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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 12: Texas

The Longhorns will miss this guy, who ended his career with an F.B.S. record for victories.

How do you respond to adversity? For Texas, a devastating conclusion to the 2008 season — a second-place finish in the Big 12 South despite a head-to-head victory over Oklahoma — served as the impetus behind last year’s run towards a national title. So Texas fell just short of its goal: the season remained far from a disappointment. How will Texas deal with this year’s adversity? No, it’s not the departure of Colt McCoy, as troubling as that might be, nor the loss of several other important pieces on either side of the ball. It’s the program’s rapid transformation from a well-respected, deep-pocketed member of college football’s elite to humbled, battered, would-be bully — and college football villain. Well, one thing hasn’t changed: Texas still has deep pockets.

Conference
Big 12, South

Location
Austin, Tex.

Nickname
Longhorns

Returning starters
13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 1

2009 record
(13-1)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 2

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    Rice (in Houston)
  • Sept. 11
    Wyoming
  • Sept. 18
    at Texas Tech
  • Sept. 25
    U.C.L.A.
  • Oct. 2
    Oklahoma (in Dallas)
  • Oct. 16
    at Nebraska
  • Oct. 23
    Iowa St.
  • Oct. 30
    Baylor
  • Nov. 6
    at Kansas St.
  • Nov. 13
    Oklahoma St.
  • Nov. 20
    Florida Atlantic
  • Nov. 27
    Texas A&M

Last year’s prediction

And so we reach the Longhorns, my pick for this season’s national champs. This is a pick based on a trio of factors. The first is Texas’s combination of overwhelming talent and senior leadership. The second factor is a very winnable schedule. My third factor is the least tangible: I believe U.T. will use last season’s disappointment as inspiration. Call it a hunch, one aided by an experienced coaching staff and a deep, talented and experienced roster.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Man, I liked these Longhorns heading into last season. I thought the heart-breaking conclusion to 2008 — well, not the conclusion, but the circumstances surrounding the Big 12 South championship — would drive this team to great heights, all the way to the second national title of the Mack Brown era. So, so close. Texas certainly didn’t disappoint, cruising through its non-bowl season schedule with only two close calls: Oklahoma and Nebraska. The former win was reached despite U.T.’s own missteps; at least O.U. made more, turning the ball over five times to U.T.’s three. The Nebraska win, in the Big 12 title game, certainly wasn’t pretty. A win is a win, however, and the victory allowed Texas to move on for a shot at Alabama for the national championship. So the Longhorns fell short. We’ll never, ever know how the game might have turned out had Colt McCoy not been lost to injury early in the first quarter. When the dust settled, I had Texas as the second-best team in the country in 2009; Alabama was first, of course, but Texas didn’t disappoint, in my mind. The only disappointment, in my mind, is that U.T. went down with bullets left in its gun; that McCoy injury will be the subject of barroom conversations for years to come. What if?

High point Those ultra-meaningful wins over pesky rivalry opponents. A 16-13 win over shorthanded Oklahoma gave U.T. a second straight victory, and fourth in five games, against the Sooners. A 10-point win over Texas Tech erased the memories of 2008’s disappointing finish in Lubbock. Another win against A&M, even if the Aggies showed some fight. The one-point victory over Nebraska, despite the clock controversy, gave Texas its first Big 12 title since 2005.

Low point The 37-21 loss to Alabama, made more painful by the injury to McCoy. If we’re going to ask how the game might have turned out if McCoy had not been lost for the game so early, why not ask what Brown was thinking with the shovel pass late in the first half? Brown has achieved enough in Austin to avoid major second-guessing, but the majority of the masses would have opted to play if safe with the young quarterback and head into the locker room down by only 17-6.

Tidbit Texas has spent the last 158 straight weeks in The A.P. Poll, the longest active streak in the nation — and it’s not even close: Ohio State comes in second at a distant 85 consecutive weeks. The university’s current streak dwarfs its previous record of 114 weeks, compiled from 1968-76. Any coincidence that this stretch coincides with Brown’s arrival? Not a chance. Texas has spent 129 weeks ranked in the top 10 over his 12 years in Austin; the Longhorns spent 16 weeks in the top 10 over the 12 years prior to his arrival.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is loyal reader Noefli, whose correct answer to a quiz in the Syracuse preview earned him the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? Texas. Take it away, Noefli:

2010 will be, at the least, a reloading year. We’ve all seen Garrett Gilbert’s poise and ability, and we know that Will Muschamp will field a feisty defense. We don’t know, on the other hand, if Texas will find a running game, how it will fill heavy losses on the defensive and (underachieving) offensive lines, and how badly it will miss the intangibles associated with the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Should all the pieces come together, this roster has the talent to compete for conference and national championships. However, the Longhorns are due to lose a game or two that they shouldn’t. 10-2 overall; 6-2 Big 12.

Former players in the N.F.L.

50 RB Cedric Benson (Cincinnati), OG Justin Blalock (Atlanta), CB Tarell Brown (San Francisco), WR Jamaal Charles (Kansas City), WR Quan Cosby (Cincinnati), DE Tim Crowder (Tampa Bay), OG Leonard Davis (Dallas), K Phil Dawson (Cleveland), OG Derrick Dockery (Washington), TE Jermichael Finley (Green Bay), CB Cedric Griffin (Minnesota), S Michael Griffin (Tennessee), FB Ahmard Hall (Tennessee), DT Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh), OT Tony Hills (Pittsburgh), DE Lamarr Houston (Oakland), S Michael Huff (Oakland), CB Quentin Jammer (San Diego), LB Derrick Johnson (Kansas City), LB Sergio Kindle (Baltimore), K Hunter Lawrence (Tampa Bay), LS Cullen Loeffler (Minnesota), DT Derek Lokey (Kansas City), QB Colt McCoy (Cleveland), P Richmond McGee (Chicago), DE Henry Melton (Chicago), DT Roy Miller (Tampa Bay), LB Roddrick Muckelroy (Cincinnati), RB Chris Ogbonnaya (St. Louis), DT Frank Okam (Houston), LB Brian Orakpo (Washington), DT Cory Redding (Baltimore), DE Brian Robison (Minnesota), DT Shaun Rogers (Cleveland), CB Aaron Ross (New York Giants), TE Bo Scaife (Tennessee), OT Jonathan Scott (Pittsburgh), C Lyle Sendlein (Arizona), WR Jordan Shipley (Cincinnati), QB Chris Simms (Tennessee), OG Kasey Studdard (Houston), WR Limas Sweed (Pittsburgh), OG Charlie Tanner (New York Jets), TE David Thomas (New Orleans), S Earl Thomas (Seattle), CB Nathan Vasher (San Diego), RB Ricky Williams (Miami), WR Roy E. Williams (Dallas), DE Rodrique Wright (New York Jets), QB Vince Young (Tennessee).

Arbitrary top five list

Graduates of St. Mark’s School of Texas
1. Tommy Lee Jones.
2. Luke Wilson.
3. Boz Scaggs.
4. Robert Hoffman.
5. Clark Hunt.

Coaching

Mack Brown (Florida State ’74), 128-27 with the Longhorns after 12 seasons in Austin. The Longhorns have finished among the top 15 in the nation each of the last 10 seasons, a program record. Each of Brown’s last nine teams have won at least 10 games, including the tremendous 2005 squad that went 13-0 and won the national championship. While Brown’s first three Texas teams were strong — at least nine wins every season — it has been over the last nine years that the Longhorns have moved into the national elite. Since 2001, Texas is 101-17 – the best mark in the nation – with five seasons with at least 11 wins, three 10-win seasons and the aforementioned undefeated campaign. The national title team, led by Vince Young at quarterback, erased the idea that Brown couldn’t win the big one, a train of thought that pointed to Brown’s recruiting successes and lack of postseason accolades. That win over U.C.S. finally placed Brown firmly among the top five coaches in the nation. Prior to arriving in Austin, Brown spent 10 years at North Carolina, where he transformed a moribund Tar Heels program into one worthy of challenging Florida State for A.C.C. supremacy. After back-to-back 1-10 seasons to start his tenure (1988-89), Brown led the Heels on a steady climb into the top 10; he won 10 games three times, including in each of his final two seasons. Including his final two seasons at U.N.C., Brown is the only coach in the F.B.S. to have won at least nine games in each of the last 14 seasons. Brown’s first F.B.S. coaching stop was at Tulane, where he performed another rebuilding project. After going 1-10 in 1985, the Green Wave rebounded to reach .500 in 1987, his final season before leaving for Chapel Hill.

Players to watch

The Garrett Gilbert era begins. I think it will go well. I don’t think I’m taking too large a leap in making such a prediction. This day has been coming since Texas landed the top national recruit two seasons ago; it was not believed that Gilbert would take on such a key role in the B.C.S. National Championship Game, of course. Let’s recall the circumstances: a true freshman, one who had landed only mop-up duty through the regular season, thrust into the brightest spotlight any college quarterback could ever face. All things being fair, he acquitted himself well. Yes, there are those four picks. There’s also his strong second half performance, one that allowed Texas and its fans to watch a star being born. Make no mistake: Gilbert is a rising star. Yet he’s still a sophomore, albeit one with slightly more experience than the typical first-year starter. Texas will try to place a greater emphasis on the running game, taking some pressure off of Gilbert, but the pass will remain U.T.’s prime weapon. Don’t expect a McCoy-type season, but look for a strong, potentially all-conference campaign from the sophomore. Depth at quarterback is a major concern, as Texas will have a true freshman backing up Gilbert after Sherrod Harris opted to end his college career.

U.T. plans on running more out of a traditional set, which would involve — gasp — a lead blocker, a tight end and five offensive linemen with their hands on the ground. Sounds almost hard to believe. The running game will rely heavily upon an improved performance in this regard from the offensive line, as is always the case. It will also help if Fozzy Whitaker can remain healthy; the practice legend has found it difficult remaining on the field. He has all the weapons to excel in a more traditional running game: good vision, a terrific burst and top-notch big-play ability. It’s not unreasonable to project a 1,000-yard campaign from Whitaker, if he were to remain healthy and if U.T. didn’t spread the ball among multiple backs. Sophomore Tre’ Newton will steal some carries, as will junior Cody Johnson. The latter is U.T.’s top short-yardage back, but can do more than just move the chains if given the opportunity. Keep an eye on the Texas ground game: Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis are making it a vital part of the offense, and the pieces are in place for success. All depends on the line, as noted.

There’s no replacing record-breaking receiver Jordan Shipley, who paced U.T. — by a wide margin — in each meaningful statistical category a season ago. The Longhorns must also replace Dan Buckner, the would-be junior who transferred to Arizona State following the season. Yet this position is not much of a concern: thank the overwhelming amount of talent at the position. Junior Malcolm Williams steps into the top role, one year after making 39 receptions for 550 yards and 2 scores. He’s bound to have a big year, as is sophomore Marquis Goodwin. He was very good in a secondary role last fall, chipping in with 30 grabs for 279 and a touchdown. Goodwin wasn’t able to show much of his track star-speed last fall, but look out: he’s a constant big-play threat. Senior John Chiles has been very impressive, perhaps indicating he’s fully comfortable at receiver. He didn’t begin to make a full-time move to the position until last season, spending his first two years mainly at quarterback. Even if U.T. didn’t have depth at receiver, this top threesome is as good — if not better — than any lead group in the Big 12. Yet the Longhorns do have depth, with a number of young, yet-unproven targets ready to step into the rotation.

The defensive line lost three key performers: Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston and Ben Alexander. As good as that former pair was — and they were superb — I’m not worried about what Texas has at end. The big issue is on the interior of the line, where much depends on the play of junior Kheeston Randall. He’s likely the key to this entire defense, as U.T. cannot possible put forth another strong effort against the run without a big season from the frustratingly talented potential star. Part of his importance stems from Randall’s athletic ability, which is sizable; he’s definitely an all-conference caliber interior lineman. Yet he’s the closest thing to a sure thing in the middle of the defensive front, with redshirt freshman Calvin Howell his likely partner at tackle. Howell, like all U.T. recruits, arrived with high billing: he was in the line rotation last fall — which should say something — before a concussion ended his season prior to the heart of conference play. Depth will come from another handful of freshmen, such as Taylor Bible and Ashton Dorsey, or junior Tyrell Higgins. Obviously, interior play is something to keep an eye on.

No worries at end, as noted. Senior Sam Acho is this program’s next all-American at this spot, if last year’s performance is any indication: 63 tackles (14 for loss) and 10 sacks. Though Acho has started 27 games over the past two seasons, he’s largely been overshadowed by his talented defensive teammates. Now a senior, now a leader, an all-American run is in the cards. Acho’s importance is increased by his ability to move inside on occasion, largely on passing downs. Such a move would both augment U.T.’s lack of depth inside and take advantage of its depth at end. Look for Eddie Jones and Alex Okafor to be fixtures at the opposite end spot.

The Texas linebackers will be asked to do even more against the run. This group is paced by two rising stars, both juniors: Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. The younger Acho made the most of his somewhat limited opportunities a year ago, making 49 tackles (10 for loss) and an interception despite serving much of the year in a secondary role. It’s hard not to be excited about his potential as the full-time starter. Robinson has already begun to show his talent in the lineup. He made 74 tackles a year ago, coming on very strong over U.T.’s final two games. Acho will start on the strong side, Robinson on the weak, giving Texas a very dangerous, very athletic duo. Adding depth on the outside will be highly-touted incoming freshman Jordan Hicks, who will be too good to keep off the field as a rookie. Dustin Earnest, a senior, will land the first crack at replacing Roddrick Muckleroy in the middle.

The depth in the secondary is overwhelming. Blanketing, potentially. The Longhorns return three top talents at cornerback in starter Chykie and Curtis Brown and top reserve Aaron Williams. Chykie Brown is an unquestioned starter, a first-team all-conference talent, but Williams could certainly leapfrog past Curtis Brown to land the starting role. We’ll eventually see all three players in the N.F.L., though Texas must hope that Williams holds off on his draft decision until 2011. When it comes to cornerback, only Nebraska can challenge what Texas brings to the table — and the Cornhuskers come up short, at least when considering depth.

Christian Scott and Blake Gideon return at safety, with Nolan Brewster and Kenny Vaccaro giving U.T. a very good two-deep. The Longhorns will absolutely miss Earl Thomas, however, especially in the departed starter’s penchant for big plays. It won’t be easy to replace his team-leading and school single-season record eight interceptions. Yet it’s amazing: only Texas could come this close to replacing a first-round N.F.L. talent. Keep an eye on Vaccaro, who received rave reviews for his play during the spring both at safety and at nickel back.

Position battles to watch

Offensive line Texas returns three linemen with starting experience: left tackle Kyle Hix, left guard Michael Huey and center David Snow. Hix is the most seasoned of this trio: he’s started the last 28 games for Texas, albeit on the right side of the line. That total doubles the start total U.T. returns with each of its remaining linemen; Huey made nine starts last fall, Snow five. The latter stepped in for an injured Huey down the stretch last fall, but moves over one spot for his junior season. What’s the good news up front? More than likely, U.T. will have four senior starters — Snow rounds out the group. However, right guard Tray Allen should start the year on the sidelines: he aggravated a foot injury earlier during fall camp, potentially forcing Texas to insert redshirt freshman Mason Walters into the starting lineup. It’s not so large a drop-off, though Walters lacks experience, obviously. It was thought that Walters would play as a true freshman, but an injury led the former top recruit to take a redshirt. Texas is still waiting for the light to turn on for Allen, a five-star talent who has yet to put his complete game together. Britt Mitchell will get the call at right tackle after serving as a reserve at both tackle spots a season ago. So the group should be experienced — that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues. I wonder how Hix will take to the blind side, though the senior has indicated he’s ready to make this move; however, he’ll have to stand tall in pass protection to help keep the new quarterback clean. How will Snow take to center? He struggled over the final two games of last season — as did the entire U.T. line. Will Allen return to full health? If not, can Walters live up to his billing? Better yet, can this line become more of a physical presence, allowing the Longhorns to place a larger importance upon the ground game? Make no mistake: with a new starter under center, U.T. must be more effective, more consistent running the ball. Let’s get another thing clear: the talent is certainly there.

Game(s) to watch

Oklahoma, of course. The Sooners plan on returning to the top of the Big 12; the road goes through Texas. In addition, the Oct. 16 trip to Nebraska might be the most highly-anticipated game of the year — not just in the Big 12, but nationally. If last year’s tussle is any indication, Texas A&M has improved enough to hang with the Longhorns. If the A&M defense can improve, second place in the South division might be on the line.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Take a trip back to 2006. Vince Young has departed for the N.F.L., leaving a day-long highlight reel and countless school records in his wake — and a national championship. In steps Colt McCoy, a redshirt freshman; talk about some big shoes to fill. The offense returned nearly intact, though the defense lost several key starters. So what’s the difference between 2006 and this coming season? On one hand, Gilbert is more prepared for his starting role than McCoy was in 2006; don’t underestimate his one game of experience. On the other, U.T. has several meaningful questions to address on both sides of the ball, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines — in that sense, this team is less a sure thing than it was in that first post-Young season. There are several issues to address, such as depth at quarterback, the issues along both lines and the overall competence of the ground game. The 2006 team went 9-3, landing a 10th win during bowl play. I expect a similar season from U.T. in 2010. Oklahoma is the class of the Big 12 South, in my mind, though the Longhorns are surely right in the mix. As always, the Red River Rivalry will decide which team takes the division. Texas also takes a mid-October trip to Lincoln for a rematch of last year’s conference title game; I don’t think the Longhorns are going to escape with a win. Now, here’s my worry: this program is a machine. It’s has become college football’s gold standard — for better or for worse, as its overwhelming sense of self-worth led to some of this summer’s expansion movement. Other programs, when facing such a transition on both sides of the ball, would not land this type of preseason acclaim. However, this is Texas, and 10 wins is in the cards, when all is said and done. Yet this year won’t end with Texas in the national title hunt, though the Longhorns won’t find themselves outside of this conversation for very long — try one season.

Dream season The new starters live up to their potential: 12-0, 8-0 in the Big 12, and in the conference title game for the second straight year.

Nightmare season For the first time since 2000, U.T. fails to win at least 10 games. It gets worse: for the first time since 1997, U.T. fails to win at least nine games.

In case you were wondering

Where do Texas fans congregate? Begin with Shaggy Bevo and Horn Fans, two independent Web sites, and continue with Orangebloods — home of the ubiquitous Chip Brown – and Burnt Orange Beat. For additional coverage, check out Burnt Orange Nation and 40 Acres Sports.

Up Next

Who is No. 11? Our next team improved its scoring output by 156 points from 2008-9. Unfortunately, the defense allowed 83 more points in 2009 than in 2008.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Brandon says:

    georgia tech

  2. batecher says:

    Georgia Tech is up next!

  3. calmer than you are says:

    To Hell with Georgia!

  4. Sasser says:

    “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech and a hell of an engineer!”

  5. Zack says:

    Thank you for putting the horns at a spot outside the top 10. It’s a mystery to me how they ended up so high in both polls.

  6. Ctoption says:

    Please give Paul Johnson some love.

  7. [...] Five and Five: No. 12, Texas By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 12, is Texas. You can find a larger Texas preview here. [...]

  8. sessamoid says:

    You say you expect a similar season to Texas’ 2006 season, but that team only lost 2 of those 3 games because McCoy got injured late in the season. If he hadn’t been injured, Texas would likely have won those 2 game, won the conference championship game, and then been rematched with Ohio State for the BCS championship game (all the other likely contenders added another loss in the final two weeks of the season).

  9. Try again sessamoid says:

    Sorry sessamoid, but you’ll note that a healthy McCoy lost both of those games a year later in 2007 as well. He couldn’t beat K-State in two attempts and he barely split his four games with A&M (2008 was the only one of the four games that the horns dominated).

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