One of college football s lingering questions this off-season concerns whether Texas is truly back.
Can they eclipse the preseason win total of 9.5 set by BetOnline, Bovadaand Draft Kings? My bet is no, although I like two of their Big 12 rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to each eclipse the win projections for their 2019 campaigns. More on them in a moment.
There is plenty to like about Tom Herman s Texas Longhorns after going 10-4 last year, with all three of their regular-season losses coming by five points or less. They return a Heisman Trophy contender in Sam Ehlinger, a star receiver in Collin Johnson and a budding talent in running back Keaontay Ingram.
After beating Georgia in last year s Sugar Bowl, it s time for Texas to become a national power again, right? That s what the preseason rankings will say, as the Longhorns are a sure bet to earn a top-10 maybe even a top-five spot when the first set of rankings come out in August. Whether they can stay there is a different story altogether.
ESPN s preseason Football Power Index does not offer a particularly sunny outlook, ranking Texas in its No. 26 spot largely because it lost 13 senior starters from last year s team. Although Herman s staff has recruited well, that s a ton of experience to replace particularly from a solid defense. SB Nation stats guru Bill Connelly was even more skeptical when he released his offseason S&P+ rankings, placing Texas in the No. 35 spot and noting that the Longhorns are No. 51 in returning production.
Expecting them to post a 10-win regular season after that much turnover seems unreasonable, no matter how much talent is waiting in the wings. Although the schedule is not too rough, the Longhorns will be away from home when they face West Virginia, TCU and Oklahoma, the rival they annually face in Dallas. Plus, they will face a massive early test when LSU visits Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Sept. 14.
The LSU game might be the bellwether as to whether the Texas hype is justified. The Tigers are ranked fourth on the preseason FPI and S&P+ lists, and they return a great deal of talent Connelly also ranks them fourth in returning production from 2018. If Texas can win that game, double-digit wins will suddenly seem much more achievable. But should they lose, it seems highly unlikely that Texas will go 10-1 the rest of the way. The program hasn t had a 10-win regular season in a solid decade.
Here are four other intriguing options to consider when evaluating which preseason win totals to bet.
Oklahoma State: Over six wins
After Mike Gundy s team went 6-6 in the 2018 regular season, Draft Kings has them slotted for six wins again this year. BetOnline and Bovada set the number at 6.5.
However, I see the Cowboys returning to form and beating both of those totals. Remember, Gundy s teams went 10-3 in each of the three previous seasons before falling off last fall. And of their six losses in 2018, four came by seven points or less plus they beat Texas and West Virginia and lost to Oklahoma by a single point. The Cowboys might have been college football s most confounding team of 2018.
Gundy will have to sort things out at quarterback between Spencer Sanders and Dru Brown, but either player could serve as an effective replacement for Taylor Cornelius. Whoever wins the QB job will be surrounded by talent, as evidenced by Connelly placing them in the No. 22 spot in his offseason S&P+ rankings. The FPI is more bearish, ranking the Cowboys 39th, but even that ranking could get them to at least seven victories.
The Aug. 30 opener at Oregon State feels like it could be a trap game for OSU, but if they make it out of Corvallis with a win, finishing better than .500 seems entirely achievable.
Oklahoma: Over 10 wins
Draft Kings had Oklahoma with 10 victories, while Bovada and BetOnline set the number at a slightly scarier 10.5. Regardless, the Sooners have established a standard for winning 10-plus games by this point, no matter who serves as head coach or takes snaps.
Just as Lincoln Riley kept Oklahoma atop the Big 12 heap after Bob Stoops’ departure, Kyler Murray won the Heisman and took the Sooners to last season’s College Football Playoff just the same as predecessor Baker Mayfield. With former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts now serving as the Sooners’ starter, don’t expect the offense to slow down a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some questions about this team. An outstanding offensive line must replace four starters. The Sooners have a new defensive coordinator in Alex Grinch leading a defense that was often atrocious last year. And the offense lost one of the nation’s top playmakers in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Unlike Texas, Riley and the Sooners have earned the benefit of the doubt regarding roster turnover. This program sits sixth in the FPI preseason rankings and fifth in the S&P+, and it has averaged 10.75 wins over the previous four regular seasons. The Sooners will figure it out again.
Texas A&M: Under 7.5 wins
This is not an indictment of what Jimbo Fisher has accomplished thus far in College Station. It seems apparent that A&M will be a salty bunch that deserves a preseason ranking. The FPI and S&P+ back up that assessment, ranking the Aggies 11th and 13th, respectively.
However, the Aggies are also set to play one of the nation s nastiest schedules. They will face the top four teams in both the preseason FPI and S&P+ Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU and they actually close the season with back-to-back road dates against UGA and LSU. If the Aggies are to meet or surpass last season s nine-win mark, challenging games against Auburn (Sept. 21) and Mississippi State (Oct. 26) look like the key. Win both of those games and getting past 7.5 wins seems much more feasible. Split and it s still possible. Lose both and there s no way.
The good news is that both games are at Kyle Field. In fact, the Aggies leave the state of Texas just twice (Sept. 7 at Clemson and Oct. 19 at Ole Miss) in the first 12 weeks of the season before the Nov. 23 trip to Georgia.
Auburn: Under eight wins
The concern for Auburn is much like the problem that Texas A&M will face. This should be a strong team capable of beating anyone on its schedule, as evidenced by its top-10 spot in both the FPI and the S&P+ rankings. Unfortunately, several of the nation s nastiest teams will get a shot at Gus Malzahn s Tigers before it s all said and done.
Auburn will face six of the top 11 teams on the preseason FPI: No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 LSU, No. 8 Florida, No. 10 Oregon and No. 11 Texas A&M. The Tigers will also host No. 16 Mississippi State a week after that challenging early road trip to A&M.
Maybe there is reason for optimism because Gus Malzahn is back calling plays, helping his offense complement a defense that should be suffocating. The Tigers will also get Georgia and Alabama at home, where Auburn is always more competitive. But even with those advantages, the Tigers will open the season against Oregon with a rookie quarterback either redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or true freshman Bo Nix and have way too many losable games on the schedule. As talented as this team will be, getting past the eight-win plateau would be an accomplishment.
BOVADA S AVAILABLE WIN TOTALS FOR POWER FIVE TEAMS:
Boston College 6.5, Clemson 11.5, Duke 6.5, Florida State 7.5, Georgia Tech 4.5, Louisville 4, Miami 8.5, North Carolina 4.5, N.C. State 7.5, Pittsburgh 6, Wake Forest 7
Illinois 3, Indiana 6, Iowa 7.5, Maryland 4.5, Michigan 9.5, Michigan State 7.5, Minnesota 6.5, Nebraska 8, Northwestern 6.5, Ohio State 10, Penn State 8.5, Purdue 7.5, Wisconsin 8.5
Baylor 6.5, Iowa State 8, Kansas 3.5, Kansas State 5.5, Oklahoma 10, Oklahoma State 6.5, TCU 7.5, Texas 9.5, Texas Tech 6.5
Oregon 9, Stanford 6.5, USC 7.5, Utah 8.5, Washington 10, Washington State 8
Alabama 11, Arkansas 6, Auburn 8, Florida 9, Georgia 10.5, Kentucky 6.5, LSU 9, Mississippi State 8, Missouri 7, Ole Miss 5, South Carolina 6, Tennessee 7, Texas A&M 7.5, Vanderbilt 5
Notre Dame 9.5
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