The Texas Longhorns under Charlie Strong (3rd year, 11-14), and the Mountaineers of West Virginia coached by Dana Holgorsen (6th year, 36-28) are facing the same predicament in the upcoming football season. Win big or see you later head coach. It is now serious business in both Austin and Morgantown and both these leaders of programs that supporters expect more than what they have been getting lately are on the proverbial hot seat. From looking at it in the late weeks before the kickoff of the new campaign, don’t expect these two to make it to 2017 in the same job. Texas has just too much to overcome with a schedule that will pile up loss after loss and West Virginia is in no better a situation with a defense that won’t give their coach a winning record in conference games. It will be a long season for Horn and Mountain men.
HEAD COACH: CHARLIE STRONG (3rd Year, 11-14)
This is a make or break year for Charlie Strong. It will be a season of discontent in Austin. It could be as bad as an four win and eight loss season. A coaching change early is possible with first half of the season losses to Notre Dame, California, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Kansas State are all losable games in the balance of the year. Nothing will be easy for Texas. Even with some success, can Strong survive a seven or eight win season? Maybe, maybe not.
When you start a freshman quarterback you are playing with fire. Texas will be playing with a bonfire in game one in Austin against the Irish of Notre Dame Shane Buchele will get the start with veteran quarterback Tryone Swoopes ready to mop up if needed. Yes, it is a home game and a payback one also. Texas remembers the 38-0 pasting last year in South Bend. But you can think all you want that the Horns will win with a rookie taking his first snaps in a big time ball game against a big time opponent. Add the fact that the Horns will run a new offense put in by former Tulsa offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert (a Art Briles disciple to boot), Texas is not my pick in this one.
Offense: An average offensive line will be good enough for Texas to run the ball on many people. But can they adjust to a quick fire passing game with a rookie quarterback? Mistakes will happen and against better teams Texas will suffer. UT will go into many games with an inferior offense to their opponents. Ranking the offense it is inferior to everyone but Kansas, Iowa State and Kansas State in the league. This Texas offense is not in the class of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. Offense Grade: C
Defense: Giving up over 450 yards a game last year Texas is not the defensive team that Coach Strong envisions. Can they improve enough to give them an advantage when they face high the high powered offenses of the Big Twelve? Probably not. OU, OSU, Tech, TCU, Baylor and West Virginia will score plenty. UT does have some bright spots on defense with future All-American Malik Jefferson (Big Twelve Defensive Freshman of the Year) holding down the middle linebacker spot. At 6’3, 240, this future NFL player is the real deal. He will get his money’s worth this year. There are other strong and athletic players on the defense for Texas, but in the end, they will still get torched often this year. Defense Grade: B-
Special Teams: No All League players here Grade: C
Texas can win more than they lose but it has to start at home against the Irish. That game is key and could set the tone for the season. Lose that game and you are looking down the barrel of a bad start. It won’t be easy to beat California or Oklahoma State on the road, and OU will be ready to lay a big score on the Horns in the Cotton Bowl.
Games Texas will win: UTEP, Iowa State, Kansas
Toss up games: Notre Dame, California, Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech
Games Texas will lose: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor
Final Record: 4-8 Conference: 3-6
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
HEAD COACH: DANA HOLGORSEN (6TH YEAR 36-28)
You spell success in the Big Twelve by scoring a bunch of points, 40, 50, often times 60 or more. West Virginia will score many points in 2016, but with a loss of most of their defense, the scoreboard will light up opposite the West Virginia side. That spells trouble for Coach Dana Holgorsen as another so so year could be the last for him in the Big Twelve. It won’t be easy. West Virginia must finish with a winning conference record.
Offense: Quarterback Skyler Howard will have plenty of opportunities to light it up. Look for the offense to shine with senior running back Rushel Shell and some good pass catchers. The offensive line will be good. Offense Grade: A-
Defense: The secondary will be a complete re-build and that say West Virginia will do well to match last years effectiveness. I don’t think they will. They signed 15 defenders in recruiting and some of them will be used. Nine went through spring ball. Defense Grade: D
Special Teams: Josh Lambert is a difference maker with his field goals. In games where a field goal can win a game, West Virginia has a decided advantage. Special Teams Grade: A-
This is a real make or break year for Dana Holgorsen. Winning the non-conference games are important but what happens in conference is what will decide if he comes back. Eight home games is nice.
Games West Virginia will win: Youngstown State, Kansas
Toss up games: Missouri, BYU, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, Baylor
Games West Virginia will lose: TCU, Oklahoma
Final record: 7-5 Conference: 4-5