Texas Football 2016 Preview

August Fluff and Stuff

Late August through Labor Day rings in a New Year in some ways just as January 1 does, particularly in academics and football. Students resolve to study harder, teachers promise themselves to complete lesson plans sooner, and parents vow to be more available to help with homework. Football players resolve to tackle better, train harder, spend more time in the film room, help more old ladies cross the street, and..… you get the idea. I myself resolved to bathe and brush my teeth every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love August fluff, because it brings back fond memories. Here’some excellent August Fluff from one short year ago:
– “Tyrone Swoopes has been terrific.” He was demoted to second team after the first game.
-Strong told 2016 recruits before the opener at Notre Dame, “Watch for our up-tempo offensive.We’re going to run 85-90 plays a game.” The Horns ran 781 plays in 12 games. I’ll let you do the arithmetic.
This August the fluff has been as fluffy as ever. The following quotes are just from Thursday’s Austin-American-Statesman.
– Malik Jefferson on Charlie Strong, “I see hope and passion in his eyes.” More from Jefferson, “Guys are really coming for one common goal, there’s no selfishness or anything like that. This whole summer we’ve been working really hard.”
– Charlie Strong,” I really like this team. I just like their overall attitude. At every position it’s been so competive.”
I kind of prefer what Darrell Royal once said this time of year. “We’re as average as every day wash.”
I believe Texas went 10-1 that year.

Mr. August
Charlie Strong should know by now that Swoopes’ six-foot-four inch, 250-pound chiseled frame and rocket arm create the illusion in August that Swoopes will be a winning quarterback in September and beyond. But if the reports from fall camp are accurate, Swoopes just might get another chance to start Sunday night. This has sent shudders through the Longhorn faithful, and it should. My hope was that Strong would delegate this decision to the new offensive coordinator, Sterlin Gilbert, but then I remembered Gilbert said that to avoid absorbing negative thoughts about his players he would watch no game film from last year. Uh, oh, see my reference to the August illusion above.
For my money, we know what Swoopes can do—let’s go with the kid. My wife, Helen, who is frugal with her opinions on Longhorn Football, at times can see the forest that I can’t see for the trees. She told me last night at dinner, “Strong’s not stupid, Buechele will start.” Hope she’s right.

Why Texas Will be Better this Year than Last.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict that new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will be a vast improvement over Shawn Watson and Jay Norvell. After all, flying on a booster’s private jet, UT president Gregory Fenves and UT athletic director accompanied Charlie Strong to Tulsa to woo Gilbert to Austin. Paraphrasing Ron Burgundy, Gilbert must be kind of a big deal.
Caveat
Gilbert’s last two coaching positions were with Tulsa and Bowling Green, so he hasn’t performed on the big stage yet. No matter how his offense performs this year, this time next year he’s sure to comment on how steep the learning curve was for him during his first year in Austin.

The offensive line
Anchored by returning starters Kent Perkins, Connor Williams, and Partick Vahe. Perkins has been a solid if not spectacular performer the past two years. Forced to play tackle last year because of depth issues, this year he moves to his natural guard position. Williams and Vahe were named to some freshmen All-American teams in 2015.
Caveat
The starting center was going to be true freshman Zach Shackelford. A true freshman starting at center isn’t ideal to say the least. It may have gotten even less ideal since Shackelford sat out most of fall camp with an ankle injury, making Jake McMillon, a converted defensive tackle, the probable starter for Notre Dame.

I don’t have Jonathan Gray to kick around anymore.
D’Onta Foreman was Texas’ leading rusher in 2015 with 681 total yards and averaged a team best 7.2 yards per carry but Jonathan Gray led the team in rushing attempts with 123. Foreman only carried the ball 95 times. What’s up with that? With Foreman and Chris Warren getting the most carries this year, the running game should be much improved.
Caveat
Foreman and Chris Warren are checking in at 250 pounds or more each. Are they getting fat?

Rising Sophomores:
Wide receiver John Burt, afore-mentioned offensive linemen Connor Williams, and Patrick Vahe, and running back Chris Warren were major players as freshmen in 2015. In 2016, they are veterans and rising stars. On defense, the same can be said for linebackers Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler, defensive ends Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager, and cornerbacks Davante Davis, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, and John Bonney. OK, Bonney is probably not a rising star, but he was a starter last year.
Caveat
Texas will start just nine juniors and seniors, if you count Swoopes as a starter. Five on defense, four on offense. The only standout in this group is running back D’Onta Foreman. This is good news for 2017 but it’s not so great for 2016.

This is not and should not be a make or break year for Charlie Strong
Unless the wheels completely come off and Texas goes 4-8 or worse, Strong will be back in 2017. Even at 5-7 or 6-7 Strong gets a fourth season, and he should, considering the sophomore and freshman classes Strong has assembled.

2016 Prediction
We received 18 season predictions from our loyal readers. After throwing out the 14-0 prank — rymes with Frank — prediction, the average predictiction was 7.4 wins, 4.6 losses.

To make my prediction, I grouped the season into three sets.
Set One
1. Notre Dame
2. Oklahoma
3. Baylor
4. TCU
Set One record: 1-3
Set Two
1. Cal
2. Oklahoma St.
3. Kansas St.
4. Texas Tech
Set Two record 2-2
Set Three
1. UTEP
2. Iowa State
3. West Virginia
4. Kansas
Set Three record: 4-0

Willie Earl’s 2016 season prediction: 7-5.
If my father was around, he might ask, “Do we all agree that Texas will go 7-5 this year?”

“Pretty much Dad.”

Notre Dame Prologue

There weren’t many cars on the road as I drove through the winter darkness to Austin from Dallas, where a few hours before Texas had lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and with it the National Championship that was ours to lose. I had to be more vigilant than usual, because there were random ice patches on I-35 where thawing ice and snow from the storm the night before had re-frozen. More vigilant driving for me on January 2, 1978 mostly meant that I wasn’t smoking a joint. Just north of Hillsboro, the radio broadcast of the Orange Bowl started, pitting Arkansas against Oklahoma. I knew the winner would be ranked ahead of Texas in the final rankings although Texas beat both teams in back-to-back weeks during October in two of the most stirring Texas football games in my memory. The irony of this minor injustice didn’t escape me, but I was at peace with it, as I was with Texas’ loss of the National Championship just hours earlier.
Alone in my car, a calm and sense of well-being had come over me since I left my close friend Joe, a Notre Dame student, and his friends at their motel as they celebrated their victory and, courtesy of the AP and UPI polls, what would be their National Championship. Somehow, only a couple of hours after such a disappointing loss, I had taken to heart that nothing could diminish the joy and excitement I experienced during that 1977 Texas Football season.
***************
Playing Notre Dame first out-of-the-chute heightens the joy, excitement, and anticipation of a new season to a level experienced around Austin only once or so a decade. The Longhorns luck with the Irish hasn’t improved since that season-ending loss nearly 39 years ago. Since then there have been losses in 1995, 1996 and last year in that debacle in South Bend.
If Texas loses a fifth straight time to Notre Dame Sunday night, will Charlie Strong and Longhorn fans feel anything akin to a calm and sense of well-being about the short- and long-term prospects for Texas Football?

HooK ‘Em,

Willie Earl

3 Comments to “Texas Football 2016 Preview”

  1. W.E., I had my own season opener “tailgate” last night in my apartment overlooking Westlake in Hanoi, serving up an Australian “Wagyu” brisket to an appreciative crowd consisting of one Japanese, two Taiwanese, four Vietnamese, one Dutchman, an Aussie, a Brit, two Americans (GWU and Michigan State), with a Korean (my memsahib) on the pinto beans and a ’79 Texas grad handling the smoker. They all became Texas converts by the end of the evening. And we’ll convert the Catholics too when they to come to Austin, by God, as we tramp down Thunder Road!

  2. Hi WE. You are a living legend. I remember the games but not the drives home or the before and after parties. I think Swoopes should start. There is a hockey expression about guys being “strong on the puck”. Swoopes brings better ball security. Don’t want to put up a HS quarterback against an NFL caliber front 7. I am unfamiliar with Stirlin Gilbert’s coaching tree. Is our offensive attack similar to that mess Tennessee trotted out last night? I sure hope not.

    • Hey Rick,

      Thanks for checking in! All I know about Gilbert is what I wrote except he coached with Briles some where. Obviously I disagree about Swoopes who has been a turnover machine.

      Keep in touch.

What Say You?