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Carlson: Why Texas football continues to lag behind OU, OSU even in Tom Herman's fourth season

Tom Herman sat and thought about the question.

How many difference makers did Texas have?

Nothing wrong with giving an answer some thought, but back at the Big 12 Media Days a couple summers ago, the Longhorn coach didn’t take a moment to consider his answer. He didn’t take a couple seconds. He took a full 10 seconds before he answered.

“Some,” he finally said with a chuckle.

Herman’s pause, more than his answer, raised some eyebrows. Only some? At Texas? But since he was only a year into his Texas tenure, there was a bit of grace. His player development had only just begun. His first recruiting class had yet to have its first college practice.

In time, “some” difference makers would surely become many.


Apparently not.

As Texas prepares to come to OSU this weekend, the answer to that difference-makers question doesn’t seem to have changed all that much for the Longhorns. They have some, but they don’t have many. Don’t have bunches. Don’t have scads.

Frankly, it’s shocking.

And at a place like Texas with a deep financial well and an even deeper recruiting base, such a shortage is almost unfathomable.

This is Year 4 of Herman’s regime, and even as the Longhorns have signed high-ranked recruiting classes the past few years, there hasn’t been a huge uptick in the number of eye-popping, highlight-making players in burnt orange.

Particularly on offense.

While the Longhorns had as many players on the preseason All-Big 12 team as any other program in the conference and have a couple standouts widely expected to be taken in the first couple rounds of next year’s NFL Draft — offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi and defensive back Caden Sterns — they don’t have many guys on offense who can go make a big play.

Sure, Sam Ehlinger’s a tough cookie. The quarterback can make plays with his sheer force of will, but as hard nosed and hard charging as he is, he doesn’t throw the ball all that well. You can tell he’s worked at it, but his accuracy just isn’t spectacular.

His completion percentage of 61.6 percent ranks outside the top 50 nationally and ranks seventh in the Big 12 among quarterbacks who've played at least three games.

Cowboy reserve quarterback Shane Illingworth, by comparison, is first at 73 percent while Sooner quarterback Spencer Rattler is third at 69.5.

Ehlinger's so-so accuracy means he needs receivers who can create some separation with defenders, then go get some extra yards after a catch. He doesn't have those kind of pass catchers.

Maybe that's due in part to Texas losing a couple good receivers off last year’s team with Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson going to the NFL. But at blue-blood programs like Texas, NFL talent is usually replaced by NFL talent.

The Longhorns are lacking at receiver.

Ditto for running back.

Remember when Texas used to cycle through big-time running backs year after year? I’m not talking about long-ago days of Jim Bertelsen, Roosevelt Leaks and Earl Campbell. I’m talking about the recent times of Jamaal Charles, Malcolm Brown and D’Onta Foreman.

Listen, I’m not saying Texas’ receivers and tailbacks are bums. They are decent players. Solid. Good.

But wow?

I don’t see much wow.

Coaches around the Big 12 still say otherwise. I often wonder if they say it because, well, people have always said such things about Texas, or if they really believe it.

“Arguably … each season across the board, Texas is going to be the most talented team in this league,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said of the Longhorns’ top-to-bottom talent.

And I guess that may well be true. If you put Texas’ 85 scholarship guys against any other Big 12 team’s scholarship players, the Longhorns might well be the best.

But when the games are played, teams only get to play 11 at a time. You put your best players out there, and when Texas does that, they just don't have a bunch of obvious wins, a ton of spots where you know their guy is going to be better than the other side's guy.

That's why they've already lost a couple games this season and why they could've lost at least one more.

I don't know if Texas is missing on recruits or failing in development, but this isn't the caliber of players most people expected to see in Herman's fourth season in Austin. There should've been more big-play makers. More home-run hitters. More edge-of-your-seat players.

Some is not enough.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at or follow her at

Related Photos
<strong>Texas is just 3-2 overall and 2-2 in Big 12 play under coach Tom Herman this season. [AP Photo/Chuck Burton]</strong>

Texas is just 3-2 overall and 2-2 in Big 12 play under coach Tom Herman this season. [AP Photo/Chuck Burton]

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Texas is just 3-2 overall and 2-2 in Big 12 play under coach Tom Herman this season. [AP Photo/Chuck Burton] " title=" Texas is just 3-2 overall and 2-2 in Big 12 play under coach Tom Herman this season. [AP Photo/Chuck Burton] "><figcaption> Texas is just 3-2 overall and 2-2 in Big 12 play under coach Tom Herman this season. [AP Photo/Chuck Burton] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›