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Several key steps remain for Texas before it can call itself a national contender. Before thoughts of making the College Football Playoff are entertained, Tom Herman’s program must first win the Big 12. Before that can take place, simply beating scrappy teams on the cusp of bowl eligibility must consistently happen.
In order to achieve any of its lofty 2020 aspirations, Texas must deploy as much all-conference talent on the field as possible. When left tackle Samuel Cosmi and quarterback Sam Ehlinger announced Monday they planned to return to Texas for their fourth year, the Longhorns learned they would have two players indispensable to next season’s potential success.
Cosmi announced his return early Monday, while Ehlinger revealed his intentions later that day via a video posted to his Twitter account.
“After exploring my options, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be returning for my fourth year at the University of Texas,” Cosmi said. “It has always been a dream for me and my family to earn my degree. I’m so excited to get back to work with my brothers and work toward a championship!”
Ehlinger’s video had a more succinct, written message: “One more year. Chapter 4.”
In Cosmi and Ehlinger, new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has a duo who can provide the necessary qualities of elite offensive tackle and quarterback play in 2020. This is familiar territory for him.
Two playoff teams, Clemson and Yurcich’s most recent employer, Ohio State, paired an elite QB who received first-team all-conference honors with all-conference blindside protectors. Trevor Lawrence collected the first-team All-ACC designation while his left tackle Jackson Carman received third-team accolades and his right tackle Tremayne Anchrum added first-team honors. Justin Fields landed on the All-Big 10 first team, while Buckeye tackles Branden Bowen and Thayer Mumford found places on the second team.
LSU paired Heisman winner Joe Burrow with a Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line to provide him time to operate in Joe Brady’s offense. Sugar Bowl-winning Georgia gave Jake Fromm an elite protector in first-team All-SEC offensive lineman Andrew Thomas during its 12-win season.
Pac-12 champion Oregon had Penei Sewell, who earned a second place Heisman vote from The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, protected Rose Bowl offensive MVP Justin Herbert during the Ducks’ conference championship season.
Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts took home first-team All-Big 12 quarterback honors, but lacked an elite blindside protector. However, other Big 12 champion Sooner teams had elite LT/QB combos as Heisman winner Baker Mayfield was protected by two-time Big 12 offensive lineman of the year Orlando Brown, and Heisman winner Kyler Murray operated behind a Joe Moore Award-winning line bookended by first-team All-Big 12 tackle Bobby Evans.
Of course these teams have scores of all-conference talent in other places, including elsewhere on the offensive line. Texas still has ground to make up in that regard, but the return of the Sams means Texas will have an LT/QB combination reminiscent of other elite Longhorn teams.
Texas’ 2004 and 2005 teams had Vince Young leading the offense. Young’s blindside was watched by two-time first-team All-Big 12 tackle and 2005 unanimous All-American Jonathan Scott. Colt McCoy’s 2008 and 2009 teams had first-team All-Big 12 left tackle Adam Ulatoski providing time for McCoy to operate in record-setting offenses.
The Longhorns haven’t won the Big 12 since Ulatoski and McCoy were able to salvage 13 points against Ndamukong Suh and the Nebraska defense in 2009. In Texas’ closest efforts to adding a fourth Big 12 crown, they’ve lacked at least one component of the LT/QB dynamic duo.
Amidst the entire event that was the 2013 football season, Texas was a win over heavily-favored Baylor away from another Big 12 title. Donald Hawkins earned second-team All-Big 12 honors playing left tackle, but the quarterback rotation of Case McCoy and David Ash never reached the threshold of good, much less elite.
Ehlinger, Cosmi, and Rice graduate transfer Calvin Anderson played consistently well during Texas’ 10-win 2018, but only Ehlinger drew any sort of All-Big 12 honors with his third-team nod. The Longhorns got as close to a conference title with that trio as they had all decade, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Murray, Evans, and the rest of the award-winning Sooner offense.
In 2019, Cosmi garnered second-team All-Big 12 honors, but Ehlinger found himself in the honorable mention category looking up to Hurts and Baylor’s Charlie Brewer.
With the return of Cosmi and Ehlinger, Texas has a better opportunity to have that QB/LT combo than if either entered the 2020 NFL Draft. Though players like Casey Thompson, Tyler Johnson, and Christian Jones have potential at QB and LT, they don’t provide the same quality play in 2020 as Ehlinger and Cosmi.
With their return, Texas is able to check just two of the many boxes needed to compete with college football’s elite. It’s two important boxes they’re glad to be able to mark ahead of a pivotal 2020 season.