With the 2023 college football season fast approaching, Yahoo Sports is rolling out our annual Top 25. We revealed Nos. 11 through 25 in three parts and are now counting down from No. 10 to No. 1 in the days leading up to the official start of the season on Aug. 26.
No. 10 Texas
2022 record: 8-5 (6-3 Big 12)
National title odds: +2000
Over/under: 9.5 wins
Is this the year Texas finally makes a big jump back into the elite of college football?
Texas is a proud program that just has not produced at the level that its fans expect over the last decade-plus. The Longhorns endured a stretch where they finished a season ranked just once between their BCS title game loss in 2009 and a 10-win season under Tom Herman in 2018. Herman lasted two more seasons after that, going 8-5 in 2019 and 7-3 in 2020. That wasn’t enough for the Texas brass, who brought in Steve Sarkisian from Alabama to take over the program.
Through two years under Sarkisian, it’s been a familiar plod — 5-7 in 2021 and 8-5 last fall. Last year was a positive step after the 2021 disaster, but a few close losses in Big 12 play ultimately put a cap on the potential of Texas’ season.
A year later, the Longhorns are the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 in their final season in the league before they move to the SEC with Oklahoma.
We’ve seen this show before. Texas has been the subject of preseason hype for years and has largely failed to meet expectations. Could this year be different?
With one of the best rosters in the country, the Longhorns certainly have the talent to win their first Big 12 title since 2009. Whether that talent can come together and win at a high level remains to be seen.
Is Quinn Ewers ready to lead the loaded Texas offense?
Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers showed flashes of what made him one of the most acclaimed recruits in recent memory, but he also had bouts of inaccuracy and inconsistency.
A Texas native, Ewers memorably skipped his senior year of high school to enroll early at Ohio State. But after just one semester in Columbus, Ewers returned to his home state by transferring to UT, where he earned the starting QB job in 2022.
Ewers missed some time due to injury but ended up throwing for 2,177 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions as a redshirt freshman. But he completed only 58.1% of his passes and struggled with accuracy and in the red zone. Ewers needs to be better for the Longhorns to reach their ceiling. And if he’s not, both Maalik Murphy and Arch Manning are waiting in the wings.
Though Texas lost star RB Bijan Robinson to the NFL, there’s a plethora of talent returning on the offense. UT has a loaded offensive line and one of the best receiver groups in the country. Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders all return from last year’s team, and the Longhorns also added AD Mitchell from Georgia and get Isaiah Neyor back from a knee injury. Neyor was expected to be a major transfer addition for Texas last season.
Robinson, the No. 8 pick in the draft, was arguably the best running back in the country. He rushed for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 314 yards and two scores in 12 games. And not only is Robinson gone, but Roschon Johnson (2,190 career yards) moved on to the pros, too.
Even without those two, the UT staff seems confident in the RB group that remains behind. Jonathon Brooks, who has 340 yards on 51 career carries, is expected to be the team’s top back with Cedric Baxter, Jaydon Blue and Keilan Robinson also competing for touches.
This offense has the chance to be one of the nation’s best.
Can the defense take another step forward?
The Texas defense showed significant improvement from 2021 to 2022, but there is still room for growth. Specifically, the Longhorns struggled to sack the quarterback and to get off the field on critical downs. Last season, the Longhorns’ defense ranked No. 113 nationally in sack rate, 94th in third-down conversion rate and 86th in fourth-down conversion rate.
All five of Texas’ losses came by a one-score margin, so improvements in those areas could go a long way. But does Texas have the personnel to do so in its second season under defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski?
Up front, a few multi-year starters in Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo depart but T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy are both back on the interior, as is veteran Alfred Collins. Barryn Sorrell, Justice Finkley and Ethan Burke are expected to be the key guys off the edge while star linebacker Jaylan Ford returns as the leader of the defense.
Aside from Ford, UT will break in several new starters at linebacker. Five-star freshman Anthony Hill could work his way into the rotation right away but senior David Gbenda is expected to move into the spot formerly occupied by DeMarvion Overshown, a three-year starter who was a third-round draft pick.
In the secondary, Ryan Watts is back at corner with Jahdae Barron in the nickel spot and Jerrin Thompson as one of the safeties. The other safety spot will likely go to Jalen Catalon, the talented but oft-injured transfer from Arkansas. Texas isn't particularly deep at safety, so Catalon needs to stay healthy.
The battle for the other corner spot opposite Watts is between sophomore Terrance Brooks and Wake Forest transfer Gavin Holmes. No matter who ultimately gets the starting nod, the Longhorns are in good shape at corner with those three and several underclassmen pushing for playing time behind them.
Biggest game: Sept. 9 at Alabama
Texas nearly upset Alabama at home last fall as Bryce Young used some late-game wizardry to help the Crimson Tide escape Austin with a 20-19 victory. This year, the Longhorns head to Tusacaloosa in Week 2 for a potential statement game.
For one, Texas can show that it is a legitimate College Football Playoff contender if it can go to Bryant-Denny Stadium and get a win before beginning Big 12 play. On top of that, it would be a major statement for the Texas program ahead of its transition to the SEC next fall.
Alabama could still be working on figuring out its best option at quarterback for the 2023 season, so Texas may have an opportunity to pounce on the Tide early in the season before they hit their stride. As of this writing, Texas is only a seven-point underdog so an upset over Nick Saban’s team is not out of the question.
Impact player: LB Jaylan Ford
Ford, the preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12, took a massive step forward last fall and emerged as one of the best linebackers in the country. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound Ford put up 119 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, four interceptions and three forced fumbles on the year.
Can he take his game to another level in 2023?
Pick: Over 9.5 wins (-135)
I’ve been skeptical of the Texas hype in the past, but I’m buying in this year. I just think the Longhorns are vastly superior along the lines of scrimmage when compared to almost all of the teams on their schedule and don’t have a glaring weakness at any position.
The Longhorns could be favored in all but the Alabama game and they only have to leave the state of Texas once in Big 12 play (the trip to Iowa State). I suspect UT will slip up somewhere along the way in Big 12 play, but I think this team can get to 10 wins.