The last two-plus years have been very hard to take for Longhorns’ fans. In 2009 they played in the National Championship game. They were in tough against Alabama no matter what, but the game ended almost before it started when Colt McCoy was hurt. That loss sent the program into a shocking spiral.
In 2010 they won just five games, and it was clear they were in trouble before September was even over when they were crushed at home by UCLA. Last year they improved to seven wins — and one more in the Holiday Bowl — but they were embarrassed in every game that mattered and were far from what a Texas team should be.
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Now a team that has long been a power is suddenly questioning everything, and Mack Brown has gone from the king of the state to a guy fighting for his future.
The problems for this team have been many and varied. The most obviously, though, has been quarterback play. A position that had consistently been a strength for the school has been horrible since McCoy went down. Garrett Gilbert took over starting in the National Championship Game, but was lousy as a sophomore, lost the starting job one game into the next year, was injured soon after, and left the team by early October. He’ll be getting a second chance as starter at SMU this fall.
That leaves them with two guys fighting it out for the starting job — David Ash, and Colt’s little brother Case McCoy. The problem is that those two fought it out last year and neither was able to establish himself. Ash likely has the edge now, but neither guy has a clear edge. It’s not a particularly inspiring situation.
As hard as it is to believe, Mack Brown’s job may depend on the ability of one of them to step up and take charge.
Quarterback is a concern, but at least they have depth. Unfortunately, the rest of the offense is in much the same position.
The team has their top three receivers returning, but none really stood out consistently last year. Jaxon Shipley, Marquise Goodwin, and Mike Davis all have loads of talent, but at least one needs to prove that they can be a big-time threat every game. Of course, it didn’t help that they had to rely on a revolving cast of poor quarterbacks to get them the ball.
The offensive line is very deep — there are as many as 15 guys who could see time. The problem is that just one of those guys is a senior, and inexperience is plentiful. There is a chance that this unit will be very good, but there is a better chance that they will reach their potential only after one more season of development.
While things are somewhat bleak elsewhere, the running game is a source of light. Sophomores Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are ferocious runners who give the team a one-two punch that most programs could only dream of matching. As if that’s not enough they also have Johnathan Gray, the true freshman who was the top back in his recruiting class. No high schooler has ever scored more touchdowns in a career than Gray. This team will be able to run.
While I don’t like a lot this team has to offer besides the backs, I can’t help but feel like the unit could be more than the sum of its parts. The biggest reason is the staff. The two offensive coordinators — Major Applewhite and Bryan Harsin — are very good. Harsin ran the offensive show at Boise State for five years before joining Texas last year, and Major Applewhite was on a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks before returning to the site of his glory days as a player. In their second year with the program it seems more than reasonable to expect serious progress.
The offense deserves all the blame for the struggles the last couple of years. Last year in particular the defense was very good. This year it could be even better.
Defensive ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat lead the way up front, and they are likely headed to futures as first-round draft picks if they continue to perform this year as they have in the past. They aren’t alone. The rest of the line is strong. The linebackers are ridiculously fast. the secondary is even faster. Both units are deep.
Manny Diaz is a great coach who leads the way for the unit. There are some concerns with inexperience — especially in the secondary — but the talent level is so high that they should be strong. It remains to be seen if Texas can score any points, but it’s not likely that teams will easily score against them.
This is going to be a truly elite defense.
2012 Texas Longhorns Schedule Analysis
If this team doesn’t start 2-0 after opening against Wyoming and New Mexico then they should just fold immediately. A trip to Ole Miss to finish nonconference play is a big challenge, but far from an insurmountable one.
The bad news, though, is that the first three games of conference play are brutal.
First, they travel to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are missing their stud QB and receiver from last year but will be dangerous nonetheless. Then they host new conference rival West Virginia, then travel to Dallas for their annual showdown with Oklahoma. It would be absolutely devastating to the program to lose all three games, but that is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.
Things get easier from there.
Trips to Kansas State and Texas Tech could be tough, and TCU is dangerous. However, there isn’t a game nearly as tough as their first three conference tilts.
2012 Texas Longhorns College Football Futures Odds
Bovada has the Longhorns installed, somewhat optimistically, as the second favorite to win the conference at 4/1. That sits far behind Oklahoma at even money, though, so there is a clear leader. They are 20/1 to win the National Championship — a number that reflects the reputation of the team far more than their current chances in my eyes.
That book has identified Malcolm Brown as a potential Heisman winner, but at 85/1 he’s a longshot at best. BetOnline has set the season win total at nine games, with the “under” a slight -120 favorite.
2012 Texas Longhorns Football Predictions
I’m optimistic — this team will be better than last year. Probably quite a bit better. They are at least a year away from being nationally relevant, though.
The QB play and the pass protection are just not going to be very good, and that will challenge the team to win against a tough schedule. The defense will hide some but not all of the issues.
Nine wins is possible. More than that seems unlikely. Barring a major setback, though, this will be a team to watch next year — especially is someone learns to play QB between now and then.
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