After a dismal 5-7 season in 2010, the Texas Longhorns rebounded with an 8-5 record last year and earned a 21-10 victory over California in the Holiday Bowl. Despite that bowl win, that 8-5 record, along with losses to Oklahoma State, Missouri and Kansas State and blowout losses to Baylor and Oklahoma, is subpar by the standards in Austin.
Since losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship in the 2009 season, the ’Horns are 13-13. That’s not good enough. With 14 returning starters, Texas has a chance to be good again, but how much better?
Offense (8 starters return)
Hopefully Mack Brown can pick a starting quarterback and stick with him. It’s either going to be true sophomore David Ash, who earned himself the Holiday Bowl MVP award, or junior Case McCoy. Ash will likely take the first snap against Wyoming, but if he’s struggling, look for McCoy to come in.’Horns will likely run the ball more in 2012. Sophomore Malcolm Brown turned in 779 yards as a freshman, so look for much more of him as well as another bruising sophomore, Joe Bergeron. Don’t put it past Coach Brown to turn to true freshman Johnathan Gray, who put up crazy numbers during his high school career with nearly 11,000 rushing yards.
The team’s top four leading receivers return in Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis, Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Grant, but there isn’t a true star yet at tight end.
The offensive line could be as good as any in the Big 12. Four returning starters led by guard Mason Walters are back, and with the addition of JUCO transfer Donald Hawkins, this could be a major strong point for the entire team.
The defense of the Burnt Orange and White should still be salty despite losing linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. The ’Horns roster two of the top ends in the country in NFL prospects Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. Newcomer and JUCO transfer Brandon Moore (junior) is said to have NFL talent at tackle. Two corners return in Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs, a junior and sophomore, respectively. Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro adds to a speedy secondary, which will be difficult to pass on.
Longhorn fans might need to wish for big leads because if it comes down to an extra-point, field goal or needing a good punt, you don’t want to hold your breath. Two freshmen will battle for kicking duties, Nick Jordan and Ben Pruitt, and there is a hole in the punting game.
The ’Horns open their schedule with three non-conference games. While Wyoming, who went 8-5 last season, could pose some trouble in the opener, the Cowboys don’t belong on the same playing surface at the Longhorns; nor does New Mexico and Ole Miss, who both combined to go 3-21 last year. The meat of the schedule comes Sept. 29-Oct. 13 when they play Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks.
If the Longhorns gets consistency out of their offense, they will be fine. If it begins to sputter again, there’s only so much the defense can do.