Today we examine the preseason prospects for Texas in our continuing series previewing the 2012 Big 12 football season.
(8-5 overall, 4-5 in Big 12 in 2011)
The Texas Longhorns are one of those blue-ribbon college football programs that, when they hit a rough patch, don't stay down very long. Three years ago, Texas won 13 games, their second Big 12 championship and met Alabama in the BCS National Championship game. The following year, the Longhorns won only five games total in suffering through the worst season in coach Mack Brown's then 13 years at Texas.
The Longhorns rebounded some last season, winning eight games, including a Holiday Bowl victory over California. Many teams in college football would be overjoyed with an eight-win season, but that's not the case in Austin, Texas. The Longhorn fan base wants much more, and they want it sooner rather than later. You can't blame them, especially when Texas regularly pulls in one of the top five recruiting classes in college football.
With 12 returning starters, six each on offense and defense, and a roster chalk full of fleet-of-foot, talented, young players at all the skill positions, Texas is in prime position to make its move back among the elite teams in the conference. The Longhorns may not back it all the way back this season, but they will be much more of a serious threat this year than they were in 2010 or in the 2011 season.
The Texas defense, which is led for the second year by Manny Diaz, one of college football's best young defensive minds, led the Big 12 last season in rushing, passing and total defense, and Big 12 coaches will be sorry to learn that this group could be even better this year. With bookend defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor anchoring a defensive line that matches up with the best in the country, Texas will be very difficult to run on, and on passing downs, you can expect Jeffcoat, Okafur and Company to put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Linebacker is a position in transition, but the secondary, which historically has been a position of strength for Longhorn teams, is well stocked again in 2011, led by senior cornerback Kenny Vaccaro.
Texas has a long history of exceptional quarterbacks, but last season there was a great deal of uncertainty around the position. David Ash, a sophomore this season, and junior Case McCoy, younger brother of former Texas QB Colt McCoy, shared the position a year ago. It looks like David Ash has won the starting role coming into the 2012 season.
Brown and his offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin would like to see Ash develop into more of a game manager. With a highly talented and well-stocked group of running backs behind him and a capable cadre of pass receivers, Ash will have the weapons to move the ball and score points. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are back and healthy for their sophomore seasons, and the Horns have five-star recruit Jonathan Gray, the nation's best running-back prospect out of high school, in the wings to add to the backfield firepower. Despite some injury problems, Texas had the 21st-best rushing attack in the country in 2011, averaging 202.6 yards per game.
Three of the Longhorns four top receivers from a year ago are also back this season. Sophomore Jaxon Shipley and junior Mike Davis both had over 40 receptions last season and averaged better than 13 yards a catch. But between them, the pair only accounted for four touchdowns.
We're going to be really good in the running game," Brown was quoted as saying in one of the 2012 college football preview publications. "And if defenses are going to stop it, they're going to have to get some extra folks up there (in the box). That's going to leave some guys in one-on-one outside."
The Texas head coach was not as positive about his team's passing attack coming into this season, though. "We've got to figure out the passing game," Brown said. "I think we've got a clear picture of who we are in the running game. We (haven't) reached the point where we know exactly where we want to be in the passing game."
Schedule-wise, Texas will have newcomers West Virginia and TCU at home and, of course, the annual Red River Rivalry game with Oklahoma in Dallas, but they do have to travel to Oklahoma State and to Manhattan, on the final weekend of the regular season, to take on Kansas State, a team against whom the Horns have lost their last four games and are only 2-6 in the Mack Brown era.
The Longhorns are definitely on the way back, but they're not there yet. I predict Texas will go 7-5 overall and 5-4 in the Big 12 this season. Projected finish in the Big 12: Fourth.
On Wednesday: TCU
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