Herman gets Texas team loaded with young talent

AUSTIN, Texas -- What is Tom Herman inheriting as the new coach at Texas? Well, for starters, it is a far more attractive job today than it was three years ago thanks to the recruiting and roster-building efforts of Charlie Strong and his staff. With the young talent he's leaving for Herman, this is no rebuild.

About a month ago, Strong made a claim that's worth assessing again: No matter who coaches Texas in 2017, they'll win 10 games.

Because this is Texas, it makes perfect sense to saddle the new coach with lofty and borderline unfair expectations before his first day on the job. But the next staff is taking over a team primed to play for Big 12 titles again soon.

"The cake has been baked," Strong said Friday after his final game. "The only thing you need to do now is put the icing on it and slice it."

Just look at the depth chart. Texas' underclassmen have accumulated 109 starts on offense and 112 starts on defense in the past two years. The starting lineup for the final game of Strong's tenure featured only four seniors. It's still a young team whose players didn't come close to reaching their potential during another losing season.

The consecutive top-10 recruiting classes that Strong and his staff signed make up the core of the roster going into 2017. Those 50-plus players have logged a significant number of snaps in two seasons, so the Longhorns' 2017 and 2018 teams ought to be loaded with experienced talent.

Texas finally has a quarterback, and Shane Buechele had more ups than downs during his true freshman campaign while throwing for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. There's another elite arm on the way, local product Sam Ehlinger, an ESPN 300 early enrollee.

The Longhorns have absolutely restocked up front during Strong's three years. They have an All-America-caliber left tackle, Connor Williams, and an offensive line that showed growth and built depth in 2016. Eight offensive linemen who have starting experience are expected back next season.

On the defensive line, the Longhorns have a pair of pass-rushing future stars, Malcolm Roach and Breckyn Hager, among their seven returning players who have started games.

The defense Strong put himself in charge of for his final eight games has four big-time linebackers: Malik Jefferson, Edwin Freeman, Anthony Wheeler and Jeffrey McCulloch. In the secondary, nine players who have earned starts are set to come back.

Herman will surely try to persuade 2,000-yard rusher D'Onta Foreman to return for his senior season, but the departure of Strong and the allure of being a high draft pick (potentially late first-round or to mid-second-round) will be difficult to overcome. Foreman feels he's NFL-ready, and after watching what he accomplished in 11 games this season, it's hard to dispute that.

But Texas has another young power back to build around, Chris Warren III, when he gets healthy, along with seven returning receivers who caught at least 18 passes this season.

"You'd sure like to be here a year from now," offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said after the loss to TCU. "There's a huge, huge bright future here."

And Herman's staff will have plenty of time to keep building before signing day. Texas is expected to take around 20 signees, and only seven players are currently committed (five are ESPN 300 prospects). Between the recruits currently committed to Houston and the state's top uncommitted players, filling out the rest of the class shouldn't be a problem.

With all those pieces coming in place, it's not hard to understand why even a 7-5 season likely would've been enough to buy Strong one more year. In his final week on the job, he acknowledged there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Texas' future. The foundation has been built.

Does it all add up to Texas contending for a Big 12 title in Herman's first season? It's not easy to size up the rest of the conference heading into next year, nor has the Big 12 even released its 2017 schedule. But we do know Texas makes a trip to USC on Sept. 16, an early-season challenge that should help set the tone for the rest of Herman's Year 1.

The expectations are always high at Texas. Herman knows that. The Texas he's taking over is especially optimistic about what's coming next.

"Yeah, it's coming, and that's what's going to be fun," Strong said Monday. "This group of guys is going to win a national championship. I said it to them. That group of guys will win a national championship. And I feel that strong about that statement."