No. 8: Texas
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 27, 2012
DeLoss Dodds and Texas are consistently painted as out of touch with reality, puttering along like money-mad oil barons as the F.B.S. continues to draw and redraw its borders through conference expansion. In the case of Mack Brown’s offseason contract extension, however, Dodds and Texas show that the program is far from out of touch, despite recent examples to the contrary. “I’ve been here 30 years,” Dodds told The Dallas Morning News’ Chuck Carlton in January, “and I’ve never been more committed to a coach than I am to Mack and the future of this program.” Dodds, through Carlton: “We’re poised to be back again. We just need the kids to be a little older.” Come the fall, Texas won’t just be more hip to how last year’s new coordinators do business on each side of the ball; they’ll be a year wiser and a year more experienced, which lends credence to the idea that Texas is simply days away from returning to the nation’s elite. Extending Brown’s contract only solidifies the idea that once the Longhorns do return to prominence, they won’t be dropping back out of sight anytime soon.
15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 1
- Sept. 8
- Sept. 15
- Sept. 29
at Oklahoma St.
- Oct. 6
- Oct. 13
vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas)
- Oct. 20
- Oct. 27
- Nov. 3
at Texas Tech
- Nov. 10
- Nov. 22
- Dec. 1
at Kansas St.
Last year’s prediction
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. What about a final record? 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.
In a nutshell It wasn’t quite a return to glory, though the Longhorns did add three wins to their 2010 mark. Clear improvement was made despite the youth issues and positively dreadful quarterback play, with the latter one area where Texas absolutely must improve heading into the fall. In a positive vein, however, U.T. took a nice step forward up front, where the line improved, and in the running game. But the defense was there, and will be there in 2012, so the retooling project has already shown tangible results. In 2011, however, the offense was nowhere near as competent as the defense.
High point A 27-25 win at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving. So long, Aggies, and don’t call us, we’ll call you. Outside of the 2006 Rose Bowl, it might have been the most pleasing win of the Brown era.
Low point Texas actually hung relatively tight with Oklahoma State, thanks to a solid defensive effort. Likewise with losses to Missouri and Kansas State, where the offense was an abomination. Two losses that got out of hand: Oklahoma by 38 points and Baylor by 24 points. The latter might have hurt worse, actually.
Tidbit Texas has led the Big 12 in total defense in each of last four years: 306.1 yards per game last fall, 300.2 yards per game in 2010, 251.9 yards per game in 2009 and 342.9 yards per game in 2008. Last year’s defense came within one-tenth of a point of leading the league in the five major defensive categories: U.T. paced the Big 12 in total defense, run defense (96.2 yards per game), pass defense (209.8 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense (110.0) but came in second in scoring defense – allowing 22.2 points per game to 22.1 points per game from Oklahoma.
Tidbit (turnover margin edition) Since Brown took over in 1998, Texas is 86-6 when winning the turnover battle. This includes a 25-0 mark in such games over the last five years. How does this fact tie into the program’s continued search for more consistent quarterback play? Texas is 1-7 over the last two seasons when throwing two or more interceptions.
Tidbit (magic number edition) Texas’ magic number: 200. Under Brown, the Longhorns are 72-2 when gaining 200 or more yards on the ground. Now, this fact should be taken with a grain of salt: Texas’ two losses when gaining 200 or more rushing yards came last fall – to Oklahoma State, when it gained 238 yards, and to Baylor, when it gained 201 yards.
Former players in the N.F.L.
52 LB Sam Acho (Arizona), LB Emmanuel Acho (Cleveland), RB Cedric Benson (Green bay), OG Justin Blalock (Atlanta), CB Tarell Brown (San Francisco), CB Curtis Brown (Pittsburgh), CB Chykie Brown (Baltimore), RB Jamaal Charles (Kansas City), WR Quan Cosby (Indianpolis), OG Leonard Davis (San Francisco), K Phil Dawson (Cleveland), OG Derrick Dockery (Dallas), TE Jermichael Finley (Green Bay), S Blake Gideon (Arizona), S Michael Griffin (Tennessee), CB Cedric Griffin (Washington), NT Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh), OT Tony Hills (Denver), OT Kyle Hix (New England), DE Lamarr Houston (Oakland), S Michael Huff (Oakland), CB Quentin Jammer (San Diego), FB Cody Johnson (Tampa Bay), LB Derrick Johnson (Kansas City), LB Sergio Kindle (Baltimore), WR James Kirkendoll (Tennessee), LS Cullen Loeffler (Minnesota), QB Colt McCoy (Cleveland), DT Henry Melton (Chicago), DT Roy Miller (Tampa Bay), LB Roddrick Muckelroy (Cincinnati), RB Chris Ogbonnaya (Cleveland), DT Frank Okam (Tampa Bau), LB Brian Orakpo (Washington), DT Kheeston Randall (Miami), DT Cory Redding (Indianapolis), LB Keenan Robinson (Washington), DE Brian Robison (Minnesota), DT Shaun Rogers (New York Giants), CB Aaron Ross (Jacksonville), OT Jonathan Scott (Detroit), CB Christian Scott (Tennessee), C Lyle Sendlein (Arizona), WR Jordan Shipley (Tampa Bay), TE Greg Smith (Carolina), C David Snow (Buffalo), OG Kasey Studdard (Houston), S Earl Thomas (Seattle), TE David Thomas (New Orleans), K Justin Tucker (Baltimore), CB Aaron Williams (Buffalo), QB Vince Young (Buffalo).
Tidbit (N.F.L. edition) Texas currently has 52 players on N.F.L. rosters, as you can see above. While there are still cuts to be made, the program is currently represented on every roster in the league but three: Philadelphia, St. Louis and the New York Jets.
Arbitrary top five list
Texas Rangers you’d want at your side
1. Frank Hamer.
2. Stephen F. Austin.
3. Jack Hayes.
4. John H. Rogers.
5. Red Burton.
Mack Brown (Florida State ’74), 141-39 with the Longhorns after 14 seasons in Austin. He led Texas back into some degree of national relevancy last fall, when U.T. returned to bowl play after a one-year absence, but after winning 13 games over two years, Brown must show that he still has what it takes to maintain the juggernaut of a program he built over the first dozen years of his tenure. The seven-loss finish in 2010 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 2010, 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 following 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.
Players to watch
Texas has a starting quarterback. Texas also has a backup quarterback who will see the field more than your normal backup, though the Longhorns have yet to decide – publicly, at least – just how much this offense will shuffle its two quarterbacks in and out of the lineup. It’s getting tiresome, the program’s dance between two or more quarterbacks; Texas, while naming sophomore David Ash as the starter, has left itself enough of a window with junior Case McCoy that I wouldn’t be surprised if, once again, the Longhorns continue playing musical chairs under center. That’s simply an untenable scenario: Texas wants to win the Big 12, wants to beat Oklahoma, wants to play in a B.C.S. bowl, but will not achieve any of those milestones should anyone other than Ash take every meaningful snap for this offense.
It has much to do with pure continuity as production. The Longhorns need to rally around one quarterback: U.T. could then develop a rapport in the passing game, for one, but the offense also needs a leader – and for every solid offense, that leadership needs to come from the quarterback position. Is Ash ready to take on that mantle? Yes, if only out of necessity. But as he gains experience, as he becomes more productive, Ash’s leadership will come as much from his ability to win games for this program – to lead U.T. to key wins during conference play – as for the position he plays.
So, the solution: play Ash and don’t play McCoy. The latter does nothing that Ash cannot do; McCoy is no more agile, no better a passer and gives U.T. no other look for this offense – it’s not like he’s the dual-threat option, one who can line up in the Wildcat formation and help convert on running downs. Ash also has the far higher ceiling than McCoy, though this wasn’t patently clear last fall, when he was thrown into the fire as a true freshman. The only reason why Ash should ever leave the field is due to injuries or massive incompetence – and not just over the span of one quarter, half or game, but over the course of multiple games. More shuffling will continue to stymie this offense’s development. It should be Ash every Saturday; McCoy is a nice backup, but he should not be viewed as anything more than that.
This offense, now in its second season under coordinator Bryan Harsin, will continue to roll through the running game. I won’t be alone in professing my love for what U.T. holds in the backfield: two sophomores, Joe Bergeron (463 yards) and Malcolm Brown (742 yarsd), an incoming freshman, Johnathan Gray, and a senior, Jeremy Hills (177 yards). Barring injury, the only question on Harsin’s plate is how to find the right balance among such a talented stable of running backs. There’s no clear starter: Bergeron and Brown will continue to share carries, much as they did a season ago. And with this pair locked in, it’ll be hard for Gray to find a substantial role as a rookie – he would be the answer at the overwhelming number of programs in the F.B.S., but not here.
Instead, look for Gray to fill Fozzy Whittaker’s shoes as the Longhorns’ back in the Wildcat formation. That’s a nice way for the five-star freshman to slide into this offense. The real story – even if Gray’s arrival is nothing if not exciting – is the play of those two sophomores, especially if Brown can regain his midseason form after being slowed by injuries over the latter stages of last season. Both have 1,000-yard potential; Brown would have cracked that mark as a true freshman if not for his injuries. If Gray can have a similar impact, you’re looking at the deepest backfield in the country.
And adding in backs like Gray and freshman Daje Johnson – an overlooked addition in February’s class – might push senior D.J. Monroe (326 yards) into a bigger role at receiver. He’s one of two seniors in the mix at the position, joining Marquise Goodwin (33 catches for 421 yards); while still young, the receiver corps is far more experienced than at this point a season ago. It’s a group headlined by junior Mike Davis (45 for 609), who must catch the ball with greater consistency, and sophomore Jaxon Shipley (44 for 607), who would have been the team’s leading pass-catcher had he not sat out three games due to injury – and it’s not a coincidence that the offense spit the bit in two of the games in which Shipley was sidelined.
Davis, Shipley and Goodwin are your starting three, though Monroe will see a tremendous amount of time – at running back as well, most likely. Shipley’s the difference maker: he can do all the things this offense needs, from getting open on third down to running the football in the Wildcat or on a sweep, and his flexibility gives an otherwise typical receiver corps some sense of flash. U.T. will also get a boost from a trio of true freshmen in Cayleb Jones, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders. With senior D.J. Grant (16 for 180) back at tight end, Texas have given Ash a number of talented targets to work with in the passing game.
Adding JUCO transfer Donald Hawkins didn’t just give Texas a new starting left tackle, but also gave U.T. a new starting right tackle and left guard, in a way. Stay with me: Hawkins has already put a stranglehold on the blind side; that pushes sophomore Josh Cochrane, who took over at left tackle midway through last season, over to right tackle; that allows U.T. to move junior Trey Hopkins from right tackle, where he made 13 starts last fall, to left guard, where he replaces David Snow. Rounding out the line are right guard Mason Walters, an all-Big 12 lock, and center Dominic Espinosa. And just like that, the Longhorns’ line is in wonderful shape.
Don’t forget the fact that this line is now in its second season in Harsin’s more physical system. Four starters return, if you count Cochrane’s work at left tackle over the second half of last season. Depth is strong, though U.T. does have a true freshman, Kennedy Estelle, backing up Hawkins on the blind side. If Hawkins is up to the task of being Ash’s protector, this line will be the best in the Big 12. Think about the Red River Rivalry – could U.T.’s front push around Oklahoma’s reworked defensive line?
The Longhorns can go toe-to-toe with any other defense in college football – more than that, the Longhorns’ defense can stifle any offense in college football. The group is that good, especially up front and in the secondary, and has the added benefit of entering its second year playing under former Mississippi State coordinator Manny Diaz, who made an immediate impact. Are you looking for a reason to take Texas seriously after its recent two-year swoon? Then take a look at this defense: ferocious up front, filthy at end, stout in the middle, quick on the second level and white-on-rice in the secondary, both at cornerback and safety. Team this defense with an offense with a pulse… and you have a team that can win a national championship.
There’s no better end combination in the country: junior Jackson Jeffcoat (63 tackles, 18.0 for loss, 6.5 sacks) on one side, senior Alex Okafor (54 tackles, 14.0 for loss, 7.0 sacks) on the other – with Okafor opting for one more season in Austin rather than an early entry into the N.F.L. Draft. In a league devoid of top-level end prospects, perhaps outside of Stansly Maponga at T.C.U., the Longhorns’ duo gives this defense a substantial leg up over the rest of the Big 12. Looking ahead, U.T. might end up with a pair of all-American ends. Again, there’s no better combination in the country.
Kheeston Randall’s spot at tackle will be held by junior Brandon Moore, a plus-sized interior lineman who started his career at Alabama before spending last season on the JUCO ranks. Moore’s a little smaller than he was at Alabama, which should help him transition from the Tide’s three-linemen front into U.T.’s more traditional defensive alignment. His backup, sophomore Desmond Jackson, will see extensive time in the tackle rotation. At nose tackle, U.T. will start either junior Chris Whaley, who began his career at running back, or junior Ashton Dorsey (22 tackles, 5.0 for loss), who made four starts on the nose last fall. Overall, is this the best line in the F.B.S.? It’s in the top five, in my estimation – and no team is better at end.
And the secondary is even better. The star is senior free safety Kenny Vaccaro (77 tackles, 2 interceptions), a third defender with all-American potential. He’ll be joined at strong safety by Adrian Phillips (39 tackles, 2 interceptions), a do-everything junior who should be much improved this fall after spending most of last season battling through a shoulder injury. Phillips is interesting: Texas loves his flexibility – he can play any number of spots along the back seven – and also his smarts; while Vaccaro leads by example, don’t discount Phillips’ ability to get the entire secondary into the proper formation as the offense moves to the line of scrimmage.
There’s similar talent at the two cornerback spots. One starter is junior Carrington Byndom (55 tackles, 2 interceptions), who went from borderline line question mark heading into 2011 into one of the league’s premier stoppers on the outside by the end of the season. Byndom is joined on the right side by Quandre Diggs (48 tackles, 3 interceptions), a smaller sophomore who plays much taller than his size – he’s listed at 5’10, but I think Diggs might be a tad shorter than that. Like Diggs last spring, true freshman Duke Thomas enrolled early and made a strong case for being the Longhorns’ first cornerback off the bench.
How good is this secondary? All four starter should earn all-Big 12 honors. Vaccaro, another senior who opted to stay in town for one more year, will earn some all-American praise. Underclassmen like Leroy Scott, Sheroid Evans and Mykkele Thompson would start elsewhere; not here. Having this group along the back end will allow U.T. to run with a team like West Virginia, which has a sterling top duo at receiver, and should effectively stifle what less-talented opponents can achieve in the passing game. Want to have a title-worthy defense? Then get pressure on the quarterback and shut down the opposition’s top receiver. Texas can do that and more – and that’s why U.T.’s defense is outstanding.
Texas hopes that Penn State transfer Anthony Fera can take over kicking duties, but Fera’s availability for the opener – and beyond that point – is in doubt due to a hip injury. With Fera out, U.T. will look toward true freshmen Nick Jordan and Nick Rose to handle kicking duties. Another transfer will step in at punter: Alex King comes over from Duke, where he earned second-team all-A.C.C. honors as a junior. Diggs and Shipley will handle punt returns; Monroe and Diggs will work kickoffs. If Fera returns to full capacity, the Longhorns’ special teams will rank among the top third in the Big 12. If not, I worry about the true freshmen at kicker.
Position battle(s) to watch
Linebacker The Longhorns’ second level lacks proven production – due to the loss of multiple-year starters like Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson – but it doesn’t lack for talent or depth, even if the most of both qualities come in the bodies of underclassmen. Scratch that: Texas’ linebackers are all underclassmen, with as many true freshmen, two, as juniors on the likely two-deep heading into the season opener. The lack of experience is a bit of a concern, to be honest. But in the team’s corner is its recent ability to slide newcomers into the mix on defense and not miss a beat, as in the secondary last fall. And while these younger defenders need to prove themselves during Big 12 play, the staff has been heartened by what true freshmen like Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos have brought to the table during fall camp.
Both bring a degree of excitement to the linebacker corps, with Jinkens on the weak side and Santos in the middle, though neither will play a tremendous amount with the first-team group, barring injury. The starting lineup is set in stone: junior Jordan Hicks (57 tackles), the lone returning starter, on the weak side; sophomore Steve Edmond (16 tackles) in the middle, replacing Robinson; and junior Demarco Cobbs on the strong side, stepping in for Acho. Look for Edmond and Cobbs to shuffle in and out, with sophomore Tevin Jackson replacing Cobbs and sophomore Kendall Thompson spelling both Edmond and Hicks.
Much is riding on Hicks’ ability to match his performance with his massive physical gifts. If he ratchets up his game to an first-team all-Big 12 level, U.T. will survive life without Acho and Robinson – survive without much difficulty, I would think, though overall production may take a slight step back. Remember this: U.T.’s defensive line and secondary, as individual units, stand up against any other groups in the country; together, no team can offer more up front and along the back end. So the pressure isn’t on these linebackers to carry this defense, but rather to hold the line, deliver with consistency, make plays in space and fill gaps along the line of scrimmage. This group can do that with ease.
Game(s) to watch
Texas couldn’t ask for a nicer start: Wyoming, New Mexico and Mississippi. Nor could the Longhorns ask for a more imposing three-game test to open Big 12 play: at Oklahoma State, home for West Virginia, in Dallas for the Red River Rivalry. That’s a season-defining stretch – in either direction. If U.T. has reclaimed some of its lost luster, it should have no problem rolling past conference rivals like Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech or Iowa State; if the Longhorns can start 5-1, for example, this team should be very much in the B.C.S. mix entering dates with T.C.U. and Kansas State to end the season.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell Texas is consistent quarterback play away from being one of the top teams in college football – this is my opinion, at least, and I know it’s not shared nationally. I am in love with what this defense can achieve, from ends like Jeffcoat and Okafor to an outstanding secondary: Texas has the best defense in the Big 12 by a wide margin, and it’s this defense that will have it hanging around in every game inside and out of conference play. The backfield is as deep as they come, from Brown and Bergeron to a newcomer like Gray, who could be devastatingly effective if used in certain can’t-fail situations as a true freshman. The line has rounded into form, under Harsin’s run-first values; the receiver corps, was still young, is in a far better place today than at this point a year ago.
And the greater comfort is obvious on both sides of the ball. The offense is on the same page with Harsin, with the philosophy he brought over from Boise State. The defense, already strong prior to his arrival, has gelled with Diaz’s vision for an attacking, aggressive and opportunistic system. With the defense one of the nation’s best, all this specific team needs in order to make a run towards a title is improved quarterback play – and yes, it’s a major concern. A few reasons for optimism: Ash will be markedly improved, playing with less tentativeness and greater confidence; the offense can rally around his spot as a full-time starter; and the complimentary pieces surrounding the sophomore are stronger than they were a season ago. Ash can give U.T. capable quarterback play… if Brown removes McCoy from Ash’s rearview mirror. Here’s guessing that he does so by the Big 12 opener.
Look: Texas is coming back. The defense is already title-worthy. The offense is already locked into Harsin’s more physical style. The offensive line has turned a major corner. More and more talent at the skill positions arrives every summer. It’s all about quarterback play – because the Longhorns will win eight games even if Ash and McCoy scuffle, but they can win 10 or more should U.T. hand Ash the ball and let him run with this offense. My take? Texas is the first team I’ve previewed all summer that I can see winning the national title. But that is contingent on U.T. getting better-than-average play at quarterback, and it’s too early to make such a prediction. Instead, look for this defense and an improved offense to lead the Longhorns back to double-digit wins and B.C.S. berth, with the Red River Rivalry deciding the Big 12 title. Texas is ready for a major bounce-back season.
Dream season Texas wins as many games in 2012 as it won in 2010 and 2011 combined. I think you can decipher how that works out.
Nightmare season The same story: U.T.’s defense is more than up to the challenge, again leading the Big 12 in all major categories, but the offense is an abomination – at quarterback, most of all. The end result is another seven-win regular season.
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, HookEm.com and Burnt Orange Beat. For additional coverage, check out Burnt Orange Nation and 40 Acres Sports. And there were two egregious oversights: Barking Carnival and Inside Texas.
Texas’ all-name nominee DE Caleb Bluiett.
Through 117 teams 482,139.
Who is No. 7? The backup strong safety on tomorrow’s team’s preseason depth chart is the son of a former N.F.L. player who threw a touchdown in a 1984 regular season game that ended in a tie.
Tags: Adrian Phillips, Alex King, Alex Okafor, Anthony Fera, Big 12, Brandon Moore, Bryan Harsin, Carrington Byndom, Case McCoy, D.J. Monroe, David Ash, Demarco Cobbs, Donald Hawkins, Jackson Jeffcoat, Jaxon Shipley, Joe Bergeron, Johnathan Gray, Jordan Hicks, Kenny Vaccaro, Mack Brown, Malcolm Brown, Marquise Goodwin, Mason Walters, Mike Davis, Quandre Diggs, Steve Edmond, Texas, Trey Hopkins
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