v. Georgia

Alabama -7 v. Florida State

South Alabama +24 v. Ole Miss

Wyoming +11.5 v. Iowa

FULL SEASON MMO PREDICTION:

MARYLAND - WIN

SAN JOSE STATE - WIN

@USC - WIN

@IOWA STATE - I DON’T WANT TO SAY

KANSAS STATE - WIN

OKLAHOMA - WIN

OKLAHOMA STATE - WIN

I FORGOT WHO WE PLAY NEXT - WIN

@TCU - WIN

KANSAS - 100 POINT REVENGE WIN

@WEST VIRGINIA - WIN

TEXAS TECH - WIN

WASHINGTON - WIN

ALABAMA - WIN

“Texas is back, folks.”