Texas head coach Charlie Strong is entering a pivotal third year with the Longhorns. In short, there are no more excuses. There can be no more losing seasons and no more problems on offense.
Otherwise, the Strong era in Austin could be over rather quickly.
Strong made one big change to rectify the identity crisis on offense when he hired offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert from Tulsa. Now, Strong needs players to run the new scheme.
There are some significant pieces already in place from the 2015 season.
The team's leading passer, Jerrod Heard, was a redshirt freshman. Heard also led the team with 139 rushing attempts, but two of the top three running backs (D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III) were a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
Additionally, the leading receiver, John Burt, was a freshman. So, too, was one of the better linemen on the team, Patrick Vahe.
But with a new OC and time not exactly on Texas' side, the Longhorns need to find the best answers at every position right away. That means jobs should be open again this offseason.
But the question is, which incoming players can make an immediate impact on offense? With just days before national signing day, the Longhorns are lacking blue-chip recruits on offense for the 2016 class.
Below is a table of the offensive players Texas has verbally committed or already enrolled:
|Position/Name||Stars||State Ranking||National Ranking|
|OL Jean Delance||4||19 (TX)||116|
|QB Shane Buechele||4||29 (TX)||188|
|WR Collin Johnson||4||28 (CA)||202|
|OL Denzel Okafor||4||45 (TX)||287|
|WR Reggie Hemphill-Mapps||3||56 (TX)||379|
|WR Davion Curtis||3||105 (TX)||786|
|OL Tope Imade||3||106 (TX)||795|
|TE Peyton Aucoin||3||47 (LA)||962|
|OL Zach Shackelford||3||129 (TX)||NA|
There are some standouts, to be sure. Quarterback Shane Buechele is expected to challenge Heard for the starting spot.
Additionally, Strong did an outstanding job at Louisville developing 3-star players into future NFL draftees. To say he couldn't do the same at Texas given the proper amount of time would be to ignore what he's already done.
By and large, though, there's room for the 2016 class to be better on offense. The Horns have the No. 4-ranked class in the Big 12 and No. 34-ranked class overall. That's not where Texas fans are used to seeing their incoming groups.
In addition to offensive players, Texas is in dire need of defensive tackles.
What kind of class will Texas end up with?
Can Strong close hard in the final couple of days and pick up some additional, much-needed offensive pieces?
As it stands now, Delance, Buechele and Okafor are the only offensive recruits Texas has committed who rank among the Top 50 in-state players. For comparison purposes, Baylor has five, including the No. 4-ranked in-state player, wide receiver Devin Duvernay.
The state of Texas is spread out when it comes to committed blue-chip players. Houston and second-year coach Tom Herman have made a sizable dent by picking up three Top 50 players, including 4-star receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Courtney Lark.
SEC programs Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M have a decent-sized presence in Texas, too, when it comes to top-tier offensive players.
The point being, Texas has some work to do if it's going to land some uncommitted players or flip some previously committed prospects. As SB Nation Recruiting points out, there's a glaring hole for Texas atop the in-state rankings:
The silver lining is Strong is the complete opposite of his predecessor, Mack Brown, when it comes to recruiting.
For years, Brown would establish recruiting classes early and signing days would be relatively drama-free. Strong, on the other hand, tends to start slow and finish, well, "strong."
This was on display in last year's class when players like Malik Jefferson, then the No. 1-ranked player in Texas, committed in December 2014.
So which remaining uncommitted (or even committed) prospects could Strong lock down in the next 48-72 hours? Here are the top targets.
Running Back Kyle Porter
The 4-star back from Katy, Texas, is down to Texas, TCU and Arkansas, and he recently took visits to all three schools. The Longhorns' depth chart at running back is solid, but Porter would be a fine addition.
"I believe in the coaching staff," Porter told Gabe Brooks of Scout.com. "If they keep that coaching staff around, they're gonna be pretty good. They got a new OC coming in who's got a good plan for the offense to have a balanced passing and running game."
Offensive Lineman Patrick Hudson
Oh, the vague tweets of a high school football player. Hudson is verbally committed to Baylor, and there's been little to suggest he won't end up signing with the Bears.
However, just last week, Hudson tweeted the following:
Just reflecting on some things!! pic.twitter.com/G573hUQxhQ— Patrick Hudson (@pathud20) January 29, 2016
The Longhorns have a decent O-line class already, but Hudson—the No. 7-ranked in-state player—would be the crown jewel of Texas' class if Strong can flip him.
Tight End Irvin Smith
Smith looks like he could be slipping away from the Horns. There was some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel when Smith decommitted from Texas A&M late last month.
However, Smith officially visited Alabama the next day, and 88 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions are leaning toward the 3-star signing with the Crimson Tide.
There are opportunities for Strong to land a more impressive, balanced class for this year, but the windows are closing. Ideally, Strong will redshirt a majority—if not all—of the incoming O-line players. As for the skill players available, there just aren't many blue-chippers committed to the Longhorns.
Stout defenses are always great, but the key to winning the Big 12 is on offense. In four of the past five years, the Big 12 champion (or co-champion) has averaged at least 40 points a game. In 2012, Kansas State and Oklahoma averaged roughly 38 points per game.
Under Strong, Texas has never averaged more than 26.4.
Texas needs offensive help in the worst way, and the class that's unfolding for 2016—while certainly not bad—definitely lacks top-end skill on that side of the ball.
It's crazy to think Strong's future in Texas could come down to how well he closes in the next few days, but given where the program needs to go in its trajectory, it's not as crazy as you think.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.