Longhorns fans are already preparing themselves for the first Bowl victory since coach Mack Brown won a championship in 2012. Its been a long time since winning confetti has sprinkled down on the Forty Acres — an eternity for a program that was ranked as the most profitable in all of the FBS. Coach Tom Herman inherits the burnt orange clipboard with the expectations of the state capital on his shoulders. Here are the five players to watch that could give UT a chance at their first winning record in four years.
Connor Williams, OL
As a sophomore, Williams generously opened gaping holes on the offensive front for D’Onta Foreman to storm through and break the school’s record for most consecutive games with 100+ yards. A candidate to potentially win the College Football Player of the Year as one of four offensive linemen on the Maxwell Award watch list, Williams could see his 2018 Draft stock increase substantially if he can provide coverage to second-year starter Shane Buechelle and allow Foreman’s successor the opportunity to run for comparable numbers. Additionally, the Coppell graduate was the fourth Longhorn in school history to be named a first-team All-American.
Shane Buechele, QB
Buechele etched his name in the Texas record books for nearly every freshman record last season. With a year of development and a quarterback friendly coach who has tutored shot-callers into Heisman contenders, Buechele is the Longhorns’ most reliable qb since Colt McCoy was leading the offense in 2009. After barely missing the 3,000-yard mark last year, Buechele seems primed to mimic the rise of such Herman quarterbacks as Greg Ward Jr. and J.T. Barrett in becoming a well-rounded and efficient offensive force.
Chris Warren III, RB
Warren III has some awfully large cleats to fill in the absence of current Houston Texan stud D’Onta Foreman. Despite the legendary whirling dervish relentlessly gobbling up yardage last season, Warren III held his own, quietly putting up 366 yards and three touchdowns in his first four games, before watching his season cut short to a knee injury. The 250-pound junior has the physicality to bulldoze the opposition, like he did in a 276-yard outburst against Texas Tech in 2015. However, health issues may be the only thing stopping him from reaching his potential as a starter.
Malik Jefferson, OLB
The tale of the Mesquite Poteet grad is split into two seasons: during his first, Jefferson was the belle of the FBS ball, finishing second on the team in tackles with 61 and earning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. In his sophomore campaign, he failed to showcase much growth and was inconsistent as middle linebacker, improving to 62 tackles and second-team All-Big 12. Incoming defensive coordinator Todd Orlando saw the flaws and decided to shift the junior to outside linebacker, reasoning that his size and explosiveness would create a lot of problems rushing off the edge. Jefferson and Williams were the only Longhorns honored on Sports Illustrated Top-100 list.
Poona Ford, DT
The senior compiled 5.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and 54 tackles; his 40 solo tackles set an impressive mark for individual stops at his position. Coach Herman has bandwagoned Ford hard from the first spring practice and is telling everyone to keep an eye on the second-team All-Big 12th selection. Since 2012, Ford and Malcom Brown are the only 300-pound Longhorns to exceed the 50-tackle marker.
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