Ask the Texpert: ‘Stangs and Cougars and Bears, oh my, plus win projections

The offseason is in full swing with coaches hitting the road recruiting, the transfer portal still churning and February signing day quickly approaching. With the dust settled on the 2023 season and the page turned to 2024, it’s a great time to take your questions for Ask the Texpert.

Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What are your way-too-early win total predictions for the Texas schools in 2024? — Cole K.

This is tricky for several reasons. We only know the full layout of Texas and Texas A&M’s schedule so far. For the Big 12 schools we know the opponents and locations, just not the order. Same for SMU, although the ACC will announce its full schedule on Wednesday. The AAC, Conference USA and the Sun Belt also have yet to announce their slates, so there’s a lot of guesswork involved.

Also, the rosters will change substantially between now and August, which makes these predictions a bit of a crapshoot. But I scanned all the opponents for 11 of the 13 in-state FBS programs (UTEP and Sam Houston’s conference opponents/locations aren’t yet known) and gave it my best shot, given teams’ current states. Here’s my best way-too-early guess, in alphabetical order by school:

Baylor: 6-6
Houston: 4-8
North Texas: 6-6
Rice: 7-5
Sam Houston: 4-8
SMU: 7-5
Texas: 11-1
Texas A&M: 8-4
TCU: 7-5
Texas State: 8-4
Texas Tech: 9-3
UTEP: 4-8
UTSA: 9-3

I’m sure you will all agree 100 percent, but on the off chance you don’t, feel free to drop any follow up questions about the predictions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

What would you consider a successful season for SMU next year in the ACC? They return a fair amount of talent, but clearly, the level of play will also increase? — John M.

Is SMU ready to compete in the ACC? I am thinking middle of the pack and a bowl game in 2024. — John K.

The roster is about as well-equipped as the Ponies’ could hope. SMU has done a terrific job stocking up talent and depth in the last few recruiting cycles, especially in the transfer portal. Since Rhett Lashlee took over prior to the 2022 season, SMU has signed 54 transfers. Of those, 44 have come from Power 5 programs.

And there’s strategy and intention behind those moves. Some are Texas high school products who returned back to their home state. Some are players at other in-state programs like Texas and Texas A&M who sought more playing time. Some had ties to SMU’s coaching staff via their former schools, like Miami or Liberty, where Lashlee hired some of his original staff from. There’s good talent at SMU to be competitive quickly.

The 2024 schedule isn’t daunting, but it is a step up from what the Mustangs faced in the AAC. Playing a higher level of talent weekly is an adjustment. Just look at how the four Big 12 newcomers fared this year for evidence of that. All four had losing seasons — in terms of both overall and conference records — and only one (UCF) made a bowl. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF went a combined 18-31 overall and 8-28 in conference. Last season, SMU went 0-3 against the Power 5 teams it faced, but I think the Ponies will do better this year.

Getting to a bowl would be a successful season. I think it’s doable.

Houston’s recruiting fell off under Dana Holgorsen. Has it improved at all yet under Willie Fritz or is it too early to tell? — George L.

It’s too early to make a blanket assessment, but there’s no doubt that the new staff has brought some energy on the recruiting trail.

When Holgorsen was fired, Houston’s 2024 recruiting class ranked 102nd by 247Sports and had just eight commitments. There were three decommitments following Holgorsen’s departure, but Fritz quickly added to the class, landing 10 commitments (seven high schoolers and three junior college prospects), bringing Houston’s ranking up to 72nd. Fritz also added 13 transfers from the portal, but he said on signing day that he wants the ratio tilted more in favor of high school prospects in the future.

Houston hasn’t landed any 2025 commitments yet, but it’s early. How the Cougars do in the coming months will be revealing. Local high school coaches I’ve spoken with generally seem to like Fritz and his staff and have spoken positively about their early efforts on the recruiting trail.

It’s worth noting that, though Houston’s 2024 class lagged, Holgorsen’s 2022 and 2023 classes ranked in the 50s nationally and they were able to land some blue chip recruits like Matthew Golden and Alton McCaskill (both of whom have since transferred). The key for Fritz, in addition to recruiting well, will be developing and retaining prospects they sign.

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Prior to any portal additions, Longhorns receiver Johntay Cook was Texas’ only returning WR with college receptions to his name. (Andrew Dieb / USA Today)

How do you see Texas’ recent receiver and tight end transfers fitting into the offense next year? Are they all expected to start or are there returning players on the roster (Johntay Cook, etc.), who are expected to compete strongly for these roles? — Emet L.

I’d be surprised if transfers Matthew Golden (Houston) and Isaiah Bond (Alabama) didn’t start. I’m fascinated to see how Steve Sarkisian uses Silas Bolden, the Oregon State transfer who is just 5-foot-8, 157 pounds. Both he and Golden probably figure into the return game, given their past success on special teams.

Cook seems the most likely of the young receivers to challenge for a starting spot. He had the most snaps of any returning Longhorn receiver.

Where they line up will factor into this equation. Bond played both inside and outside at Alabama, so that offers Sarkisian some flexibility. Bond took 202 snaps in the slot and 141 snaps out wide in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus. Golden spent more time out wide: 175 outside receiver snaps to 92 in the slot.

I could easily see Cook and Golden lining up outside with Bond in the slot as the first-team trio come August.

At tight end, Alabama transfer Amari Niblack probably slides into the Ja’Tavion Sanders role, with Gunnar Helm maintaining a role similar to the one he has had.

Overall, really solid job by Texas to restock a passing attack that was light on experience after the postseason departures.

Do you think Baylor’s changes this offseason to NIL, who’s coordinating offense and defense, portal additions, etc., will move the needle this coming season? — Anonymous

Once athletic director Mack Rhoades and Baylor leadership decided to bring Dave Aranda back for the 2024 season, there was no question major changes were going to be made. The depths to which the team sunk last year were alarming.

The Bears should be better in 2024, but will they be good enough to justify the decision to bring Aranda back?

The plan Aranda presented to Rhoades was that he would fully dive into defensive game planning and play calling in a way he hasn’t since he was LSU’s defensive coordinator. Then he would hire an offensive coordinator — preferably with head coaching experience — to completely control and manage that side of the ball. That turned out to be Jake Spavital. Baylor and Aranda himself would fully embrace NIL in a way they haven’t before. So far, they seem to be doing that.

I like the Spavital hire and combined with the addition of Toledo transfer quarterback Dequan Finn, the offense could take off next year. If Aranda running the defense means we see something akin to the defenses he ran in his coordinator days, then it could be a winning combination.

For Baylor fans, the hope would be that the Bears bounce back into Big 12 title contention this year. But I’m much more tepid. If Baylor goes 8-4, it’s a positive step in the right direction. This year’s schedule is tougher than last year’s which had eight home games (this year Baylor has six road games, including trips to Utah, Iowa State, Texas Tech and West Virginia).

Making a bowl is a minimum expectation and that’s about where I see them landing.

(Top photo: Carey Schumacher / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

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