Everything is bigger is Texas
Including the stakes for Mack Brown's football team.
In 2009, the Longhorns ran the table in the regular season, falling only to Alabama, 37-21, in the BCS National Championship game.
Following that evening, Longhorns fans expected a rebuilding process. However, no one expected it to take this long.
After limping towards a 5-7 finish in 2010, the program has steadily worked its way back into form, finishing 8-5 in 2011 and an improved 9-4 this past season.
If this trend of winning games holds up, not only will the Horns be expected to compete for a Big 12 title, but for a spot in a BCS game as well. The pieces are in place, especially offensively.
However, everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes the expectations of the rabid and victory-starved Longhorns' fan base.
The team can live up to those massive annual expectations, and here's how.
The Longhorns can be a 'quarterback factory' once again
Very few schools in the history of college football have been able to enjoy more than a half-decade of All-American signal callers. Going from Vince Young, national champion, to Colt McCoy, who tallied the most wins in school history, was a ride most Horns fans won't soon forget.
Unless David Ash makes us all forget, that is.
McCoy's young brother, Case, is not the answer. However, Ash showed flashes of brilliance as a sophomore, completing 214 of his 318 pass attempts for 2,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The issue, of course, has been Ash's performance in clutch situations. He was pulled against lowly Kansas, and McCoy had to pull a last-gasp comeback out of his you-know-what to earn the win and basically save the season.
If the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Belton native can be the full-time, every-down starter both fans and coaches are hoping and expecting him to be, the Longhorns will win some games in 2013 -- and Mack Brown will have produced yet another legendary collegiate quarterback.
The rest of the offense is rounding into form
With a matured, more seasoned David Ash at the helm, Mack Brown's offense should already be even stronger than the unit that averaged 35.7 points per game.
However, he is not nearly the only piece to the potentially prolific puzzle.
Leading running back Johnathan Gray averaged 4.7 yards per rush en route to 701 and three scores. At 5-foot-11 and 207 pounds, Gray came to Austin in 2012 already college-ready, but he will only continue to get bigger and faster as a sophomore in 2013.The same is going to be expected of the squad's second-leading rusher, Joe Bergeron. As a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore, the bruising back compiled a silly 16 touchdown runs on a mere 127 carries. He finished with 567 yards on a 4.5 yards per carry average.
Ash's two primary receiving targets, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, will both also be back in 2013. Davis will be the receiving unit's leader as a senior in 2013, but two of last year's freshmen, Daje Johnson and tight end M.J. McFarland, should both take on larger roles within the offense next season.
But titles are won in the trenches
Offensively speaking, the Longhorns should absolutely manhandle opponents all season long. Led by left tackle Donald Hawkins, the entire starting five is returning for another year under Mack in Austin. Basically, in the defense-optional Big 12, no one should be able to lay a finger on Ash when he drops back, and the running lanes for Gray and Co. should be wider than a Texan interstate.
There are several young offensive linemen gunning for the starters' spots. As of spring practices, upperclassmen such as Garrett Porter and Sedrick Flowers are expected to be on the team's two-deep roster. However, the competition offensively is going to be fierce.
Defensively, the picture along the line is not quite so rosy -- just like the team itself over the course of 2012's up-and-down ride.
The team loses Alex Okafor to presumably the first round of the NFL Draft, and his 12.5 sacks will be missed. However, if Jackson Jeffcoat can return to form following a season-ending pectoral injury, the line will at least be in better hands.
Defensive tackle Brandon Moore has also entered the NFL Draft. Desmond Jackson and Malcolm Brown are the expected starters, but A'Shawn Robinson is going to be a major talent to watch going forward.
If the team's defensive line make make more of a mess of the line of scrimmage and in opponents' backfield, a conference title may just be in the Horns' future.
Mack needs a major improvement from the rest of his defense
The Longhorns linebacker corps suffered through some major issues last season. Mack Brown knows that, the linebackers themselves know that, the student body knows that, heck, everybody in the state of Texas knows that.
Just like the rest of the team, however, this unit should enjoy a vast improvement over spring and summer practices. Steve Edmond, Peter Jinkens and Kendall Thompson are all expected to make large strides after seeing the field plenty in 2012. If Jordan Hicks can come back from both a hip injury and charges of alleged sexual assault (he vehemently denies any wrongdoing), then he can really be a leader at this position.
The team loses its top defensive back in Kenny Vaccaro, who, like Alex Okafor, is expected to be taken in the first or second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Sophomore corner Quandre Diggs led the team with four interceptions in 2012, but he is expected to slide over to fill out Vaccaro's vacant spot. A lot of eyes will be on Carrington Byndom. At 6-foot and 180 pounds, Byndom entered his junior year with heavy expectations following an impressive sophomore season.
One 'if' will lead to another. If he can rebound from a down junior season, Mack will ask him to cover the opposition's top receiver, week in and week out. Then, if he can succeed, those high powered Big 12 offenses may not have a chance.
And Horns fans may have a chance to enjoy double-digit wins for the first time in years.
Lest we forget, special teams are one-third of every football game
Star kick returner, DJ Monroe, is gone after returning 21 kicks for 515 yards and one touchdown. His running mate on the kick return unit, Marquise Goodwin, is also graduating out. Expect backup running back Daje Johnson to step into that role.
He may take over the punt return duties as well, depending on whether or not the team keeps Quandre Diggs back there. Diggs may be playing too much defensively to risk being injured as a returner, or to risk exhaustion when the team's defense struggled so mightily in 2012.
As for the kickers, the year was just as rocky as it was for the entire team. Texas' coaching staff switched off between freshman Nick Jordan and junior Anthony Fera throughout the year.
The competition for the starting role is going to be wide open throughout the offseason, but fans and coaches are all hoping that one comes out of it as the team's clear-cut starter.
The daily pressure to try to earn the job should also work in the team's favor once the season begins. At least one game will come down to kicks in 2013, and the Longhorns will have a guy that has been tested both in games in 2012 and every single day at practice. Such experience cannot be overvalued.