Head coach: Charlie Strong
2014 Record: 6-7 overall, 5-4 Big 12
2014 Bowl Result: Lost to Arkansas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Odds to Win 2016 College Football Championship game: 80/1
Odds to win 2015 Big 12 Championship: 12/1
Regular Season Wins: over 6 -130 / under 6 +100
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Since playing in the BCS Championship game after the 2009 season, the Texas Longhorns have gone five straight seasons with no more than nine wins. That is unacceptable for Longhorn fans, boosters and administration. Last season, long time coach Mack Brown retired, and Texas brought in Charlie Strong from Louisville. While the future it bright it was not a good debut season for Strong as Texas went 6-6 and barely squeaked into a bowl. The season was marred by blowout losses to BYU, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU, and Arkansas in the Texas Bowl all by 21 points or more. Victories over mediocre West Virginia and Oklahoma State were the only wins over teams with winning records and both finished 7-6.
Fans were willing to give Strong a mulligan because it was his first season, but their patience will not last very long. This year 11 starters are back and Texas looks to improve. Let’s take a look at the offense, defense, special teams, schedule and outlook.
Co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline have switched from a pro-style attack to an up-tempo spread offense. The spread fits better into the talents of quarterbacks Tyrone Swoopes and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard. Swoopes, a junior, started all but the season opener last year after David Ash had to end his career after the first game because of concussions. Swoopes entered spring camp as the unquestioned starter. However, Heard did so well in spring practice that it turned into a full blown competition that will continue into the fall. Last season, Swoopes completed 58.3% of his passes for 2,409 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and also rushed for 262 yards on 108 carries with 4 touchdowns. Both Swoopes and Heard could even split snaps when the season starts. Incoming freshman Kai Locksley could see a few snaps as well.
Last year’s leading rusher Malcolm Brown is now with the St. Louis Rams. He rushed for 708 yards and 6 touchdowns, and also had 16 catches. Senior Johnathan Gray does return after rushing for 637 yards on 147 carries with 7 touchdowns and also had 20 catches for 122 yards. Redshirt freshman Donald “Duke” Catalon will get a lot of carries and so will D’onta Foreman who averaged 4.9 yards a carry last year in limited action.
The Longhorns must replace their top two receivers. John Harris is now with the Philadelphia Eagles after making 68 catches for 1,051 yards and 7 touchdowns. Jaxon Shipley is now with the Arizona Cardinals after making 59 grabs for 577 yards and a touchdown. Marcus Johnson is the most proven returning receiver after making 27 catches for 313 yards and a touchdown. Armanti Foreman had 10 catches for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns last year as a freshman. Daje Johnson, Lorenzo Joe, Jacorey Warrick and Dorian Leonard will also be in the mix at receiver. Tight ends Geoff Swain and M.J. McFarland are both gone after combining for 21 catches and 3 touchdowns. Andrew Beck and Blake Whitely will be the new tight ends.
Four starters return on the offensive line but the line struggled last year in both pass protection and run blocking. Six offensive linemen were part of the 2015 recruiting class to add depth and frankly more talent as well. The line does bring back three seniors in center Taylor Doyle, left tackle Marcus Hutchins, and left guard Sedrick Flowers.
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Five starters are back for defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. The defensive line is the strength of the team. Officially, tackle Hassan Ridgeway and end Naashon Hughes are the only returning starters. Ridgeway had 11 tackles for loss and 6 sacks last season. However the line is bolstered by the return of tackle Desmond Jackson who missed all of 2014 with a foot injury. This unit has a lot of talent and should be able to create havoc for opposing offenses.
The linebackers must replace the top two leading tacklers for the team in Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond. Senior Peter Jinkens and junior Tim Cole are on top of the depth chart right now, but highly touted freshmen Ed Freeman and Malik Jefferson are waiting to step up if needed.
Senior corners Duke Thomas and Sherod Evans were supposed to anchor the secondary, but Evans tore his ACL in spring practice and is likely lost for the season. Still both starting safeties return as well in Dylan Haines and Jason Hall. Haines had 4 interceptions last season. The Longhorns also recruited well in the secondary and freshman Holton Hill will likely start at the other corner in place of Evans.
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Senior kicker Nick Rose made 14 of 21 field goals last year. Walk-on Mitchell Becker will handle the punting duties. The return game was terrible last year, and the Longhorns will look to Daje Johnson to return kicks and Jacorey Warrick to return punts. Freshman Ryan Newsome could also be in the mix for either job. Really though Texas needs improvement in all aspects of special teams in 2015.
Texas opens the season at Notre Dame in prime time. The Longhorns then have three straight home games against Rice, California and Oklahoma State to close out September. Texas travels to TCU to open October before the rivalry game against Oklahoma in Dallas. The Longhorns host Kansas State before traveling to Iowa State to close out the month. November brings a home game against Kansas, a trip to West Virginia, and a home game against Texas Tech. The Longhorns close the season at Baylor December 5.
Texas had a really strong recruiting class in 2015. There should be some improvement but with a tough schedule I can’t see more than 8 wins. I think they go to a mid-tier bowl like the Texas or Liberty Bowl.
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