Tom Herman

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

From nearly three hours before kickoff until the final whistle, Texas wanted to send a message — and that didn’t have to necessarily be left solely on the field.

Two concerts, a live radio show and a postgame player autograph session were part of just some of the festivities at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium during Saturday night’s Orange-White spring game. The White team took home a 23-13 win to wrap up the 15th and final practice of the spring season.

“I need to thank our fans … showing out as well as they did, as enthusiastic as they were … really felt it,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “I think we’re slowly but surely getting to the point where I think we’re going to see the stands packed the way that we all hoped that they do.”

Saturday night’s game focused primarily on the offense and its ability to make big plays in both phases of the game. While the Longhorns didn’t unveil their entire offensive package, they did pull a few tricks out of the bag.

Texas’ running game found an unexpected spark from junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Humphrey was prominently featured in Texas’ goal-line packages, running in for two touchdowns on the night.

Humphrey also tallied 100 receiving yards on seven catches, linking up with sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger on multiple occasions.

“(Humphrey) is about as versatile an offensive player as I’ve ever been around,” Herman said. “When you see a guy like him have the amount of catches he has, that means the quarterbacks believe in him.”

On the other side of the ball, junior wide receiver Collin Johnson had his fair share of highlights. Two tip-toe grabs — one in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and another along the sideline — showed fans what they missed last year.

A six-catch, 91-yard performance with many big grabs showed why Johnson is one of the best one-on-one receivers in the country. His ability to form chemistry with any quarterback, including freshman Cameron Rising, will make him an even bigger threat in 2018.

“I don’t know that we ever didn’t see that version of Collin Johnson,” Herman said. “You get your best players the football.”

Behind those receivers, fans also got to see how the quarterbacks have developed over the spring. Neither disappointed, as junior Shane Buechele and sophomore Sam Ehlinger combined for 281 yards through the air.

In Saturday’s affair, both quarterbacks earned their stripes with the long ball. Seam routes down the middle, deep posts and a few go routes in the mix provided a measuring stick as to where each quarterback was.

“I told the quarterbacks, experiment, rip it in there, man,” Herman said. “Try to fit it in the tight windows, because I want you to have that confidence when you do.”

Texas’ early enrollees also got their first glimpse of in-game action since coming to Austin. Freshman defensive back B.J. Foster made his presence known early, nearly reeling in a one-handed interception in coverage. The duo of freshman quarterbacks, Casey Thompson and Cameron Rising, also made their respective debuts with a couple of nice tosses on the run.

“They’re a really good group,” senior tight end Andrew Beck said. “None of them are problem guys. They all came in and put their nose to the grindstone and just went from day one.”

Through the stats and impressive plays Saturday night, it wasn’t difficult to tell Herman, the players and his staff had the culture in place to help Texas turn the corner.

“We’re excited about what we have going on right now,” Beck said. “We’ve seen the fruits of our labor, how good we can be and now it’s just continuing to develop.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

Unlike years before, Texas didn’t need a late push to make a statement on National Signing Day. Thanks to the early signing period in December, the Longhorns won’t be sweating too much come Wednesday. Texas currently has the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class per 247 Sports, and Wednesday should be a culmination of one of the most successful recruiting cycles in the program’s recent history. Here are some quick notes surrounding National Signing Day:

Getting players to stay home

Since former head coach Mack Brown departed the Forty Acres after the 2013 season, the Longhorns have struggled to maintain a hold of in-state talent. Texas consistently lost out on big-name recruits to rival schools such as Baylor, TCU and Texas A&M until Brown’s successor, Charlie Strong, turned the tide with a strong 2016 recruiting class.

After Strong’s firing, Tom Herman managed to make an immediate impact on the recruiting trail, getting to work early on filling out the 2018 class. Having a strong presence in Texas, one of the nation’s premiere hubs for high school football talent, can give the Longhorns a competitive edge both on and off the field.

A fresh look

 Texas’ 2018 recruiting class didn’t come without some behind-the-scenes work, either. After Herman arrived in Austin, he put an increased emphasis on the team’s facilities.

This started with a $7 million renovation of the team’s locker room, with each personalized locker coming with a $8,700 price tag. Along with it came a flashy photo studio where recruits could don Texas jerseys on visits. Official visits also give recruits a chance to experience the Texas environment. The Longhorns recently hosted a group of recruits this past weekend at the Frank Erwin Center to take in Texas’ 79-74 upset win over No. 12 Oklahoma.

Signing update

Texas has had 19 recruits already sign their national letters of intent. In addition, nine recruits enrolled for classes early, giving Herman and his staff more spots to fill come Wednesday. Some of the players still left on the Longhorns’ board include four-star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, defensive end Joseph Ossai and wide receiver Tommy Bush.

Texas currently has an even number of players secured on both sides of the ball, including six defensive backs to anchor a secondary with holes left by NFL-bound juniors. The Longhorns also found help on the offensive line, nabbing four new players to handle things up front.

Texas filled one of its vacant spots Sunday by receiving a commitment from wide receiver Joshua Moore. The Yoakum, Texas, native became the third receiver in the 2018 class, adding much-needed depth to a team which has lacked a consistent passing game.

Key new faces

 Texas’ star-studded class features a group of key players who can make an immediate impact. Defensive backs Anthony Cook, Jalen Green and B.J. Foster should lead the charge in the secondary, adding to a Longhorn defense that ranked second in the Big 12 in interceptions last season.

On the offensive side of the ball, a quarterback battle is under way with four guys, including two new enrollees, vying for the starting job. Newcomers Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson will be thrown in the fire with sophomore Sam Ehlinger and junior Shane Buechele during spring football. With each player possessing his own unique skill set, Herman and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tim Beck will have a key decision to make.

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

It isn’t square one, but it might as well be.

As much as head coach Tom Herman and the Longhorns learned about their quarterbacks during the 2017 season, they still won’t have a starter when spring football rolls around. But the battle won’t be any easier this go-around — especially since two four-star quarterbacks committed to Texas and have already arrived on campus due to early enrollment.

Herman has never been one to jump the gun when it comes to announcing a starting quarterback, but here’s what each of the four scholarship quarterbacks must do in order to be named the starter come August.

Ehlinger has the highest ceiling with the lowest of basements

Longhorn fans’ emotions toward freshman Sam Ehlinger changed like the seasons last year. Whether it was due to his confidence, his Westlake High pride or his ability to run over Big 12 defenders, Ehlinger earned some love from Texas fans, but he never quite earned their trust.

Ehlinger’s performances remained fairly inconsistent all season, exhibiting game-changing plays — both good and bad. The 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound quarterback pounded his way to a double-overtime victory over Kansas State, only to throw a game-ending interception in overtime against Oklahoma State two weeks later.

If Ehlinger can eliminate those crucial mistakes throughout spring football, it will be no surprise if No. 11 runs out with the offense against Maryland at FedExField on Sept. 1.

Buechele has a shot, if he remains healthy

Sophomore Shane Buechele experienced multiple injuries last season. His injury woes began in the season opener against Maryland when Buechele sustained a bruised throwing shoulder. The sophomore missed the next two games before returning against Iowa State, only to sprain his ankle.

But Buechele’s injury bug didn’t stop there. On Jan. 17, the Longhorns confirmed Buechele was set to undergo surgery on a torn adductor (hip)/abdominal muscle that he sustained during the Texas Bowl against Missouri. However, after treatments and rehab, Buechele is still expected to return in time for spring practice.

Buechele’s first task is getting healthy and staying there. If he can do that, don’t count him out of this battle.

The new kids on the block

This is where the quarterback battle gets fuzzy. A pair of four-star quarterbacks in Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson both look to make an immediate impact in burnt orange.

Thompson, a dual-threat quarterback, appears to be the best rusher of the four guys competing. The Oklahoma native threw for over 2,500 yards and added over 1,000 rushing yards during his sophomore year of high school.

Rising, however, brings with him what many are calling the strongest arm in the 2018 recruiting class. The Californian threw for over 3,000 yards in his sophomore season and rushed for another 756. Rising signed with Texas despite receiving offers from Alabama, Miami and Oklahoma.

How these two highly sought after recruits adapt to the college game is yet to be determined, but not too many people in the state would be surprised if their talent outweighed their inexperience once the quarterback battle and spring practice begin on March 5.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Arthur Pallares

It was late September, the high school football season had just started and the Texas Longhorns were on a bye week.

Houston ISD’s Delmar Stadium was packed for a game between Katy Tompkins and Houston Heights. In the background, a deep, rattling sound accompanied the visual of a helicopter landing.

Texas head coach Tom Herman and recruiting coordinator Jason Washington stepped out of the chopper and walked into the stadium, where they prepared to watch one of their top 2018 recruits and one of the best high school defensive backs in the nation — Jalen Green, a 6-foot, four-star cornerback for Houston Heights.

“You can put me anywhere and I’ll make plays,” Green said.

The No. 5 cornerback in the nation per 247 Sports and a U.S. Army Bowl All-American, Green is part of the new wave of elite defensive backs headed to Texas.

Green, who was named first-team all-defense at Nike’s The Opening camp last summer, has a potent combination of athleticism and football IQ. It’s a combination that has led him to be a highly coveted defensive back.

“On defense, he shuts down one whole side of the field,” said Stephen Dixon Sr., Houston Heights’ head coach. “You can let him lock down one island and roll your defense to the other side.”

To add to his defensive prowess, Green had 13 touchdowns on offense this past season as a quarterback, running back and wide receiver, despite the fact his season was cut short because of a shoulder injury.

Green’s unselfishness makes players gravitate toward him. His teammates believe he has an ability to raise the level of the team because of how hard he practices.

“Not only is he versatile and great at what he does, he also makes opportunities for others on the field,” said Curtis Melrose, one of Green’s Houston Heights teammates.

Green’s unselfishness can be seen off the field, too. Dixon said that Green often deflects media attention away from himself and onto his teammates and has even told some college coaches to rescind his offer and give it to a teammate instead.

“He is a better young man than he is a football player,” Dixon said.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Justin Wells, Inside Texas

Green signed with the Longhorns in December during the early signing period.

It’s no secret that Texas has an elite recruiting class for 2018, which is currently ranked third nationally. It features six of 247 Sports’ top 25 defensive backs in the nation, including Green, B.J. Foster, Anthony Cook, Caden Sterns, DeMarvion Overshown and D’Shawn Jamison.

Green was well aware of that depth of defensive back talent when he signed with Texas.

“We all wanted to make a superstar team,” Green said of the star-studded class. “We just want to make a name for ourselves.”

But with a superstar team comes superstar expectations. The expectations for Green and this class are through the roof. They have the weight of being Herman’s first full class, and the new defensive backs must fill the voids left in the secondary by NFL prospects DeShon Elliott and Holton Hill.

Despite these challenges ahead, Green said he feels no pressure. He knows exactly what he’ll do when he steps on the 40 Acres.

“I’m going to make plays for the University of Texas when it really counts,” Green said.

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON – Head coach Tom Herman and President Gregory Fenves climbed the steps of the Texas Bowl stage propped up dead center in the middle of NRG Stadium. The most popular punter in the country stood directly between them.

It wasn’t either of the quarterbacks in Shane Buechele or Sam Ehlinger. It wasn’t junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler who returned a fumble for a touchdown and it wasn’t even freshman running back Daniel Young who led the team in rushing and receiving. It was the Ray Guy Award recipient junior punter Michael Dickson, the first non-offensive player to be named MVP in Texas Bowl history.

Herman hoisted the Texas Bowl trophy following the Longhorns’ 33-16 victory over Missouri, marking the burnt orange’s first bowl win since 2012. But that wasn’t what received the loudest reception.

It didn’t happen until the Most Valuable Player of the Texas Bowl was announced.

That’s when junior punter Michael Dickson stepped to the front of the stage, causing a dramatic eruption not only from his teammates who cheered directly in front of the setup, but the thousands of fans who stayed for the award ceremony.

“It means so much,” Dickson said on the stage after being awarded MVP. “I would never have thought that it would end like this. But it’s the most incredible experience. All the greatest things that could've happened, happened. I'm just so happy that I got to experience it with all these guys that are yelling at me right now.”

But the award came with little drama. Dickson’s performance throughout the entirety of the season allows him to say he’s the best punter in college football — he has a Ray Guy Award to prove it. Wednesday night in Houston was no different after yet another eye-catching performance. But he still couldn’t believe it when they announced his name as the 2017 Texas Bowl MVP.

“I didn't believe it when they told me at first, or at second,” Dickson said. “When they were leading me up the stage I was like ‘Wait why am I going on stage?’ They said ‘You’re the MVP,’ and I didn't believe it. They said it again and I still didn’t believe it. It’s still kind of sinking in now.”

The Texas defense was able to hold a potent Missouri offense averaging over 50 points in the last 6 games, to 16. And it all boiled down to field position, with Missouri having an average starting field position on its own 15-yard line.

The Australian punter booted 11 punts total in Texas’ victory. All but one received a noticeable ovation from the crowd of 67,820. Dickson punted three times in the first quarter: he pinned Missouri back to the 3-yard line, 9-yard line and 12-yard line in each of those.

This was just the beginning of Texas’ dominance on defense and special teams, and his defense was sure to show appreciation.

“He’s a real brother of mine. He’s one of my best friends on the team,” junior linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “When I see him go out there and punt, I mean I should be getting him a steak dinner every night, being a defensive guy and all. He just flips the field so I never really have to worry.”

But he wasn’t done. Dickson finished by pinning 10-of-11 punts inside the 14-yard line and 8-of-10 inside the 10. After the game, Herman was asked if he’s ever had any punter affect a game the way Dickson affected this one. Herman didn’t even let the reporter finish the question before giving his answer.

“I’ve never even seen one affect a game the way he did tonight,” Herman said. “I'm glad he's on our team.”

But Herman still refused to do one thing –– call Dickson by his name. This dates back several months ago to the Big 12 media days when Herman continued to call Michael Dickson “the punter.”

Herman later explained that he won’t call a player who is only on the field for a handful of plays by their actual name. Despite Dickson’s game-changing punts all season, especially during the Texas Bowl, Herman still refuses to say his name until he does one thing.

“When he gets his degree from the University of Texas (I’ll call him by his name)” Herman said after the game. “You guys aren't gonna bait me into it. We laugh and cut up but all those guys know that’s the deal.”

There appears to be no hard feelings from Dickson’s end of the bargain. He later said he isn’t offended by his name, or lack thereof. However, it isn’t clear when the junior will receive his degree.

On Dec. 21 the punter announced that he plans to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft and will forgo his senior season as a Longhorn.

“Everything felt like the right time,” Dickson said. “I talked with family, I talked with friends, I talked with Breckyn (Hager). I talked with a lot of guys on the team and it just felt right. When you feel a certain way about something, I felt like I needed to act on it. I felt that way about coming here to Texas, it felt right when I was in Australia and it felt right about declaring early. It’s very bittersweet because I love the team so much and I love being able to represent the Longhorns each week. It just felt right so I just had to jump on it and catch the wave.”

But Dickson did what most players who declare for the Draft don’t do –– played in the bowl game. The punter said it was important to him to put on the burnt orange and white one final time Wednesday.

“It meant so much to me,” Dickson said. “ I didn't even really know what the Texas Longhorns were about three years ago. The amount of love I have for this school and this team and each player individually has grown exponentially over the past couple of years. I understand the tradition. I understand how much this means. To be able to wear the burnt orange and white one last time in front of all these fans that appreciate us all and are really loving it just means so much  and I'm so happy that we could do it and get a win.”

Michael Dickson left NRG Stadium as a Longhorn for the final time, bearing one last piece of hardware to reflect on during his Texas career. But this isn’t the last you’ll hear from Dickson.

His stock only continues to rise and will soon play on Sundays, but Texas received good news as well. His cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who is also from Australia, recently signed with Texas.

For now, Longhorn fans will just have to thank Dickson for his three years in Austin and wish him good luck in the NFL. It seems that’s what his teammates have already started to do, too.

“I love this guy and I'm gonna miss him,” Hager said. “But I understand he’s gotta go get that money.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON – As the clock struck zero at NRG stadium on Wednesday night, the Longhorns’ seniors experienced a pair of firsts: a bowl victory and a win in their season finale.

In Texas’ previous three seasons, the burnt orange ended the year on a sour note. A 2014 Texas Bowl loss was followed by back-to-back years without a postseason contest, paired with dispiriting defeats to end the season. But as Wednesday night bled into Thursday morning, the bitter memories faded, and the Longhorn seniors clutched onto the Texas Bowl trophy at midfield.

"I couldn’t be prouder of this senior class,” head coach Tom Herman said. “They were the glue that held this up-and-down season together. I think they knew what was ahead for this program, and they wanted to make sure that they left their mark on this next chapter of Texas football and they did.”

Six senior took the field for the Longhorns on Wednesday night, with four coming on defense (linebacker Naashon Hughes, defensive backs Jason Hall and Antwuan Davis and nose tackle Poona Ford) along with two receivers, Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman. Each made a contribution in the 33-16 victory, capped by Foreman’s 18-yard dash to the end zone to seal the win late in the fourth quarter.

Foreman’s final play of his Longhorn career put an exclamation mark on a largely disappointing senior season. The Texas City product entered 2017 a year removed from leading the Longhorns with 34 catches, but found himself tethered to the bench for much of Herman’s first season. Foreman tallied just seven catches over a six-week stretch, failing to find the endzone in any game.

But both Foreman’s final contest in Austin – a five-reception, one-touchdown performance against Texas Tech – and his final effort for the burnt orange on Wednesday salvaged his final season in Austin. And the fourth-quarter touchdown was the icing on the cake.

“We wanted to make sure if we were to call a reverse that it would have been (Foreman) because he’s a senior and he has played well for us here down the stretch,” Herman said. “He deserved it by how he’s prepared and how he’s practiced. My hats off to him. He’s had a really, really good last month of the year. We hope he has continued success. Hopefully playing this game for quite some time.”

On the other side of the ball, the Longhorn defense was its usual stout self, halting a Missouri attack that led the SEC in both yards and points per game in 2017. But while the defense’s performance in Houston mirrored the standard set by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, it was a far cry from the woes that plagued the Longhorn defense under former head coach Charlie Strong.

In the final two years of Strong’s tenure, Texas ranked No. 91 and No. 87 in the nation in total defense, surrendering over 30 points per game in 2015 and 2016. Seemingly every facet of the Longhorn defense struggled to keep up with the potent offenses in the Big 12, allowing a slew of big plays while failing to generate stops in key moments. Under Strong, Texas’ defense gave up over 40 points 10 times.

But the tide turned under Orlando in 2017.

Save for an opening-day loss to Maryland – in which the Longhorns allowed 51 points to the Terrapins – Texas held opponents to an average of 18.8 points per game, a mark that ranked No. 15 in the NCAA. And following a 16-point, four-turnover effort in the Texas Bowl, the Longhorn seniors believe they’ve laid the foundation for a fearsome defense in years to come.

“The sky is the limit for this defense,” Hughes said. “There’s a lot of guys returning, a lot of guys coming in, a great recruiting class coming in. This can be another top 10 defense, easily.”

The senior class departing from Texas will take with them one of the roughest stretches in program history. A 23–27 record, three losing seasons and three years without a bowl victory.

But that didn’t matter at the final buzzer on Wednesday night. The Longhorn seniors left NRG Stadium with a bowl victory, a win in the season finale and the first winning season in their time on the 40 Acres.

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON — It was the triumphant, defiant play that Texas craved so badly.

Late in the fourth quarter and deep in Missouri territory, leading by 10 with seemingly the Texas Bowl already in hand, the Longhorns opted for a reverse play. Sophomore running back Kyle Porter took a handoff from freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, only for senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman to take it back the other way.

As Foreman turned the corner and bolted upfield, Ehlinger charged in front of him and delivered a key lead block. As he’s exhibited so often this season, Ehlinger was unafraid to dish out some contact of his own, mutating from quarterback to bulldozer.

Foreman sprinted for the goal line and absorbed one final hit, plunging into the corner of the end zone. It was an exclamation point like no other — one that helped cap off the Longhorns’ 33-16 victory over Missouri on Wednesday night at NRG Stadium.

And it was one that delivered Texas its first winning season in four years.

“You can’t overstate it,” head coach Tom Herman said. “It’s really important for these guys to call themselves a winner... Again, it wasn’t gonna be life or death. We would’ve been just fine next year, but this was a big step forward.”

Texas players celebrated jubilantly on the field after the game. Herman embraced his wife and kids. Junior punter Michael Dickson, who declared for the NFL Draft last week, staged a punting clinic in his final game for the Longhorns and was named the game’s MVP.

It was noticeable by everyone’s emotions how important, and defining, a bowl win was for this long-struggling program.

On the outside looking in, it may have been just a victory in the Texas Bowl. This wasn’t a national championship win or anything remotely close to it.

But this is a program that won a bowl game for the first time since since 2012. It’s a program that finished with a winning record (7–6) for the first time since former head coach Mack Brown’s last season in 2013.

It’s a program searching for any sign of tangible momentum, and any sign of a real turnaround under Herman.

“I think tonight, Coach Herman won the locker room. 100 percent. Hearts out,” junior defensive end Breckyn Hager said. “He now has our hearts as a team.”

If there were any questions as to which team would set the tone early, it was all settled on the first drive.

The Longhorns’ offense opened with the ball and took advantage of three costly Missouri penalties — a pass interference, holding and face mask — to move deep into Tiger territory.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele found a wide open Daniel Young for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The freshman running back scored with ease and Texas was in front early, 7-0.

Despite not starting, Ehlinger proceeded to enter the game on Texas’ third possession. He put the Longhorns completely in the driver seat on his second drive.

Ehlinger scrambled to his left and found junior wide receiver John Burt in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown pass to put the Longhorns up 14-0 in the first quarter.

Missouri’s offense, which ranked top-10 nationally in scoring and total offense entering the game, was shut down for most of the first half. The Tigers didn’t cross midfield until early in the second quarter. But on that drive, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and the offense finally found some life. Running back Ish Witter scored from four yards out, and the Texas lead was cut to 14-7.

But right when Missouri appeared ready to find its footing in the game, Witter coughed up the ball after junior defensive back P.J. Locke III knocked it loose midway through the second quarter. Junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler scooped it up and returned it 38 yards the other direction for a touchdown, delivering a mean stiff-arm to a Missouri tackler along the way.

“They say never run out of bounds, so either get tackled or score, and I just went to go to the end zone,” Wheeler said. “It was just instincts to do (the stiff-arm). I really don’t have too many moves. I just went with the stiff-arm.”

Texas was in front 21-7 and seemingly had all of the momentum.

The momentum for the Longhorns continued on Missouri’s ensuing possession when the Tigers fumbled again. Hager — who wore No. 60 on Wednesday night in honor of the late, legendary Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis — recovered the fumble.

“It’s more than a number to me, to be honest,” said Hager, who was selected by Herman during Texas’ last bowl practice to wear the number. “It was emotional, and I’m so happy that it happened in my lifetime. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Texas was in complete command heading into the locker room at halftime up 21-7.

But on the first play of the second half, Missouri wide receiver Johnathan Johnson got behind senior nickelback Antwuan Davis. Lock hit Johnson in stride for a 79-yard touchdown pass. After a mishandled snap by the placeholder, Missouri trailed 21-13.

The Tigers tacked on a field goal midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to 21-16, but that was all they could muster the rest of the way.

The Longhorns scored 12 unanswered points to put the game away, including a safety, a 41-yard field goal from junior kicker Joshua Rowland and Foreman’s late touchdown.

Moving forward, Texas now has a full offseason to digest the whirlwind that was the 2017 season. It began with a complete thud in early September with the loss to Maryland.

It showed signs of progress against USC and Oklahoma. It spotlighted a highly-inconsistent offense against Oklahoma State and TCU — an offense that still has plenty of question marks heading into 2018.

And it took a dark turn against Texas Tech — a game that nearly defined the season.

But the taste of an all-important bowl victory will be the last memory in the minds of the Longhorns.

“Anytime you can get confidence, give confidence to a fragile group of guys, that’s big. That’s big,” Herman said. “I think it gives us a lot of hope, but the confidence part of it is the biggest thing.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON — Much can be debated about the big-picture importance of Wednesday night’s Texas Bowl in regard to head coach Tom Herman and his 6–6 Longhorns.

There are those who will say that this game means a lot for the program — one that hasn’t experienced the postseason since the 2014 Texas Bowl against Arkansas, and one that hasn’t won a bowl since the 2012 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. A win over Missouri would also give Texas its first winning season since 2013.

And then there are those who will argue that this game doesn’t mean much, and that Texas has already made its bed with the 2017 season. The Longhorns experienced multiple disappointing close losses to highly-ranked teams and a devastating defeat to Texas Tech in the regular season finale.

But don’t try convincing Herman that this game isn’t one to get up for.

“We haven’t been in a bowl game in three years, so if that doesn’t excite you as a player, then you probably need to quit football and go do something else,” Herman said at his bowl press conference on Tuesday morning in downtown Houston. “Go join a club or something like that.”

The big storyline for the Longhorns is that they will be without a bevy of players against Missouri. Since the Texas Tech game, Texas has taken hit after hit to its depth chart.

Junior running back Chris Warren III announced he will transfer. Junior left tackle Connor Williams, junior safety DeShon Elliott and junior cornerback Holton Hill declared for the NFL Draft (though Hill had already been suspended for the rest of the season for a violation of team rules following the TCU game on Nov. 4).

Junior defensive back P.J. Locke III, who hasn’t played since suffering an ankle injury against Baylor on Oct. 28, is finally healthy and will start in Elliott’s stead. Junior Elijah Rodriguez, who missed the entire regular season with an ankle injury, will start at left tackle in place of Williams.

On Friday, the day the Longhorns arrived in Houston, freshman running back Toneil Carter, sophomore wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey and junior tight end Garrett Gray were suspended for the Texas Bowl due to a violation of team rules. That same day, it was announced that junior defensive tackle Chris Nelson will miss the bowl game after suffering an elbow injury in practice.

“A lot of things go on within the season,” junior left guard Patrick Vahe said. “You never know what’s gonna happen — whether it’s an injury, a coaching change, players leaving, players getting suspended, you never know. Man down, man up.”

To make matters worse, junior linebacker Malik Jefferson likely will not play due to a turf toe injury.

“But I’m hoping for a miracle,” Herman said about Jefferson.

And, of course, there is the quarterback situation.

Sophomore Shane Buechele will start, but freshman Sam Ehlinger will still play. Herman said on Tuesday that there will still be a “clean slate” heading into the offseason at that position, regardless of what the two quarterbacks do on Wednesday night.

“Neither of these quarterbacks have done anything so egregious that you would say a guy is behind the other one,” Herman said. “But neither of them have done anything really to take the bull by the horn.”

The Longhorns will be facing a Missouri team riding high after finishing the season on a six-game winning streak. Junior quarterback Drew Lock leads a potent offense for the Tigers that’s ranked top-10 nationally in scoring and total offense.

“We’re gonna have our hands full on defense,” Herman said.

Lock leads the nation in passing touchdowns and ranks fourth in passing efficiency. It doesn’t bode well on paper for a Texas team that will be playing without its two best defensive backs in Elliott and Hill. But that doesn’t mean Lock is necessarily licking his chops either.

“They do have some guys out, but the way we’re looking at it is their next guy up is just as good as their guy that’s leaving,” Lock said.

For what it’s worth, the Tigers are 2.5-point favorites over Texas on Wednesday night at NRG Stadium.

Beating Missouri could in a way provide a shot in the arm for the Longhorns heading into the offseason, already possessing some momentum from the early signing period when Texas signed 19 players. Herman currently has Texas with the No. 3-ranked recruiting class in the nation.

Texas has a unique opportunity in this bowl game. And even while recognizing that this isn’t a must-win game, Herman knows what a bowl win could do for the program that he’s been tasked with bringing back to national prominence.

“I think winning this game would be important for us in terms of momentum,” Herman said. “It’s not life or death, but we sure as heck could use this to springboard us into the offseason for 2018.”

Photo Credit: Gabby Lanza | Daily Texan Staff

Junior punter and Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson announced on Thursday that he will forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.

“Coming to play football for the University of Texas has been the greatest experience of my life,” Dickson said in a statement. “I am so thankful for Coach Strong giving me an opportunity back in 2015. Texas has helped lead me in the direction I want to be as a person. I have built an undeniable bond with my teammates that will last forever. I truly consider all of you my brothers.”

Dickson is the fourth Longhorn to have declared for the draft since the end of the regular season, joining junior left tackle Connor Williams, junior cornerback Holton Hill and junior safety DeShon Elliott. But unlike those three players, Dickson will still play in the Texas Bowl against Missouri on Dec. 27.

Dickson’s junior campaign was one for the books. It culminated in him becoming a unanimous first team All-American and winning the Ray Guy Award earlier this month, given to the nation’s best punter.

The Australian native led the nation in punt average at 48.4 yards per attempt. Dickson also had 34 punts of at least 50 yards and 14 punts of at least 60 yards.

He pounded a career-long 76-yarder against TCU on Nov. 4, which was the fifth-longest punt in the nation this year.

“The Texas fans have showed me so much more love than I ever expected,” Dickson said. “To be able to see and hear the appreciation from the fans each week is something that I genuinely cherish. I’m so grateful for what this country has provided me and feel as though Texas has adopted me as one of their own. I’m proud to be a Texan.

“I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead and know that I will forever be a Texas Longhorn. I’d like to thank Coach Herman and the current staff for a great year. Thanks for understanding and supporting me throughout my decision-making process.”

The loss of Dickson next season is a big blow for the Longhorns, but Texas has already found his replacement.

Dickson’s cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who also hails from Australia and the same training academy as Dickson, signed with Texas on Wednesday during the early signing period and plans to enroll early.

Herman said on Wednesday he has a long relationship with Prokick Australia, the punting and kicking academy that Dickson and Bujcevski trained at.

“When those guys (at Prokick) say this guy is the next whatever, you believe them because they’re that good that their job,” Herman said.

Photo Credit: Trenton Daeschner | Daily Texan Staff

The hashtag has been circulating on Twitter for months on end.

#RevolUTion18.

It’s been the rallying mantra for Texas’ much-anticipated 2018 recruiting class — the first full class for head coach Tom Herman, and the first class of players that are essentially ‘his guys.’

The hype surrounding this pivotal class had been building for months. But on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period, pens were finally put to paper, with 19 players signing with the Longhorns. Herman said he expects nine to enroll early for the spring semester.

“We feel like we’ve taken a very, very important first step in our 2018 class,” Herman said in a press conference late Wednesday afternoon. “We signed some unbelievable young men.”

The statistics of this recruiting class are impressive to say the least. ESPN and 247Sports each currently have Texas with the No. 3-ranked class in the nation.

Per the national rankings, the Longhorns signed each of the state’s top-five ranked players — defensive backs B.J. Foster, Anthony Cook, Caden Sterns, Jalen Green and wide receiver Brennan Eagles — and eight of the state’s top 12. Add in defensive tackle Keondre Coburn and running back Keaontay Ingram — who each have committed to the program but are yet to sign — and Texas can claim 10 of the state’s top 15 players.

“To me, I didn’t think we did anything superhuman,” Herman said. “I grew up in a world where that’s supposed to happen.

“I felt like this was ‘Bizarro World’ on signing day last year when all of these kids are going to the Midwest, going other places, going out of state. I was just like, timeout, what’s going on?”

In fact, the aforementioned signing day back in February that Herman referred to didn’t see a single player from the state’s top-10 rankings sign with Texas. Now, Texas boasts seven of the top 10 for 2018.

“We had to make sure that these players stopped leaving the state,” Herman said. “I think it is just unbelievable proof at the power of relationships in recruiting. Parents and kids don’t want to go places where they don’t trust their coaches.”

There’s a lot to like about this class for the burnt orange.

From a host of elite defensive backs to two dynamic quarterbacks to one of the best kickers in the nation to another Australian punter, the Longhorns made a splash nabbing some critical pieces and adding more depth.

A lot will be made of the crop of defensive-back talent on its way to Austin. The six defensive backs who have signed with Texas are all ranked inside the position group’s top 22 in the nation, per 247Sports. And with the Longhorns needing to replace the likes of future NFL draftees DeShon Elliott and Holton Hill next season, as well as P.J. Locke III and Kris Boyd in 2019, the fresh talent in the secondary gives Texas no reason to panic about the state of “DBU.”

Texas also suddenly has a crowded quarterback room with the additions of Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson. Next season, Sam Ehlinger will be a sophomore and Shane Buechele will be a junior, but don't assume either has the starting quarterback job locked up heading into the spring.

Asked on Wednesday if Rising and Thompson can make pushes for the starting job, Herman gave a firm answer.

“Yes, they can,” Herman said. “As long as we have quarterbacks, they will all compete.”

The Longhorns also addressed a big need on special teams by signing Lake Travis product Cameron Dicker, the No. 5-ranked kicker in the nation. The Austin native could be the immediate answer to Texas’ kicking woes over the past few seasons.

And if junior punter and Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson happens to decide to leave for the NFL Draft, the Longhorns won’t have to worry. Dickson’s cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who trained at the same punting and kicking academy as Dickson in Australia, signed with Texas on Wednesday and is expected to enroll early.

Come National Signing Day in February, Herman said he could see the 2018 recruiting class grow to about 27-29 players in total.

National championships aren’t won on signing day, but the foundation for championships are laid on days like Wednesday. Herman has a top-three recruiting class with loads of talent, something he wants Texas to start getting used to having at the end of each recruiting cycle.

“This needs to be the new normal,” Herman said. “And I’m committed to making sure that it is.”