Editor’s Note: This is the eighth installment in a continuing series examining Big 12 football and the prospects for every team in the conference this season.
(2012 record: 9-4 in all games, 5-4 in the Big 12)
While once it was almost a given every year that Texas would be among the country’s best in college football – and why wouldn’t they be, given the ability to pluck the top recruits from the football-rich breeding grounds of the Lone Star State? – that near certainty has taken a serious hit the last three years. The Longhorns have steadily improved upon their five-win season in 2010, their worst season in the Big 12 era, nearly doubling that win total a year ago.
Texas was a combined 23-16 in all games over the past three seasons, but just 11-15 in the Big 12 over that same time frame. As promising as last season’s 9-4 record might seem, especially given how poorly and un-Texas-like coach Mack Brown’s troops performed in the two previous seasons, most Longhorn fans were still far from satisfied because of another blowout loss to hated border-rival Oklahoma, a fifth consecutive loss to Kansas State and a Thanksgiving night loss at home to TCU that was on display for all the country to witness on national TV.
Reminded at Big 12 Media Days last week that every four years his teams seem to have outstanding years (the ‘o5 team, with Vince Young, won the national championship, and in ’09, with Colt McCoy at quarterback, the Longhorns went 13-1 and finished No. 2 in the national rankings), Brown had this to say about his team’s outlook for the 2013 season: “With 19 of the 22 starters back, we have more depth. The leadership is much better than it’s been over the past couple of years because the guys are older.
“They understand that nine is not what we want to win at Texas, and they’re very excited to get started,” he said. “Vince and Colt won a lot of football games. There were times last year when (David Ash) played like Colt and he played like Vince and looked as good as anyone in the country. And there were others when he struggled. But we think we’ve got better players around him now.”
Texas is projected by most of the national football preview publications to finish third or fourth in the conference this season. “Who knows?” Brown said. “I do think that we have the most balanced league in the country right now. You saw in the SEC that the top seven teams beat the bottom seven 30-0, and that’s not happening in our league. Our league is very challenging. At one point, there were two or three teams that were better than everybody else, and that’s not the case any more.”
There is no question that, if Texas were able to pull it all together, the Horns definitely have the talent to win the Big 12 crown this season. That would mean junior quarterback David Ash would need to perform more consistently and up to his capabilities as the most experienced signal caller in the conference, plus it would require major improvement on the defensive side, where Texas gave up more than 400 yards per game last season, the worst in school history. And defense was supposed to be the Longhorns’ strength last season.
The strength of the Longhorns’ team this season is at running back. In juniors Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron and sophomore Jonathan Gray, Texas has the best trio of running backs in the Big 12 if not in the country. They also are solid at the receiver position, on the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.
So then, why, you ask, is Texas projected no better than third or fourth in the league? Because that is the Longhorn history under Mack Brown, particularly the past three seasons.
“Two years ago, we stunk on offense, and we were good on defense,” Brown said. “Last year, we stunk on defense, but we were pretty good on offense. This year, we’ve got depth, (and) the quarterback’s older and he’s been in that Oklahoma game two years. I finally think it all comes together.”
Projected 2013 finish: 3rd, 9-3 in all games, 7-2 in the Big 12
On Monday: Oklahoma State Cowboys