What was the opinion of the fan base when it came to firing Charlie Strong?
I think the majority of Texas fans felt it was time for Strong to go. The loss to Kansas late in the year was inexcusable and what ultimately sealed his fate. You can't already be on the hot seat and then lose to Kansas. From there, it was pretty inevitable that Strong would get canned. There were also a fair amount of fans who felt Strong needed a fourth year, and he had the backing of the players. Fans loved Strong and his character. But you also have to win, and Strong just didn't win enough in his three seasons.
What do you think is the best-case scenario for Tom Herman's first season?
The pessimistic Texas fans would gladly just take a bowl game trip. The Longhorns haven't been to a bowl since Strong's first season in 2014. I think there's a real chance Texas goes 8-4, possibly 9-3. You're betting that Tom Herman knows what he's doing and has coached this team up from where it was last season.
Texas has plenty of talent and experience on both sides of the ball. The offense has sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele back with plenty of playmakers on the perimeter. The defense will have to show it's improved from last year's abysmal effort. Texas also has some depth issues. The key will be if the Longhorns can stay healthy, as they've already had some injuries in preseason camp.
Texas does have a difficult schedule, including a couple tough road games at No. 4 USC and at No. 22 West Virginia. But the Longhorns do get both No. 10 Oklahoma State and No. 20 Kansas State at home, and the Red River Showdown game at the Cotton Bowl against No. 7 Oklahoma is always a toss-up. Eight to nine wins is achievable as long as some key starters stay healthy.
Who is expected to step up to replace the production of D'Onta Foreman?
Junior Chris Warren and sophomore Kyle Porter are expected to split most of the carries. Both are talented and have the luxury of running behind a veteran offensive line. Warren had a breakout game his freshman year when he set Texas' freshman single-game rushing record against Texas Tech, running for 276 yards and four touchdowns. He had a nice start to last season before injuring his knee four games in. Porter is largely unproven, but he's received praise from the coaching staff.
Texas can replicate Foreman's production so long as the running backs can stay healthy. Warren injured his hamstring in the spring and also suffered a concussion in preseason camp. Porter suffered a shoulder sprain in preseason camp as well.
What was Texas' biggest weakness in 2016 and how do you expect it to be addressed in 2017?
Besides last season's defensive woes, the Longhorns really suffered on special teams. Texas was not dynamic enough in both the kick and punt return game. On top of that, the Longhorns had plenty of missed field goals and blocked extra points. One blocked extra point came late in the game against Notre Dame and nearly cost Texas the victory. Texas also had an unimaginable three extra points blocked in the first half against Oklahoma State. The Longhorns cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot that many times on special teams this season. Texas has a new kicker who will need to prove himself, but Herman likes where he's at.
How well do you expect the Longhorns defense to stop the run on Saturday?
Herman has praised senior defensive tackle Poona Ford and junior defensive end Chris Nelson in camp, two experienced players who should cause some havoc up front. But Texas does have a few players who will need to show improvement in stopping the run. I expect Maryland to have some decent success running the ball. I think the first few series will be telling as to how poised and fundamentally sound the Longhorns look on defense. They have to come out with some punch up front. At the end of the day, the trenches are where Herman wants to win football games.
Do you anticipate Texas having any problems facing a mobile quarterback like Tyrrell Pigrome?
It's possible. Kansas State's Jesse Ertz really gave Texas fits last year running and throwing. The Longhorns also struggled up front last season with staying committed to their assignments. But new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has supposedly brought in a revamped system, and Texas has more experience on defense than it did last year. It will be interesting to see what kind of rotations Orlando throws in and how he mixes up the looks for Pigrome because as of now, we're not really sure exactly what this Texas defense is going to look like.