No. 18: Texas
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 16, 2011
Don’t just become the villain: love being the villain. Adore the antipathy, throw it all on your plate, shovel it down and ask for more. More, please. Forget about being America’s darlings; you were for an evening in early 2006, but those days are long, long gone. You’re now the team America loves to hate, Texas. From coast to coast, you’ve become Public Enemy No. 1 – with a bullet. Why? Because you’ve shown your true colors: you’ve been pulling strings from behind the curtain for years and years, but it’s only recently become evident just how much you’ve been calling the shots. And people don’t like that; Arkansas didn’t like in 1991, Nebraska didn’t last summer and Texas A&M – oh, A&M most of all – hates it today. And you know what: Who cares? You’re Texas, they’re not. Become the villain. And like it. Ask for more.
14 (8 offense, 6 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
- Sept. 10
- Sept. 17
- Oct. 1
at Iowa St.
- Oct. 8
Oklahoma (in Dallas)
- Oct. 15
- Oct. 29
- Nov. 5
- Nov. 12
- Nov. 19
- Nov. 24
at Texas A&M
- Dec. 3
Last year’s prediction
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.
In a nutshell At least the Longhorns still own Nebraska: so long, Cornhuskers, enjoy the Big Ten. And at least the Longhorns were able to go on the road and defeat Texas Tech, erasing some of the foul memories remaining from their last trip to Lubbock. And that’s all you can say about Texas in 2010. What we saw last fall was an absolutely unforeseeable, unpredictable, unbelievable train wreck of a year, one where an unforgivable confluence on youth, inexperience, the wrong philosophies and the wrong coaches – this became clear midway through the year – came together to hand the program its first losing season since 1997. First losing season? Try the first non-10-win season since 2000, the first season with less than nine wins since 1997, the worst offensive showing since 1997 and the least-confident Texas team you’ll ever see. Absolutely unforeseeable, seeing that there was no reason to believe that all of a sudden – boom! – U.T. would drop so far off the map. And you better believe that changes were in the works. Forget about a program to pick out the players on the field; you’ll need a program to pick out the coaches along the sidelines.
High point The road win over then-No. 5 Nebraska. Knowing the Cornhuskers would be fired up, Texas used that motivation against Nebraska’s top-notch defense by using plenty of misdirection, building an early lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The win left U.T. at 4-2, 2-1 in the Big 12.
Low point Just take your pick. A loss to Oklahoma? Disappointing but understandable. Giving up 34 points to offensively challenged U.C.L.A. the previous Saturday? Not so understandable. A home loss to Iowa State? A home loss to Baylor? Should never, ever happen. What about a 24-17 setback on Thanksgiving Day to Texas A&M, one that knocked Texas out of bowl play? Just take your pick.
Tidbit Texas averaged 23.8 points per game last fall, a program-low in a season since averaging 17.7 points per game in 1991. Texas hadn’t scored less than 423 points in a season under Mack Brown prior to last fall, doing so in 2004, and scored 1,101 points combined from 2008-9. Texas was able to continue its 13-year streak of outscoring the opposition over the span of a season, though it was close: Texas scored 285 points and allowed 284, a plus-one margin. In all, Texas outscored the opposition by more than 285 points four times under Brown: in 2009, 2008, 2005 and 2001.
Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is loyal reader Burnt Orange, whose correct answer to a quiz in the Central Michigan preview, which you can find along the right sidebar, earned him the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? The Texas Longhorns. Take it away, Burnt Orange:
The horrific 2010 season included five home losses (most since 1956), five fumbled punts, and an overrated defense being shredded by some really mediocre offenses. Thankfully,staff changes resulted and horizontal passing/flag football devotee Greg Davis is gone and the 450 pound charlatan masquerading as the strength and conditioning coach has been reassigned. Manny Diaz and the linebackers will be very good which is essential because Mack seems hell bent on starting turnover machine Garrett Gilbert at qb. The schedule is tougher since Nebraska is no longer on it. Put me down for eight wins and a mid season qb change.
Tidbit (N.F.L. Draft edition) Texas continues to put players into the N.F.L. at a ridiculous rate. Eight Longhorns went in April’s draft, an program record, with four players going in the second and third rounds combined. What’s missing from that sentence? This April, U.T. went without a first round pick for only the second time since 2004, an eight-year span that saw U.T. have 10 former players go in the opening round. The only year where that occurred was in 2008, when Texas had four total picks: two in the third round, one in the fourth and one in the fifth. Texas had a pair of first round picks in each draft from 2004-7.
Former players in the N.F.L.
54 LB Sam Acho (Arizona), RB Cedric Benson (Cincinnati), OG Justin Blalock (Atlanta), CB Tarell Brown (San Francisco), CB Curtis Brown (Pittsburgh), CB Chykie Brown (Baltimore), RB Jamaal Charles (Kansas City), WR John Chiles (New Orleans), WR Quan Cosby (Cincinnati), DE Tim Crowder (Tampa Bay), K Phil Dawson (Cleveland), TE Jermichael Finley (Green Bay), P John Gold (Seattle), S Michael Griffin (Tennessee), CB Cedric Griffin (Minnesota), FB Ahmard Hall (Tennessee), DT Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh), OT Tony Hills (Pittsburgh), OT Kyle Hix (New England), DE Lamarr Houston (Oakland), OG Michael Huey (San Diego), S Michael huff (Oakland), CB Quentin Jammer (San Diego), LB Derrick Johnson (Kansas City), LB Eddie Jones (New York Jets), LB Sergio Kindle (Baltimore), WR James Kirkendoll (Tennessee), LS Cullen Loeffler (Minnesota), QB Colt McCoy (Cleveland), P Richmond McGee (Cleveland), DE Henry Melton (Chicago), DT Roy Miller (Tampa Bay), LB Roddrick Muckelroy (Cincinnati), RB Chris Ogbonnaya (Houston), DT Frank Okam (Tampa Bay), LB Brian Orakpo (Washington), DT Cory Redding (Baltimore), DE Brian Robison (Minnesota), DT Shaun Rogers (New Orleans), CB Aaron Ross (New York Giants), TE Bo Scaife (Cincinnati), OT Jonathan Scott (Pittsburgh), C Lyle Sendlein (Arizona), WR Jordan Shipley (Cincinnati0, TE Greg Smith (Carolina), OG Kasey Studdard (Houston), WR Limas Sweed (Pittsburgh), TE David Thomas (New Orleans), S Earl Thomas (Seattle), CB Nathan Vashar (Detroit), RB Ricky Williams (Baltimore), WR Roy Williams (Chicago), CB Aaron Williams (Buffalo), QB Vince Young (Philadelphia).
Arbitrary top five list
Florida State alumni in the coaching profession
1. Tony La Russa.
2. Mack Brown.
3. Dick Howser.
4. Bruce Bochy.
5. Mike Martin.
Mack Brown (Florida State ’74), 133-34 with the Longhorns after 13 seasons in Austin. Last fall marked an unforeseeable slide for U.T. and its coach, who had tasted nothing but success since his arrival in 1998. The Longhorns had finished among the top 15 in the nation in each of the previous 10 seasons, a program record. Each of Brown’s last nine teams, prior to last season, had 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 had been over the previous nine years that the Longhorns moved into the national elite. From 2001-9, Texas went 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. 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 Tar Heels on a steady climb into the top 10; he won 10 games three times, including in each of his final two 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.
Tidbit (coaching edition) It was one of the most-watched developments of the winter: Texas rebuilt its coaching staff, nearly from top to bottom, retaining only three of last year’s assistants. The holdovers are defensive ends coach Oscar Giles, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Major Applewhite and tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Bruce Chambers. Well, four: defensive backs coach Duane Akina left for Arizona in January, lasting only a month with the Wildcats before returning to Austin. The new faces will be charged with rebuilding the team’s philosophies on both sides of the ball. Former Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin will force-feed a power running game down the Longhorns’ throats. He’s joined offensively by offensive line coach Stacy Searles, formerly of Georgia, and wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, formerly of Kansas. Former Mississippi State coordinator Manny Diaz will run the show defensively, and he’s a good one. Bo Davis will coach the interior of the defensive front after leading the Alabama defensive line from 2007-10.
Players to watch
Remember the Boise State offense? Of course you do. Ready to see it in Austin? Of course you are. Simply substitute blue-on-blue, blue-on-orange, blue-on-blue-and-orange for just burnt orange and you’ll have it. I can’t imagine Harsin would have left his great spot in Boise for anything less than complete control over this offense, which will entail a complete overhaul of everything Texas has done for the better part of a decade. You’ll see more movement pre-snap, a little more trickery, more play-action, countless more looks and, above all else, a physical running game. And if you call this offense gimmicky, you don’t want you’re talking about.
There was a report in May that Texas had already decided on incumbent quarterback Garrett Gilbert as the 2011 starter, but I don’t buy that. Not completely, at least. First was the timing: it was May, not August, and the new staff had only seen 15 practices worth of their quarterback crop. The second was the obvious: Gilbert simply did not do enough last season or during the spring to justify the starting nod — again, in May. What did he do in 2010? Gilbert just wasn’t good, to be blunt, tossing 17 picks against 10 touchdowns while averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt, tying him for 91st nationally. Those aren’t the totals most expected from the junior, who stepped into some very large shoes under center.
The lack of direction offensively is partly to blame for his struggles. But the majority of the culpability must lie firmly on Gilbert’s shoulders; you can blame the surrounding pieces and the coaching, but Gilbert fell well, well short of expectations. And that’s why I don’t buy that the competition has been decided. What must Gilbert show himself capable of doing on a consistent basis? He needs to protect the football, above all else, and he did an exceedingly poor job of that in 2010. He needs to move the offense on third down; again, not his strong suit last fall. And seeing that the goal of this game is to score more points than the opposition, Gilbert needs to lead U.T. into the end zone — now that’s analysis. Until he proves he can do so, sophomore Case McCoy, redshirt freshman Connor Wood and true freshman David Ash will remain viable options. I’m willing to cede the fact that Gilbert will start against Rice. But will he still be starting by Oklahoma? His play will decide that question.
Searles is a great fit for this offense. Reason one: he’s well-versed in a pro-style system from his time at Georgia, and while Boise had more bells-and-whistles the offense is, at its core, a pro-style system. Reason two: he doesn’t put up for anything less than a top effort. Searles is the sort of coach equipment managers try to keep away from anything valuable, like blackboards, glass tables, any framed family photos and so on. Not giving your all? Searles will let you know about it. So he’s a nice addition for an offensive line that’s been as passive as they come on this level of college football.
In terms of personnel, the Longhorns pretty much know what they’re going to do along the interior of the line. As was the case at the end of last season, it should be sophomore Trey Hopkins at left guard, senior David Snow at center and sophomore Mason Walters at right guard. Could that change? Yes, if Tray Allen makes a full recovery from last season’s ankle injury. If Allen does regain his form, however, look for him to get first crack on the blind side. It’s not a question of talent for Allen, but he’s yet to put his complete game together. U.T. heads into the fall with two leading options at right tackle in junior Luke Poehlmann, who missed most of last year with an injury, and sophomore Paden Kelly. The possible permutations are endless, as Walters could move to right tackle if a redshirt freshman like Dominic Espinosa steps up, or Allen could move inside to guard, pushing someone out — we won’t know until September, I think.
You want to run the football? I mean really run the football, not just pussy-foot around, go through the motions and set up third-and-long? You’ve got the right coordinator and line coach to do so, Texas. It’s more about the offensive line than the backfield, but U.T. also needs its senior running backs to step up their games. One is Cody Johnson, last year’s leader in carries (134), rushing yards (592) and touchdowns (6). One of the bigger lead backs in the country, Johnson will love playing in this offense. Again, senior Fozzy Whitaker (351 yards, 2 scores) will be the change-of-pace back, though he has the ability to take over for Johnson and receive the lion’s share of touches. Keep an eye out for incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who shares Whitaker’s skill set and may take his place, should the senior struggle. Junior D.J. Monroe has also show an ability to make big plays on the ground and on special teams. U.T. has experience and a pretty solid amount of depth in the backfield.
All Diaz did in his lone season at Mississippi State was lead a defense that allowed 258 points, a program-low since 1999. Two years ago, Diaz piloted a unit that helped Middle Tennessee State post 10 wins, a program-high on the F.B.S. level. It’s been a rapid rise up the coaching ranks, that’s for sure. But the resume speaks for itself, even if you might want a little more experience on the B.C.S. conference ranks. What Diaz will do, like Harsin, is overhaul the team’s defensive mindset. He’ll attack. Bring pressure. Dial up the blitz to 11. Texas will like him. And his task is far less daunting than Harsin’s, as while U.T. struggled as a team that defense is far closer to typical Texas standards.
The defensive line has talent but needs work — that sounds eerily familiar to last season’s story. Moving Alex Okafor (30 tackles, 2.5 sacks) back out to his more comfortable end spot is a good start for this defense. Out of place in 2010, Okafor is a prototypical end who should help offset losses like Eddie Jones and Sam Acho. While undersized at tackle, Okafor has good enough size to stand up and be a presence against the run at end. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat (15 tackles, 6 for loss), who showed great ability in limited doses as a freshman. Depth comes from sophomore Reggie Wilson and Dravannti Johnson, if not a few freshmen fresh to the program. There’s a bit of inexperience here, but the starting pair is very talented.
It’s Kheeston Randle and a bunch of question marks inside. Randle can play, we know that: he was an honorable mention all-Big 12 pick last fall, posting 39 tackles (13 for loss) and a sack. But he needs some help, especially with Okafor’s move to end — a good move, but one that robs U.T. of a starter. The opportunity is there for redshirt freshman Taylor Bible for grab a starting role should he improve his conditioning, which was an issue last fall. Bible and sophomore Calvin Howell are the two most likely candidates to join Randle in the starting lineup. If Texas wants optimal depth it’ll need freshmen like De’Aires Cotton, Greg Daniels and Desmond Jackson to be ready to play major snaps.
Diaz is going to love these linebackers. And he knows a thing or two about linebackers — how to use them, how to get them in the backfield, how to get them in space and so on. This is the strongest unit on the team, judging in terms of talent, experience and depth. Leading the way are a pair of all-conference seniors in Emmanuel Acho (87 tackles, 12 for loss, 3 sacks) and Keenan Robinson (team-best 113 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions). Here’s a nice thought: they’ll be even better, even more productive, under Diaz. Sophomore Jordan Hicks (23 tackles) will round out the starting lineup. He’s as athletically gifted as they come, and only needs to avoid injuries to make a major impact. The depth comes from two handfuls of youngsters who should apprentice for one more year before assuming starting roles. All sophomores or freshmen, the competition for the second line will be extremely fierce. And this competition will make these youngsters better as we look ahead to 2012. The list includes Demarco Cobbs, Aaron Benson and Chet Moss, among others.
It’ll be a team effort in the secondary. Diaz employs a base zone defense, one that will rely on his defensive backs to make decisions on the fly — and one where the secondary as a whole will rely greatly on each other to work in concert, on the same page. Becoming comfortable in this defense, and with each other, is the most important task lying ahead for the secondary. The three leading contenders at cornerback are A.J. White, Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips. As of today, Byndom and Phillips, the latter a converted safety, stand atop the depth chart. But it’s a very fluid situation, and as along the defensive line there are opportunities for true and redshirt freshmen, like Sheroid Evans and Quandre Diggs, to play significant snaps.
There’s plenty of experience at safety, most of it coming in senior Blake Gideon (68 tackles, 2 interceptions), a three-year starter. His extensive experience will come in handy with the younger crop of cornerbacks. The Longhorns also return Kenny Vaccaro (56 tackles), Christian Scott (53 tackles, 1 interception) and Nolan Brewster, so there’s no dearth of bodies. You might want to see more big plays; this system will put the safeties in the position to force turnovers, so they need to take advantage.
Position battle(s) to watch
Wide receivers Seven Longhorns made at least 10 receptions in 2010: James Kirkendoll, Mike Davis, John Chiles, Malcolm Williams, Marquise Goodwin, Fozzy Whitaker and DeSean Hales. Kirkendoll has exhausted his eligibility, as has Chiles. Whitaker (34 catches for 217 yards) is a running back, as noted, though a valuable asset in the passing game. Williams has opted not to play as a senior in order to take care of some personal issues. Goodwin will redshirt so as to focus on his track prowess. That leaves Davis, a rising star, and Hales, both sophomores, as the most experienced returning receivers on the roster. It’ll be a position that undergoes tremendous competition in August. It’ll also be a position to watch all year, as this offense demands two versatile lead targets and at least five or six options altogether. You can put Davis’s (47 for 478) name in ink as the lead receiver; he immense skill set should play extremely well in this offense. You can’t necessarily put Hales in as his running mate. You can hope that his second season finds him more comfortable than his first, as Hales was one of several skill players whose ability went untapped by the previous offensive staff. Another options is a third sophomore, Darius White, who played sporadically as a freshman. More names to consider: Josh Harris, who has nice size, like White; Chris Jones is small but could fill a role; junior Patrick McNamara had a nice spring; and true freshman Jaxon Shipley, Jordan’s younger brother, has done nothing but impress since stepping on campus. As of now, it looks like Shipley and Davis will be the top receivers. There’s still a lot to be decided.
Game(s) to watch
Maybe the game with Oklahoma won’t decide the Big 12, as it has so often in the recent past. It’ll still be extremely important to Texas, of course. So will B.Y.U and U.C.L.A., which will test the U.T. secondary and the defensive line, respectively. The Longhorns get the rival Aggies on the road, as well as Missouri. But six of the first eight games come at home, which help this younger team undergoing changes.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell So much has changed. The roster, the coaching staff, the national perception, the uncertainty — this is new for Texas, from top to bottom, and how the Longhorns fare in 2011 will be one of the most-watched developments in college football. Here’s one thing we can say for sure: Texas isn’t going 5-7 again. There’s a far better chance of U.T. running the table than of that happening in back-to-back years. Another thing we can say for sure: Brown added two very, very good coordinators. The only question is whether Harsin and Diaz can have an immediate impact. I think Diaz can and will; I think Harsin will eventually be a difference-maker, but far too many question marks remain on offense to expect more than a slight — but meaningful — improvement on that side of the ball. First, U.T. needs to rally around a quarterback, whether Gilbert or one of the younger options. The offensive line needs to adopt a tougher mentality; we’ve been waiting for that for a long time. The receiver corps needs at least three, as many as five relatively untested targets to step into larger roles. In short, while I am confident that Harsin is the right hire, I think he’ll have his hands full in the early going. The defense, behind Diaz, can help carry the load in the meantime. What about a final record? It’s hard to say, since U.T. could struggle early and lose to both B.Y.U. and U.C.L.A. — that would probably mean seven wins, give or take. But there’s just too much talent, and now the coaching, for Texas not to challenge for nine wins in the regular season. I can see 10 wins, in fact, if the Longhorns knock off B.Y.U. and Oklahoma State, both at home. Doable but far from certain. Repeat after me: there’s just too much talent here for Texas not to factor heavily in the Big 12 hunt. Don’t be surprised at all if U.T. bursts forward and finishes second in the conference, ahead of Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Talent plus coaching spells a return, even if the Longhorns might need a year to get their legs back under them.
Dream season From 5-7 to the top of the Big 12. Not undefeated, but U.T. beats Oklahoma and Texas A&M during an 11-1 regular season.
Nightmare season Only a very slight improvement in the win column: 6-6, 5-4 in the Big 12.
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 and Burnt Orange Beat. For additional coverage, check out Burnt Orange Nation and 40 Acres Sports.
Through 103 teams 322,144.
Who is No. 17? A dedicated fan of tomorrow’s program was prone to bashing one team in particular and to quoting W.C. Fields; he called the former “a hard drinking egotist,” much like himself.
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Tags: Alex Okafor, Big 12, Blake Gideon, Bryan Harsin, Cody Johnson, Emmanuel Acho, Fozzy Whitaker, Garrett Gilbert, Keenan Robinson, Kheeston Randle, Mack Brown, Manny Diaz, Stacy Searles, Texas, Tray Allen
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