What to Watch for As Texas College Football Returns

After turning his back on UH, can Tom Herman bring success and happiness to UT?
After turning his back on UH, can Tom Herman bring success and happiness to UT?
Jackson Gorman

It’s been a busy week for many colleges around the country as football teams return to campus to start practice for the upcoming season. It’s that time of year when coaches see how well the new offenses they implemented back during the spring are really going to work. Position battles are, they hope, settled.

So let’s take a quick look at some of the issues affecting some Texas schools as they head into the season.

TEXAS LONGHORNS ARE UNDER PRESSURE

The Texas Longhorns have disappointed just about everyone since that national title loss to Alabama back in 2010. Mack Brown was finally forced out. Charlie Strong came aboard to right the ship and to install some discipline in the program. Three years (and one loss to Kansas) later, Strong is gone. Now in charge is former UH head coach Tom Herman, who formerly coached with Mack Brown.

Herman had success in his two years at Houston, even getting Houston into the playoff conversation early last season before injuries and late-season distractions bought the team back to Earth. Herman had a sometimes testy relationship with the Houston media, and that has carried over to Austin, where earlier this week UT banned reporters from posting quotes, audio or video while Herman was talking. It’s kind of strange to think that Herman might already be feeling pressure in Austin, but it does appear to be the case.

Herman stepped into the ideal situation at Houston. Despite his problems as a coach, Tony Levine had been a decent recruiter, and the Cougars were stocked with talent, including Greg Ward Jr., who was just waiting for a coach to figure out how to best use his talents. Herman should get a bit more of a honeymoon at Austin than Strong did, but how much leeway does he get, especially if he gets off to a slow start?

HOUSTON COUGARS LET MAJOR BE MAJOR

Say this about Tom Herman and his short tenure at Houston: He knew how to generate hype. Major Applewhite doesn’t seem to be the type of head coach who is going to go around kissing every player, getting grills or feuding with sports talk hosts. And none of that will matter if his version of the Cougars continues to win games like Herman’s version.

Applewhite’s main issue right now is figuring out this year’s quarterback. He’s got three decent options in Kyle Postma, who spent the past two seasons backing up Greg Ward Jr.; Kyle Allen, who helped to bring about the great Herman-610 Radio feud; and D’Eriq King, who had some explosive plays as a kick returner last season. Postma and King were injured during spring practice, so it’s only now that Applewhite and his coaches get a chance to get all three on even footing.

Applewhite says he wants the running game to come from his running backs and not be centered on his quarterback. He also says his goal is to get a scheme that fits his team and makes the best use of his players instead of forcing them into a scheme. We’ll see if he succeeds when UH faces UT-San Antonio to start the season.

RICE OWLS ARE TRAVELING MEN

Rice’s practices actually started last week since the Owls start the season a week earlier than most of the nation’s other teams. Rice gets the opportunity to kick off in Sydney, Australia, against Stanford, a trip that has the team leaving Houston on Sunday and arriving on a Tuesday. Head coach David Bailiff says he’s been picking the brain of Sonny Dykes, the former coach of Cal whose team made the trip last year, on the best way to handle the travel and preparation.

The Owls will have a week off after Australia, then will travel to El Paso for a game with UTEP, and the next week will take the bus over to UH to face the Cougars — Bailiff says his team has both the longest and the shortest road trips of the year — before they finally get to play a game at Rice Stadium at the end of September.

Rice is currently busy switching to a 3-4 defense preferred by new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, while offensive coordinator Billy Lynch is attempting to choose from three quarterback options. The Owls have had two very disappointing seasons in a row, and while the team hopes to get things turned around, starting with this kind of schedule might make that really difficult.

A&M AGGIES HOPE TO SAIL ON

Kevin Sumlin was supposed to take the Texas A&M Aggies to the next level. And with Johnny Manziel as his QB, the Aggies looked poised to take that step into the stratosphere of college programs like SEC giants Alabama and LSU. But the Aggies are coming off three straight 8-5 seasons and the A&M athletic director has told the media that Sumlin has to win this year.

So what is winning for the Aggies? Does the team have to win the SEC? Good luck getting past Alabama. Does it have to win the SEC West? The Aggies haven’t finished better than fourth in the SEC West since 2012. Is finishing the season ranked good enough? Is a bowl game win good enough?

This wasn’t supposed to happen to the Aggies. They tried to get out of UT’s shadow. They hired a coach known for high-powered offenses. They produced a Heisman winner. But none of that matters anymore.

BAYLOR BEARS HAVE BURNED DOWN THE HOUSE

Art Briles, gone. Ian McCaw, gone. Ken Starr, gone. Baylor has supposedly cleaned house and, one hopes, swept out the remnants of the coaching staff and administration that allowed a far-ranging sexual assault scandal to take place. Former UH AD Mack Rhoades bought in Temple’s Matt Ruhle to coach the team, hoping that Ruhle can keep the Bears winning while running a clean program.

Ruhle had success at Temple, revitalizing a football program that had been as lost in the wilderness as Baylor was before Art Briles was hired. Like seemingly everyone else, Ruhle has to choose a quarterback to run his offense, which at Temple was more of a pro-style than the spread of Briles. But Rhule’s prime goal seems to be, he says, reshaping the football culture into one that involves improved GPAs and community service by the players.

Matt Ruhle is a promising coach saying the right things at a school where the right things haven’t been done very often for a long, long time. He might get to fly under the radar a bit as tries to enforce his vision of a football program at a troubled school. And here’s hoping for the good of the school that he pulls it off.


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