For the previous season, the Longhorns finished at 7-6 but are expected to do slightly better this season. They lost several offensive linemen to the NFL Draft with Connor Williams and Malik Jefferson both departed. Texas also lost safety DeShon Elliott and punter Michael Dickerson to the pro league, but they'll fill those voids this season. All-Big 12 Defensive lineman Poona Ford is also gone but may have a capable replacement. Texas was characterized by a very strong defense and a struggling offense last season. They're hoping both areas will be solid this campaign, though.
It all starts at quarterback and this season the job goes to sophomore Sam Ehlinger. He basically edged out junior Shane Buechele in what was deemed a close race for the spot. That could mean Ehlinger has to prove himself early and often to keep that job. Ehlinger was the team's leading rusher last season so they'll look to some other offensive stars to help carry the load this season. Daniel Young should be the team's leading rusher as he has some great short-yardage ability and has maintained his co-starter job with Tre Watson.
Devin Duvernay has put in work to improve his skills after his freshmen season and has been praised by coaches. Texas also added graduate transfer Tre Watson to the receiving corps but junior Lil'Jordan Humphrey should be the top star when it comes to targets and receptions from Ehlinger. He tallied 37 receptions for 431 yards and a touchdown last season, trailing only Collin Johnson.
When it comes to young emerging offensive stars on the roster, Keaontay Ingram will be one to watch. He was considered the best running back in all of Texas and the Longhorns secured him. He'll need some time to adjust to the game but could become the offensive freshman MVP. There's also wide receiver D'Shawn Jamison who has looked impressive during practice and should be an effective route runner as he progresses this season. However, play calling may be key to this offensive moving the ball effectively, as well as how well the line can hold up.
The offensive line was injury-plagued last season, so that will be one that area that must improve for this team to excel. Head coach Tom Herman has given high marks to this year's crew, comparing four of them to the line for the 2014 National Champions Ohio State. Three starters will return to the line, while they also add graduate transfer Calvin Anderson to the mix. Anderson will be amongst those with experience who provides leadership. Redshirt freshman Cosmi will split some time with Derek Kerstetter, showing that Cosmi has been impressing early on at Texas.
Defensively, Texas looks great again. In the 2017 season, they allowed just 139.6 rushing yards and 258.8 passing yards per game which is what kept them in most contests. The team adds safety Caden Sterns to the mix who overcame plenty of competition to earn the starting role. He's been described as able to play a variety of different positions in the secondary. Along with his intelligence for the game and athleticism, he'll really help boost the Longhorns' defensive prowess.
Gary Johnson will be the team's likely star on defense, though. He's set to rack up the most tackles of anyone on the Longhorns since 2008. Johnson should record at least 100 tackles for Texas and then some, with linebacker Malcolm Roach also contributing. Watch for Roach to lead the teams in tackles for losses, while defensive end Breckyn Hager leads the team in sacks. Chris Nelson isn't quite Poona Ford but based on improvements he's made and strong play during practice, he may be a decent replacement at nose tackle.
When it comes down to it, this coming season will really be defined by how well Ehlinger does, and whether or not the offensive line can show improvement over last season's mess. Overall, this isn't a team expected to win the Big 12, nor a National Championship. However, it's realistic to believe that this improved roster is going to outperform last year's Texas Longhorns. An 8-4 or 9-3 record by season's end isn't out of the question as they have the talent to impress this year on both sides of the ball.