There was a lot of excitement when Tom Herman became the head coach of the Texas Longhorns in late 2016. After stating that Texas “deservedly holds a seat among college football elite,” Herman’s first season fell below some of the lofty expectations built up by media and fans.
The Longhorns’ 7-6 record under their new head coach was in some ways reminiscent of their mediocre play under his predecessor. Still, Texas did manage to get above .500 for the first time since 2013, and came close to knocking off several highly ranked squads.
As Herman enters his second season, the predictions about success haven’t abated. Texas received a first place vote in the Big 12 Preseason Poll that was released in mid-July, the first time the Longhorns have garnered that honor in five years. Can Herman prove that such optimism is justified after having been on campus for a full year? A look at Texas’ upcoming schedule should provide insight into the answer.
What can we expect from Texas in 2018 based on their schedule? Below we take an early look at next season’s lineup for the Longhorns and offer some thoughts on how many wins and losses are likely for Herman’s squad next season.
Here wins and losses are broken down into “Highly Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner should be favored by more than two possessions – and “Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner will probably be favored by about two possessions. A “Toss Up” is any game that has a good chance of being decided by one possession.
2018 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SEP 1 – at Maryland
SEP 8 – Tulsa
SEP 15 – USC
SEP 22 – TCU
SEP 29 – at Kansas State
OCT 6 – Oklahoma*
OCT 13 – Baylor
OCT 27 – at Oklahoma State
NOV 3 – West Virginia
NOV 10 – at Texas Tech
NOV 17 – Iowa State
NOV 23 – at Kansas
*Neutral Site Game
HIGHLY LIKELY WINS: TULSA, BAYLOR, KANSAS
Texas will more than likely be a multi-touchdown favorite over Phillip Montgomery’s Golden Hurricane, a team that went 2-10 last season. This might be the highest probability win on the Longhorns schedule, so an upset in this inaugural home contest would not be good news for Texas.
The other two games that Texas will probably be projected to win by multiple touchdowns are both conference matchups. Matt Rhule is expected to make progress with the Bears in 2018, but Baylor’s visit to Austin will mostly likely be seen as about a two possession contest. The game itself might end up being slightly closer, but Texas should win this one.
The last time the Longhorns went to Lawrence after Thanksgiving, they ended up firing their head coach. This time, it might be the Jayhawks’ top guy who needs a win to cool his seat. That’s not an outcome to bet on – Beaty’s squad could be slightly improved this season, but they will likely gong into the game as 20-plus point underdogs.
LIKELY WINS: MARYLAND
Last year’s home upset against the Terrapins instantly raised questions about the kind of success Texas would have in Herman’s first season. Despite losing that game by more than a touchdown in 2017, the Longhorns will again be favored by a similar margin this year. Maryland went 4-8 last season, making this a game the Longhorns will be expected to win in the rematch.
TOSS-UPS: TCU, KANSAS STATE, OKLAHOMA, OKLAHOMA STATE, WEST VIRGINIA, TEXAS TECH, IOWA STATE
The lineup of Toss-Ups for Texas constitutes the majority of games on this slate. The first Toss Up to test the Longhorns will come against TCU in the fourth week of the season. Texas hasn’t beaten the Horned Frogs since 2013, but expect the opening line for this to be within a touchdown.
West Virginia and Iowa State are the other two Toss Ups that Texas has at home next season. Both opponents are teams that the Longhorns beat on the road last season, so Texas very well could be favored slightly when they play the Cyclones and Mountaineers in Austin.
The road games on this slate will definitely be tests for the Longhorns. Texas hasn’t won a game in Manhattan, Kansas since 2003, so playing the Wildcats on the road will be a challenge. The Longhorns also play Oklahoma State in Stillwater the weekend before Halloween and Texas Tech in Lubbock. Neither environment that will make it easy for the Longhorns, and they lost to both teams in 2017.
The Red River Rivalry should be a close game this season, especially considering its been decided by an average of 5.5 points per game the past four years. Even with Oklahoma’s losses on the offensive side of the ball, the Sooners will likely be the favorite here, but its understandable that the Longhorns would feel good about their chances in the Cotton Bowl.
LIKELY LOSSES: USC
Texas pushed this game to double overtime in 2017, in spite of being 15 point underdogs. Although the Trojans lost both their NFL-caliber quarterback and some other offensive players, there is still plenty of talent in Los Angeles. USC will be around a Top 15 team to start the season, so the Longhorns will likely again be underdogs. The projected point margin might not be as high as it was last season, but it should still be over a possession.
HIGHLY LIKELY LOSSES: NONE
Herman was 8-5 against the spread in his first season at Texas, something that bodes well for his team to keep games close. In addition, at a blue blood institution like Texas, rarely are teams projected to lose by significant margins. It makes sense, then, that the Longhorns will most likely not be 20-point underdogs in any contest they play this season.
PREDICTED WINS: 7-8
The Texas defense will likely be fairly stout again next season, but a lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball makes it seem unlikely that the Longhorns can make a leap beyond one or two wins from the 6-6 regular season mark in 2017. While it’s true that the Big 12 seems more wide open, there’s reason to doubt that Texas can become a double-digit win team in 2018.
If the Longhorns win the games they should and approximately half of their Toss Ups, however, they might have a season that would be one of the school’s best this decade. Since 2010, Texas has won eight regular season games only twice. Achieving that type of success might not be the kind of instant championship play that Texas fans want, but it would be a sign of progress.
Given Texas’s 5-4 conference record last season, it’s definitely possible for them to get there. Without any reason to think that they’re ceiling is higher than that, though, a 7-8 win projection seems reasonable.