During the 2011 recruiting period, Texas recruited 18 players, including nine from the ESPN 150. As a result, Texas' recruiting class was ranked first by ESPN and third by both Rivals and Scout.
The Longhorns opened up the 2011 season against the RiceOwls of Conference USA. In the previous meeting, which was also the first game that 2010 Texas Longhorns football team played against, Texas won 34–17.Garrett Gilbert was the starting quarterback after he was selected over Case McCoy, David Ash, and Connor Wood. Rice was able to hold the Longhorns to a three-and-out and attain a field goal to give Rice a 3–0 lead. However, Texas was able to respond with another field goal drive which was highlighted by a 56-yard pass from Gilbert to Mike Davis that would turn out to be the longest pass for the game, tying it at 3–3 at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Rice's Xavier Webb fumbled a punt that was recovered by the Texas team deep inside the Owls' side of the field, setting up the first touchdown of the game and putting Texas at a 10–3 lead. Each team made an additional field goal in the remaining second quarter to put the score at 13–6 with Texas leading.
To start the second half, the Owls were able to narrow the Longhorns' lead to 13–9 after driving 46 yards to make a field goal, but on the ensuing drive Texas was able to increase the lead once again with a touchdown highlighted by a 36-yard pass by John Harris to Jaxon Shipley. This marked the first time that a non-quarterback player made a touchdown pass in school history since 1998Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. In the fourth quarter, Texas held Rice scoreless while scoring two touchdowns, both of which by running backFoswhitt Whittaker. Texas would hold off Rice for the rest of the game to win 34–9 victory, the seventy-first against Rice overall.
Texas remained at home to face BYU. Prior to the game, the two teams had only met twice, in 1988 and 1987. In both games, BYU won with scores of 47–6 and 22–17, respectively. In the first quarter, BYU held Texas scoreless with two punts, answering with two field goals. Garrett Gilbert, the starting quarterback, was replaced by backups Case McCoy and David Ash in the first quarter after throwing two interceptions. To answer Gilbert's second interception, the Cougars were able to drive 97 yards to score the only touchdown of the first half. After the touchdown, BYU lead Texas 13–0. In the second quarter, BYU quarterback Jake Heaps was intercepted by Texas cornerback Adrian Phillips. This set up a Texas field goal that would be Texas' first score of the game with 1:44 left in the half, cutting the BYU lead to 10 points. The Cougars would keep possession for the remaining second quarter to keep the score at 13–3 at halftime, with BYU still leading. But against all odds, the Texas Longhorns stunned the BYU Cougars by means of a last minute touchdown and earning the victory as a result.
The Longhorns played UCLA for their first away game on September 17. In the previous 3 matches, UCLA won in large blowouts, most notably in 1997 when they won 66–3 in what became to be known as 'Rout 66.' Case McCoy and David Ash were selected as quarterback co-starters after Garrett Gilbert was taken out of the game against BYU. Texas started quickly into the game when UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince threw an interception. On the ensuing Longhorn drive, Case McCoy threw a 45-yard pass to D.J. Grant, giving Texas a 7–0 lead. Kevin Prince would throw 2 additional interceptions, both of which Texas scored upon, before taken out of the game.
The Texas Longhorns began the season unranked for the first time since 1998 in the AP Poll, although it was ranked twenty-fourth in the Coaches Poll. After wins against Rice and BYU, Texas would slowly increase in the rankings before jumping four spots in the AP Poll and three in the Coaches Poll after winning against UCLA. After the bye week Texas once again jumped another 2 spots in the AP Poll and one in the Coaches Poll.
In the final BCS rankings, Texas was twenty-fourth. In both the Associated Press' final rankings and USA Today's final rankings, Texas was unranked.
Ranking movements Legend:██ Increase in ranking. ██ Decrease in ranking. NR = Not ranked. RV = Received votes. ( ) = First place votes.