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2021 Season

Big 12 Spring Outlook: How Good Can Texas Be In Sarkisian’s First Year?

Steve Sarkisian didn’t exactly come into a bad situation in Austin, but what should expectations be for the ‘Horns in 2021?

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Getty Images - Peter Aiken

With spring football starting up, teams in the Big 12 are hitting the practice field for the next few weeks. The Texas Longhorns started practice last Tuesday, but had to pause workouts last week because of positive COVID tests. Nonetheless, as of right now Texas is expected to resume practices – possibly this Thursday – and continue workouts according to their original spring schedule, with a spring game slated for April 24th. Below, we give an overview of the program and provide an idea of what questions the Longhorns will seek to answer over the course of their remaining practices.

Texas went into 2020 with hopes of returning to the Big 12 title for the second time in three years, but head coach Tom Herman found himself on the hot seat when the Longhorns struggled to a 2-2 record to start the season. Despite only losing one more contest from there on out, Texas ultimately fell just shy of reaching the Big 12 championship, and short of expectations. A dominant win in the Alamo Bowl couldn’t save Herman’s job, and the fourth year coach was let go in January.

Enter Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, a coach who’s had some success at other Power Five programs, but never had the kind of success expected in Austin. After being hired, Sarkisian’s brought in a quality staff. There’s no guarantee that he will be able win big at Texas, but he’ll have his fair share talent coming back in 2021. Still, Sarkisian will have his share of challenges, including identifying a new signal caller and trying reinvigorate a defense that was mediocre to bad last season.

PRACTICE BEGINS: March 23rd
SPRING GAME: April 24th
LOCATION: Royal Memorial Stadium (Austin, TX)

Offensive Questions For The Longhorns

Sarkisian will take over an offense that saw some attrition after averaging 39.1 yards per game in Big 12 play last season. The most pressing question is over who will be the starter next season after Sam Ehlinger decided to declare for the NFL Draft. Junior Casey Thompson, the prohibitive favorite, looked good in the bowl game, throwing for four touchdowns and 170 yards. He’ll get definite competition from highly touted redshirt freshman Hudson Card, who’s already had a year to adjust to the pace of the college game.

The most glaring gap in the receiving corps will be on the outside. Starter Brennan Eagles and Tarik Black both declared for the NFL Draft, so Texas will need to identify a replacement. The only other major departure from the skill positions was junior Keaontay Ingram, who transferred out after Texas’ bowl game. The Longhorns return sophomore Bijan Robinson, however, who averaged 8.2 yards per carry last season, is back after notching six starts in 2020.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing Sarkisian’s offensive staff will be along the offensive line. Offensive tackle Sam Cosmi has moved on to begin a career in the NFL, so a replacement will need to be found for him. New offensive line coach Kyle Flood will likely shuffle the offensive line and have one of last year’s starters change positions, as there’s no clear cut backup to step into that spot.

Defensive Questions For The Longhorns

New defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has a problems he’ll have to solve with four starters gone from last season’s squad. His vaunted 2-4-5 defense that Kwiatkowski employed at Washington should be stout in the two defensive lineman spots. Defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham left early for the NFL, but expect sophomore Alfred Collins, a breakout player last season, to step into one of the tackle spots. Bodies will be most difficult to find on the edges, where All-American Joseph Ossai declared for the Draft.

Super senior Jacoby Jones and LSU transfer Ray Thornton both have the smaller body types that traditional fill the outside linebacker spots in Kwiatkowski’s scheme, so they could be slated to line up there. The other vacancies that are a bit of a mystery are in the back end, where three of five starting defensive backs return. Safeties Caden Sterns and Chris Brown both declared for the NFL Draft, and finding their replacements will be key to helping a secondary that struggled last season. Sophomore Jerrin Thompson and senior B.J. Foster – who has starting experience – are likely candidates there

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