Football

QUESTIONS: Texas and the Big 12 in 2017

Tom Herman (Joe Cook/IT)
Tom Herman (Joe Cook/IT)

Earlier this year, I predicted the Oklahoma State Cowboys to be the most dangerous team in the Big 12 in 2017. There were those that disagreed, but not Sports Illustrated’s college football preview, who put them right up there with Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida State.

My prediction is based on watching QB Mason Rudolph throw passes to James Washington and Jalen McCleskey, as well as the running game of Justice Hill, who rushed for 1,142 last season.

The only team close to the Cowboys was Oklahoma, but they’ve had so many weapons like Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, and Dede Westbrook leave Norman, which for me leaves a big question mark.

On October 21st, the Cowboys come to Austin right after the OU game in Dallas. It’s part of a tough three-game stretch of Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. The season preview even said the Longhorns had the toughest schedule of the top 22 teams in the nation.

For sure, no one can really predict how this Texas team will perform. For the last few seasons, the Longhorns have been inconsistent on the road, like a different team that’s not focused and unable to play four tough quarters of football. It’s what got Charlie Strong and his staff fired, pure and simple.

This summer, I’ve been asked about the team from Texas fans more than ever. I answer with a positive tone each time. Strong left the Longhorns with lots of players. You’ve got to have the talent to compete on a high level, but getting them there is the challenge Tom Herman and his staff have before them.

I have some questions that remain:

1. Can Shane Buechele avoid the poor performances that helped lead to losses against Kansas and TCU? The youngster was shaken up and didn’t look healthy at season’s end. Because he wasn’t. Buechele can’t run like Houston’s Greg Ward did, but he’s got to be a threat running the ball. At lesast enough to keep defenses honest.

2. Will Malik Jefferson become the player he should be? I admit he should have always been at outside linebacker. Perhaps he has been slowed by injuries. He can be an exceptional game-changer, but during the Strong years, Jefferson did not become the threat at linebacker he should have, mostly from playing out of position.

Chris Warren (Justin Wells/IT)
Chris Warren (Justin Wells/IT)

3. Will Chris Warren shake off the injury bug? Does he run too straight up? During the 60s, we had Tommy Ford, Jerry Cook, and Ernie Koy. They practiced tough, ran tough, and stayed on the field running pitch sweeps, counter traps, dives, and option pitches. Texas desperately needs him to emerge as a tough leader and not be a “sometimes” player.

4. Can the Longhorn secondary play outstanding football? It all started in California in the second half. I have a feeling that the addition of Brandon Jones at safety will make a difference for the better. Plus Boyd, Hill, and Davis have experience and talent.

5. Will the offensive line become the unit it has the potential to be? Patrick Vahe had a poor year in 2016. Zach Shackelford at center had a difficult true freshman year and didn’t seem able to shake nagging injuries. When healthy, he’s exceptional. The Texas line has lots of experience and could become a real quality group, maybe even one of the best in the nation?

6. Can Texas us the threat that is Devin Duvernay? Last season he spent time being thrown sideline short passes instead of deep outs, curls, and takeoff routes. Then after OU, the seam and wheel-routes became more relevant. With Duvernay on one side and Collin Johnson on the other, the field can be stretched.

7. Will Chris Daniels lose enough weight so he can come in and help out Poona Ford, Chris Nelson, and Malcolm Roach? Of all the evaluations made by Herman this spring, the most surprising to me was the praise of his three defensive line starters. He was shocked once the pad work started on how this group more than held their own.
It’s worth noting how proud I am of Connor Williams. From the get-go, his effort has been consistent, he is well spoken and proven to be a warrior. He might not see himself as a leader, but he is for sure.

It won’t be long now, but college football will soon draw us back to Austin. The campus will be spectacular and the excitement in DKR-Memorial Stadium will be real. Something very, very good is coming to the 40 Acres. Snap your chin strap.

Hook ‘Em
Pat