In a mere matter of days, Texas football will be back and Darrell K Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium will be packed to the brim for a first look at the No. 10 Longhorns.
But before then, the Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to discuss what to expect from these new-look Longhorns, including thoughts on numerous newcomers, what could prevent another positive step forward, and more.
First things first: Texas enters 2019 ranked No. 10; its highest ranking since 2010, which followed a trip to the National Championship. Is that ranking justified or just hype?
Cody Daniel — Deputy Editor: I’d say justified given that pretty much everything is merely hype entering a season. Texas is loaded on offense and led by a Heisman candidate at quarterback, which counts for something. And the defense, though it does replace eight starters, may feature more sheer talent than it did in 2018. Texas isn’t on the level of a Clemson, Alabama, or Georgia just yet, but they should prove to be one of the nation’s 10 or so best teams.
Wes Crochet — Contributor: Does Texas have question marks? Yes. Could you make an argument to move Texas down some? Probably. Then again, you could for a number of teams above and below Texas. Who watched No. 6 Florida edge it out over an unranked Miami team? Reality, it’s Clemson, Alabama, and everyone else. And given the Big 12 may trend down a bit this year across the board, there absolutely is a path for Texas to be a top-10 team with its goal of winning the Big 12.
Gerald Goodridge — Contributor/Podcast Host: I think it’s probably a little high, but not too far off the mark when you look at who’s ahead of them and who’s behind them. I think this Texas team is supremely talented, but with so many young guys, it’s hard to say what’s a fair ranking.
Anthony Rizzo — Contributor: If Michigan and Florida are Top 10 teams, I think it’s safe to say that the No. 10 preseason ranking is pretty appropriate for the Longhorns. The quarterback play, coaching, recruiting, and momentum are all pointing in the right direction for this program. It’s only up from here.
From injuries at RB to inexperience at CB and LB, Texas has its fair share of preseason concerns, but beyond that, what could keep the Horns from taking another step — or potentially regressing — in 2019?
Cody Daniel: If Ehlinger comes back to earth and doesn’t look the part of the Heisman candidate he enters the season as, that will obviously impact the upside of this team quite a bit. And Texas breaks in three new starters along the offensive line and two on the defensive line, so while those new starters may actually be more purely talented on paper, they’re still inexperienced and that’s less than ideal in the trenches, where, as the cliché goes, games are often won and lost.
Wes Crochet: Obviously any extended time missed by Sam Ehlinger could hold this team back. Outside of that, Texas will need its defensive line to come together quickly under live fire. The questions at corner and linebacker could be mitigated with good safety play and a consistent defensive line.
Gerald Goodridge: I think the cohesion of the offensive line is the biggest story that will really determine the success and failure of the season. Cosmi switching sides and the question of Angilau or Braun replacing a four-year starter means that the left side of the line is a big question mark until proven otherwise.
Anthony Rizzo: To hop on Gerald’s point, line play is always so important towards determining how much success a team ends up having. Considering the amount of unproven players on both sides of the line, it’ll be crucial for Texas to stay healthy within their two-deep rotations. But beyond that, the biggest test for this team is shaping up to be the stretch of games away from home in late October - November — 10/26 TCU, 11/16 Iowa State, 11/23 Baylor. Three great coaches, three tough environments.
Texas will feature first-year starters all over the field. Which one on each side of the ball will make his case for the All-Big 12 team by the end of the season?
Cody Daniel: Though obviously inexperienced, guard Junior Angilau has truly elite talent, and the same can be said of Jalen Green, who became the first corner to solidify his spot as a starter. Keaontay Ingram and Joseph Ossai are my darkhorses here.
Wes Crochet: On defense, Joseph Ossai comes to mind as a new full-time starter who could instantly be an impact player. Offensively, a healthy Jordan Whittington will have all the chances any newcomer could get to showcase what he can do.
Gerald Goodridge: Offensively, is it cheating to say Parker Braun? If he wins the spot and can adjust well to actually having to pass block, he can be a great addition to the offensive line. I think Keondre Coburn has the potential to be one of the best defensive tackles we’ve seen in the last few years, which is saying a lot because to this day I still stan for Poona Ford.
Anthony Rizzo: On defense, besides Ossai, I like CB1 Jalen Green to have a big season. He’s got the physicality and size to develop into one of the league’s top cornerbacks. Offensively, I’ll go with the redshirt freshman guard Junior Angilau.
Similarly, who are the two or three guys who are crucial to Texas’ success in 2019, but who maybe aren’t being talked about enough ahead of the season?
Cody Daniel: I think Joseph Ossai is going to make a ton of noise at B-Backer. With all the talk surrounding Collin Johnson, I think the impact Devin Duvernay will have in the slot is being overlooked. Similarly, for as much attention as the inexperience in Texas’ secondary is garnering, as well as the fact that some see Caden Sterns as an All-American caliber-talent, I think Brandon Jones, who may well have been an NFL Draft pick, has been an afterthought but will be key in the defensive backfield.
Wes Crochet: Cade Brewer is the first name that comes to mind. The tight end, or Y position, in Herman’s offense is important. Texas would also really benefit having right tackle Denzel Okafor become a solid rock. And finally, I’m going sophomore punter Ryan Bujcevski. He may never be what his cousin Michael Dickson was (47.43 yards per punt average, 1st in nation in 2017), but Texas would greatly benefit from Bujcevski improving on his 39.29 punt average that ranked Texas at 103rd last season. I mean, UConn had a better punting average…
Gerald Goodridge: Jake Smith as a punt returner is someone that I think could definitely be a huge difference-maker. With a freshman returner on punts, you want to make sure that there aren’t any mental mistakes that lead to turnovers or poor field position for the offense. The most deflating thing for a team is to think you’re going to get the ball back and then giving it right back to the opponent. On the flip side, a special teams score or a short field is an offense’s best friend.
Anthony Rizzo: Offensively, i’ll go with the 6’6 XWR/TE Malcolm Epps. Epps can be effectively used as a complementary receiver next to Collin Johnson to help create mismatches against undersized cornerbacks. Without having a true short-yardage back and considering the risk of injury using Ehlinger around the goal-line, I can see Epps being used a lot in red-zone situations.
Also, I’m intrigued to see how the two JUCO linebackers Juwan Mitchell and Caleb Johnson develop under Orlando this season.
Others — specifically, Sam Ehlinger, Collin Johnson, Keaontay Ingram, Malcolm Roach, and Caden Sterns — have been talked about plenty. What are you stat line projections for each of those key contributors?
- Ehlinger: 3,700 yards, 66% comp., 32 TD, 7 INT, 120 carries for 400 yards, 11 TD
- Johnson: 82 rec, 1,200 yards, 9 TD
- Ingram: 200-210 car, 1,150 yards, 8 TD
- Roach: 32-35 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks
- Sterns: 76 tackles, 6 INT, 11 PBU
- Ehlinger: (pass) 285/440, 65% comp, 8.5 YPA, 3800 yards, 33 TDs, 7 INT... (rush) 130 att, 400 yards, 10 TDs.
- Johnson: 75 rec, 1200 yards, 8 TDs
- Ingram: (rush) 190 att, 950 yards, 6 TDs… (rec) 30 rec, 200 yards, 1 TD.
- Roach: 35 solo, 15 ast, 5 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 FF
- Sterns: 50 solo, 18 ast, 4 INT, 5 PD
- Ehlinger: 65% completions with 3500 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 7 INT, with 400 rushing yards and 15 TDs
- Johnson: 86 receptions, 1,200 yards and 10 TDs. Also continues to own the OU secondary
- Ingram: 200 carries, 900 rushing yards and 9 TDs
- Roach: 50 tackles, 8 TFL, 6 sacks
- Sterns: 80 tackles, 6 INT, 10 PBU
- Ehlinger: 67% completion percentage, 3,750 passing yards (9.5 YPA), 550 net rushing yards (3.8 YPC), 45 total TDs, 8 turnovers
- Johnson: 90+ receptions, 1,250-plus yards, 10 TDs — Biletnikoff Finalist
- Ingram: 200 carries, near 1,000 rushing yards, 8 TDs
- Roach: 55 total tackles, 8 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 FF, INT
- Sterns: 80 total tackles, 6 INTs, 12 PBU
Besides the obvious answer of Texas making the College Football Playoff, what’s your boldest prediction for the 2019 season?
Cody Daniel: The Big 12 won’t be represented in the playoff.
Wes Crochet: Texas Tech finishes in the top-4 of the Big 12 (Bold enough?).
Gerald Goodridge: Kansas wins two conference games.
Anthony Rizzo: Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma in Stillwater, and Michigan finally beats Ohio State and wins the Big Ten.
Okay, now back to reality: What’s your season prediction for this No. 10 Texas team?
Cody Daniel: Texas goes 10-2 throughout the regular season with losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State, sneaks into the Big 12 title game over a 9-3 Iowa State squad, and avenges last season with a championship win over OU before heading back to the Sugar Bowl.
Wes Crochet: Unless injuries derail this team, Texas goes 10-3, wins the Big 12 Championship game, and finds itself on the outside of the playoff looking in.
Gerald Goodridge: There’s a future where I see the injuries stop after a crazy start and the chips fall right and Texas goes 11-1 and ends up on the cusp of, if not in, the playoff. There’s also my nightmare scenario where the OL doesn’t gel and the RBs continue to be a MASH unit and Texas goes 8-4.
Anthony Rizzo: 10-2 with a revenge win over Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship — one loss coming against LSU/OU and the other at TCU/Iowa State.