It’s no discovery that the Texas Longhorns rank among the elite football programs of all-time. Four national titles, 32 conference titles and 2 Heisman trophy winners puts Texas in the top 1% of the top 1%.
If you’ve watched the 'Horns over the past two years, however, you've seen a team perform more like an FCS teams against top competition, folding under pressure, than the powerhouse program they're historically known for. The one exception to that is the 2010 game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Even after cleaning house, Texas is still filled with several problems, including inconsistency on offense and holes at several positions.
But never fear Longhorn Nation, as this year should put the 'Horns back on the map and bring the pride of Texas, well, back to Texas.
In the next few slides, you’ll see all the troubles that have marred the Longhorns the past few years, and why they will be fixed in 2012. Spoiler: the defense isn’t the problem.
Where to begin with this one? Here are some characters you might remember: Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Those four quarterbacks covered a twelve-season span from 1998-2009, which included:
- A 29-18 record against the top 25
- Two Big 12 championships
- 157 consecutive weeks ranked in the top 25 (ended in 2010 at 162, current NCAA record)
- One national championship
Safe to say that the past two years have not seen that level of play on the 40 acres.
After having four quarterbacks under center in twelve seasons - each QB started an average of 3 years - Texas has had three starting quarterbacks in just the past two years. Compare the above stat line to the past two years and you'll notice a drastic difference:
- A 1-7 record versus the top 25
- A 6-11 record in the Big 12 (2-6 at home)
- Roughly ten weeks ranked total
- And, you get the picture…
That’s the bad news. The good news is there isn't a quarterback battle going on in practice. Expect David Ash to be the guy, and expect him to put up solid numbers. Even if Ash doesn't secure the starting role, Case McCoy has shown great poise when needed and freshman Connor Brewer has shown signs of his talent in practice.
You have got to hand it to the young man. Ash accomplished something that nobody had done at Texas since Applewhite: start as a true freshman. To top that, he did it without an NFL caliber O-line. Yes, the QB rating and passing efficiency were quite poor, but this season we should see an increase in the quality of play for several reasons. The big men up front have another year under their belt, the running game should elevate itself and open up the passing game by spreading the defense and, hopefully, a more experienced and consistent receiving core develops around Ash.
Injuries have also played a factor over the last couple of seasons, so hopefully we'll see a decrease in those.
The O-line has been far and away one of the bigger disappointments over the past two years. Why will this year be any better? Experience.
While Texas picked up some serious talent in February to help protect the QB, some of the blue chips from a few years ago, such as Dom Espinosa, Josh Cochran and Mason Walters are set to blossom this year as premier pass defenders.
Lack of quality O-line play was always one of the main reasons Texas’ offense had copious amounts of issues with the passing game, as typical of any team, but with some decent protection, the Longhorns should have an effective passing game in 2012.
We will likely have to wait until Week 3 for definitive answers on this year's version of the Longhorns' offensive line. Texas plays Wyoming and New Mexico in the first two weeks of the season, which will provide the 'Horns with a nice warm-up to the season, but won't push the big guys too much.
The Longhorns travel to Ole Miss in Week 3, taking on one of those vaunted SEC defenses, and although Ole Miss has been stuck bottom-dwelling, the D-line should still provide a nice test for the 'Horns O-line. If nothing else, it will be a warm-up for West Virginia and OU.
Performance Against Top Teams
The last two seasons against Big 12 competition have been subpar to say the least. Against the likes of:
- Baylor: 0-2
- Kansas State: 0-2
- Oklahoma State: 0-2
- OU (now without question Texas’ biggest rival): 0-2
The clutch gene hasn’t necessarily clicked for the Horns’ offense the past two years, and committing what seems to be half a dozen turnovers per game against Big 12 competition isn’t necessarily helping the cause. The one bright spot for the 'Horns is that the defense has always arrived ready to compete.
Big-time games usually brings big-time hype to a team, but the "swagger" for the 'Horns has been non-existent as of late. You can't go into games, such as the Red River Rivalry, with a “trying not to lose” mentality. It just won't cut it.
With the release of the new R-I-S-E movement (Relentless – Intensity – Swagger – Emotion), this season should bring about a renewed confidence in the coaches, team and fan base.
There aren’t many negative, glaring issues on the Longhorns' defense, other than the fact that almost none of them can legally consume an alcoholic beverage or rent a car (a.k.a they're young).
That hasn’t been a huge problem, however, as even these wunderkinds have been able to compete with the best of the best. As the defense matures, they will only become better, and as long as none of them pull a Mathieu (too soon?), this side of the ball will continue to be the future of this football program.
What to Expect This Year
Enough of the excuses, Horns Nation. No more of this: “if we win, we’re talented,” and “if we lose, we’re just young.” The college football nation should expect to see a very proficient football squad dressed in burnt orange this year, and after a two-year absence, one should fully expect the Longhorns to make a run for the Big 12 title.
This year is more than just winning rivalry games and championships; it’s about bringing the pride of Texas back to Austin. Texas doesn’t have to rely on tacky rap videos, new uniforms (hideous practice attire omitted), or hide behind a conference that’s bigger than they are. The Horns are proud of their own traditions and accomplishments on the field, and after the last two abysmal showings, Mack Brown will have this team heading back to the Promised Land soon.
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