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SI: Mud Pits, Red Tape and the Texas Turnaround Long in Coming

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Can Texas compete for the Big 12 crown in 2018? Five questions with Greg Tepper, managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football


Expectations are on the rise in Austin, as Texas enters the 2018 season coming off the school's first winning year since 2013. A win over Missouri in the Texas Bowl gave the Longhorns a boost heading into spring practice, and a young roster with plenty of returning talent could rocket up the conference standings. 

So what can Longhorn fans reasonably expect in the second year under head coach Tom Herman? We spoke with Greg Tepper, the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football, to examine where things stand on the 40 Acres. 

SportsDay: What were your impressions of Tom Herman in year one with the Longhorns?

Tepper: Overall this was a positive first season for Herman. I think this program was in worse position than fans wanted to think, but (Herman) wanted to break them out of the mediocrity they were mired in. And while it may not have translated to the wins people wanted, there were signs of life for the program, with things trending upward. 

You really saw the defense trending forward, and there's reasonable expectation for that to continue. Obviously there are reasons for concern, the offensive line has to be rebuilt, but it was a net positive year one for the Longhorns. 

SportsDay: Do you think Sam Ehlinger is the future at quarterback, or do you see another replacement coming?

Tepper: I think they're gonna give (Ehlinger) a shot to impress the coaching staff, and I think he's heard that. His toughness and his ability to go out and be a gamer is something that Tom Herman really appreciates and wants out of his quarterback. You look at Greg Ward Jr. and that's a guy that wasn't as highly recruited as Ehlinger, but also had that competitive fire.

The bottom line is going to be whether or not the skill set is there. They simply cannot let him take the hits he was taking last year. He's got to improve as a passer, improve his ability to push the ball down the field, but if he does that, he'll be the starter for the Longhorns. 

SportsDay: Who do you expect to have a breakout year in 2018? 

Tepper: I think this is a very big year for Collin Johnson. This is a guy who came in with a lot of hoopla, who a lot of people expected to be a true No. 1 receiver for this Texas team. And last year, there were flashes of what everyone was talking about. But overall, he needs to take that next step. If he does and gets to that all-conference caliber, then things get pretty interesting.

SportsDay: Where is Texas' biggest position of concern?

Tepper: As much as it hasn't been an issue for Texas in the past, I do think there are major questions at the linebacker position. When you lose a guy like Malik Jefferson or Naashon Hughes that have been important, they're going to need some guys to step up who have been generally secondary players. 

It's time for these recruiting classes to start paying dividends at the linebacking core. Anthony Wheeler, the transfer Gary Johnson, if those guys have a big year, the linebackers could be dangerous.  They're talented, but they need some guys to step into bigger roles than they've had in the past years.

SportsDay: Is competing for the Big 12 crown a realistic expectation for the Longhorns this year?

Tepper: I think they can be in the hunt. I don't think it's realistic right now to expect them to be the favorites right now. But, I do think that a realistic expectation is to play meaningful games into November. To be playing games that matter in the Big 12 chase.

Right now you have to put TCU ahead of (the Longhorns), Oklahoma ahead of them, Oklahoma State is also probably a bit better as well. It's been a while since Texas has played games that people have to tune in for come November, and that is a realistic expectation for this team. And the talent is on campus to do that. 

I don't think that 2018 is the year Texas is going to be back, but I do think they could be setting themselves up for an interesting run in 2019 or 2020



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At least he didn't put Michael Dickson on his list.

Prisco's 2018 NFL Draft Worse-Than Team: Saquon Barkley and 9 others I like less than the scouts

Connor Williams, T, Texas

His 2017 tape, when he had some injury issues, wasn't good. Plus, I don't think he's nearly as good as his reputation. Scouts I've talked to wonder if he might be a player who can be a decent starter and nothing more. That's not first-round value, which is where many have him pegged to go.


Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

He was a big-time recruit to Texas, but his production never seemed to come from all his supposed talent. He can run and chase, but he has a tendency to get blocked too much and not shed the blocker. That's a problem on the next level, where the linemen are even better. He sure looks the part. At bare minimum, he might be a really good special-teams player and a solid starter. But can he be much more?



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Is the quarterback of the future for the Texas Longhorns on the roster right now?

If the Texas Longhorns want to climb back to the top of the Big 12 mountain, they will need competent play from the quarterback position. Is the guy that can provide that on the Longhorns' roster right now? Our panel of insiders, columnists and contributors take a look:

Chuck Carlton: The safest answer: We're not sure. When you look at this decade, the history of Texas quarterbacks is checkered at best from Garrett Gilbert to David Ash to Case McCoy to Tyrone Swoopes to Jerrod Heard to Shane Buechele to Sam Ehlinger. (Did I leave anyone out?) None has proven to be a long-term stabilizing solution, although the jury is out on Buechele and Ehlinger. Freshmen Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson are each four-start recruits and each on campus now. Best guess: Someone of the four current QBs will emerge, at least as a competent starter and game manager.

Kevin Sherrington: I don't know why everyone has given up on Sam Ehlinger. Sure, he's made some awful decisions at the end of a few games, but I think there were some mitigating factors in at least a couple. Like, maybe, he had a concussion or two. I think he has a lot of the qualities that Tom Herman likes in a QB. He's tough and he can run a little. Let's see what he does this fall.

Tim Cowlishaw: I suppose if your definition of future is 2018, he is, but I don't know that Ehlinger is going to have the staying power beyond this season. Also has to find a way to avoid concussions, stay healthy and produce wins. That's the biggest of those questions I suggested UT has to resolve.

Ben Baby: It could be Sam Ehlinger, but the main concern with him is his durability. He can't keep taking unnecessary punishment, whether that be in the pocket or when he's out scrambling. If he can stay healty and upright, then he has a chance to be the Longhorns' next guy.

Adam Grosbard: I'm not sure, but I can tell you that no quarterback on the Texas roster has done anything to suggest that he is the quarterback of the future. Both Ehlinger and Buechele have been far too inconsistent. Buechele has been marginally better, but that's not enough to compete in the Big 12 let alone on the big stage that Texas demands. Herb Hand's addition as co-OC could be the change that one of these young quarterbacks needed.

Jean-Jacques Taylor: I wouldn't think so. Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger are fine, but neither one of them is special. Neither one looks like the kind of player who's going to make Texas one of the top five programs in the country. Neither one is dynamic enough as a runner or passer to make it happen based on what we've seen right now.

Matt Mosley: You better hope so. I like Ehlinger. He's an extremely tough guy who needs to become more accurate. Did he make back-breaking mistakes? Absolutely. But he was thrown into some tough situations. I think the guy's a winner. Now, one of these young guys may emerge as a more accurate option for Tom Herman. But the best recruiting classes in the world don't hold up if you don't have a QB. The Horns haven't had a consistent one since Colt McCoy, which is a pretty long streak.

Newy Scruggs: I do not think the quarterback Tom Herman needs to win the Big 12 title with has taken a snap for the Longhorns yet.



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