For major college football teams in Texas, now is the time to hit the reset button after last year’s historically bad season for Lone Star State schools.
Spring football drills began Friday at TCU, two days after Texas A&M got things rolling in College Station. Texas Tech opened Saturday and Texas, under new coach Tom Herman, is set to begin Monday.
Among the state’s Power 5 programs, Baylor will be the last to take the field. The Bears open March 18 under new coach Matt Rhule.
Regardless of rooting interest, the hope is the same for each of Texas’ Division I programs: improvement. For the first time in 49 years, none cracked the Associated Press’ 2016 Top 25 postseason poll. As a group, Texas’ 12 major-college teams finished last season a combined 65-85.
The highest-profile struggles came from the Power 5 programs: Texas (5-7), Texas A&M (8-5), Texas Tech (5-7), TCU (6-7) and Baylor (7-6). All five have a long way to go to become conference title contenders or College Football Playoff participants this season.
But the road to redemption has started. Here are some storylines to monitor this spring, as well as announced dates for spring dates, for teams in Texas and throughout the Big 12:
TCU (April 8): The digits in quarterback Kenny Hill’s touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (17-13) were too close together last season and the returning starter is now backed by freshman Shawn Robinson, a four-star signee from DeSoto who will take part in spring drills. The Horned Frogs also must make strides defensively after allowing opponents to convert on 44 percent of last year’s third-down opportunities, well above the 28 percent success rate established in 2015. TCU’s back seven on defense is filled with returning starters and/or experienced players, but new impact players must surface in the defensive trenches.
Texas A&M (April 8): The Aggies’ roster includes nine freshmen from the February signing class who enrolled early and are competing in spring drills, led by heralded QB Kellen Mond. Mond is expected to compete for the starting job with redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and senior Jake Hubenak, who backed up the departed Trevor Knight last season. But A&M’s biggest challenge rests with replacing two NFL-bound standouts at defensive end: Myles Garrett, an Arlington Martin graduate projected by most analysts as the top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and Daeshon Hall.
Texas Tech (April 8): The Red Raiders, who have scheduled an April 1 scrimmage at The Star in Frisco in addition to their April 8 spring game in Lubbock, must replace standout quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Iowa transfer Nic Shimonek, a fifth-year senior who served as Mahomes’ backup last season, looms as the early front-runner. But the spring focus will be on improving a defense that ranked last among the nation’s 128 FBS teams in yards allowed (554.3 per game) and points allowed (43.5 average) last season.
Texas (April 15): New coach Tom Herman, who compiled a 22-4 mark the past two seasons at Houston, inherits lots of young talent from predecessor Charlie Strong but must find a way to make it mesh in a successful package. The Longhorns were a combined 16-21 in three seasons under Strong, with no winning records, but have several interesting pieces to build around. The list includes QB Shane Buechele, RB Chris Warren, OT Connor Williams, LB Malik Jefferson and DB Brandon Jones. Don’t forget QB Sam Ehlinger, an early enrollee who will take part in spring drills.
Baylor (April 22): Rhule begins making on-field adjustments to a program reeling from the impact of a sexual assault scandal involving players that unfolded under predecessor Art Briles. Rhule earned kudos for February’s recruiting haul that netted OL Xavier Newman and QB Charlie Brewer, plus others. Lots of freshmen must step up this spring after the Bears ended last season with fewer than 70 scholarship players.
Oklahoma (April 8): The two-time defending Big 12 champions will be favored to three-peat behind QB Baker Mayfield, who created negative headlines with last weekend’s arrest in Arkansas on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest. While Mayfield’s punishment from coach Bob Stoops remains unclear, the Sooners’ obvious need in spring drills is to establish weapons around Mayfield to replace the NFL-bound talents of WR Dede Westbrook, RB Joe Mixon and RB Samaje Perine.
Oklahoma State (April 15): The Cowboys return enough proven offensive pieces, led by QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington, to win a Big 12 title. To make it happen, they’ll need progress from a group of defenders that must uncover fresh playmakers at defensive tackle and in the secondary to compensate for graduation losses at those spots.
Iowa State (April 8): The Cyclones’ biggest challenges rest in the trenches, where ISU must replace four starters in the offensive line and three in the defensive line.
West Virginia (April 15): The development of transfer QB Will Grier, who posted a 6-0 record as Florida’s starter during the 2015 season, will be the most monitored item of spring drills. Grier left Florida after being suspended for failing an NCAA drug test for a banned substance.
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Kansas (April 15): The starting QB job appears destined to fall to Peyton Bender, a JC transfer who began his college career at Washington State. Other details will be sorted out this spring as the Jayhawks seek to build on a 2-10 record marked by last season’s 24-21 upset of Texas.
Kansas State (April 22): The Wildcats, led by dual-threat QB Jesse Ertz, could challenge for a Big 12 title if the defense can plug some play-making gaps this spring. But the biggest question surrounds the health of Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder, 77, who is undergoing treatment for throat cancer.