The 2013 Texas Longhorns enter the Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football preview series at No. 17, third-highest among their Big 12 Conference peers. More than any other, it’s a season rife with long-term implications for the future of a traditional power who has fallen on hard times, with the jobs of every coach on the sidelines in question, and Texas’ place among the nation’s elite hanging in the balance.
With a handful of established high-performers, and several other guys who must rise to the occasion to fill in the holes, the Longhorns are still a work in progress who could by season’s end be one of the country’s surprise teams, or fall into the middle-of-the-pack in their own conference depending on how the chips fall. There’s no lack of talent, it’s simply a matter of how that talent is manifested in performance on the field.
Mack Brown finally has the luxury of a wealth of returning starters on both sides of the ball in 2013. The Longhorns are an experienced team overall, with several established playmakers who can reasonably be depended upon from one week to the next and many others who could have a big game on any given Saturday.
All eyes will be fixed on junior quarterback David Ash and senior wideout Mike Davis on the offensive side of the ball, while senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, junior linebacker Jordan Hicks and junior cornerback Quandre Diggs will be the keys to defensive success in 2013. These guys are nominally the impact players, and how well they play from one week to the next will certainly have an impact on the team’s success but there are so many more important pieces.
Ash will be given the keys to a brand-new, high-octane Texas offense that will be an interesting work in progress. The focus in on extreme quantity (a goal of 80+ snaps per game on offense) which will be complemented by enough quality to ensure the Longhorns continue to score in bunches and adapt to the other high-flying offenses in the conference which have beaten them to the punch.
There are some minor concerns about quarterback depth and wide receiving depth with the transfers of Connor Brewer and Cayleb Jones, respectively — who by coincidence will both be Arizona Wildcats in 2014 — but these concerns create opportunity. The arrival of true freshman Tyrone Swoopes to the Forty Acres will be a dynamic storyline at quarterback as will the Texas coaching staff’s decision on what to do with the versatile Jalen Overstreet who could take some snaps at the position as well in direct snap formations (typically dubbed the “Wildhorn”) or designed run plays.
Texas again will operate with the three-headed running back of speedy sophomore Johnathan Gray, bruising down-hill runner Joe Bergeron, and the versatile, but injury-prone junior Malcolm Brown. As a whole, this trio was productive if not a bit hobbled in 2012. Their ability to complement the passing game and keep defenses honest will be essential to Texas success this fall.
Senior Davis and junior Shipley will be Ash’s primary targets at wide receiver with a litany of guys having the opportunity to earn playing time. Among them, Kendall Sanders and Bryant Jackson seem most likely to see the field early on, with others like Daje Johnson, Duke Thomas, Montrel Meander and possibly even Marcus Johnson certain to play a role at one time or another.
The Texas offensive line is as talented as it has been in years and will be tasked with keeping Ash upright and allowing the new offense to unfold without the pressure situations it has operated under in recent history.
In short, the Texas defense was a disappointment in 2012. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is well aware of the challenge facing him this season and is no longer willing to make any excuses or promises beyond the fact the Longhorns will be more prepared technically, and mentally, than they have been in recent times.
Among the units, the defensive line has the most potential question marks. Jeffcoat is the unquestioned “spiritual” leader of the unit that will need several guys to rise to the occasion, and quickly, to fill holes left by highly productive players from 2012 like All-American Alex Okafor and the early-departing Brandon Moore.
Junior tackle Cedric Reed is the most likely to be tasked with replacing Okafor’s production (to some extent) and will be complemented across the line by senior Ashton Dorsey and sophomore Malcom Brown who many believe could be the next defensive star on the Forty Acres. Linebackers Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens have been the most promising in early fall practice and must play with greater technical detail and overall mental toughness to prevent short gains from again turning into the explosive plays that decimated the Texas defense last season.
The Texas secondary is talented, as always, and will be led by cornerback Diggs and safety Carrington Byndom, both of whom have a legitimate chance at All-Big 12 honors this season. The elder statesman of the defensive backfield, senior Adrian Phillips will be counted upon for consistent play, but will be given a run for his money for playing time by guys like Sheroid Evans, Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner and explosive and electric sophomore Duke Thomas, who could see time on both sides of the ball.
The Longhorns ease their way into the 2013 season with an August 31st home visit from the New Mexico State Aggies. Things quickly escalate over the next two weeks as the team travels to Provo to take on the RS No. 43 BYU Cougars in Week 2 before returning home to take on the new-look RS No. 29 Ole Miss Rebels in Austin on September 14th.
Texas dives in head-first to the Big 12 schedule with a September 21st visit from the RS No. 25 Kansas State Wildcats — a team that has owned them in recent history — before diving into the meat of the rest of the schedule.
But regardless, there’s only one game that really matters, and that’s the traditional matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners in Dallas mid-October. Another loss to Oklahoma could mean the beginning of the end for the Mack Brown regime. A win could be the first step toward a Big 12 crown and a BCS bowl berth.
For Texas, nothing less will be acceptable this fall. It’s basically 10+ wins or bust. Not only for the future of the coaching staff collectively, but those above them sitting in the ivory towers of Bellmont Hall.