Texas is looking to demonstrate major improvement in Tom Herman’s second year as coach, and the Longhorns will get plenty of opportunities to do that early in the season.
The 2018 Texas schedule is front-loaded with opportunities to impress fans and pollsters alike. Four of the Longhorns’ most important games of the year come in the first six weeks of the season. If Texas can notch some wins during that stretch, it will set the tone for a great year.
Here are the five biggest must-win games of the year for Texas in 2018:
at Maryland — Sept. 1
The season opener against Maryland in 2017 showed how much progress Texas needed to make under Tom Herman. The season opener this year will be an opportunity for the Longhorns to show they have made that progress.
Terrapins quarterback Tyrell Pigrome, who torched the Longhorns for 239 yards and 3 total touchdowns last year, is expected to be back after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in that game. However, Texas improved significantly on defense after the opener. The Longhorns should be able to start this season much better if they can contain him.
vs. USC — Sept. 15
Despite suffering a loss, Texas showed its potential against USC in 2017. The Longhorns took a team that finished in the top 12 of the AP Top 25 to overtime on the road with a freshman quarterback. Now they get the Trojans at home, and Texas will be the team with the more experienced quarterback.
USC might not be a College Football Playoff contender in 2018, but beating the Trojans carries weight in the eyes of fans and media. Beating USC could be the first signature win for Herman at Texas.
vs. TCU — Sept. 22
Texas is 1-5 against TCU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12, including four straight losses by a combined margin of 120 points. If Texas wants to re-establish itself as a Big 12 power, it has to overcome its struggles against a strong team.
TCU loses some key pieces on defense, which could let the Longhorns have more success on offense than their 7-point output in 2017. And with the Frogs replacing quarterback Kenny Hill and three starting offensive linemen, this might be the best chance Texas has had in a while to notch a win in the series.
vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl) — Oct. 6
The Red River Rivalry is always the biggest game of the year for the Longhorns, and they need to reverse their recent trend against the Sooners. Texas is 2-6 in its last eight games against Oklahoma.
The Longhorns came close to getting the upset in 2017. They had a chance to take the lead on the final possession in Dallas last season, but fell short. A victory against the perennial Big 12 favorite this season would be a huge boost for Herman’s program.
vs. West Virginia — Nov. 3
West Virginia looks like the biggest challenger to Oklahoma for the Big 12 title in 2018. Consequently, beating the Mountaineers would be a big deal for Texas. A victory in this game would also give Texas the advantage in any tiebreaker scenarios if the Longhorns are competing with West Virginia for a spot in the Big 12 title game late in the year.
Texas beat West Virginia last year, but Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier got hurt in the first half of that game. This matchup will depend on how well the Texas defense performs against Grier and what might be the best offense in the Big 12.