by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

Texas goes into the 2012 season being widely hailed as one of the more improved teams in the nation. After a bowl-less 5-7 record in 2010 and a mediocre 8-5 mark in 2011 (helped by a Holiday Bowl victory over Cal), the rabid Longhorn fans are eager to see HC Mack Brown (left) guide their team climb back into the national picture. Spoiled by the extremely-productive QB play of Vince Young and then Colt McCoy in back-to-back mini-eras, the UT faithful are eager for a return to the halcyon days after the 2010 disappointment of highly-touted QB Garrett Gilbert and the 2011 learning-on-the-fly limitations of young finesse passer Case McCoy (Colt’s brother; 3-2 as a soph starter last year) and dual-threat QB David Ash (3-3 as a true frosh).

It’s not a scoop that the success of this 2012 Longhorn team will eventually be limited by the success of its quarterbacks. Going into August, the 6-3, 222-pound Ash (below right) appeared to have the lead in the competition. Last season, Ash made six starts and completed 56.9%. But he had only 4 TDs vs. 8 ints. and connected on only 33% of his tosses of more of than 10 yards. The 6-2, 200-pound McCoy made five starts and is the better passer, hitting 61.1% with 7 TDs vs. 4 interceptions. Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who helped direct creative and quick-hitting attacks at Boise State, has had previous success with accurate ball-control passers with the Broncos. Mostly likely, both of his Longhorn QBs will get a look in UT’s first two games (at home vs. Wyoming & New Mexico) before UT takes to the road for a winnable visit to Ole Miss in Game Three of 2012 and a challenging stop at Oklahoma State (likely led by true frosh QB Wes Lunt) in Game Four. Still, it’s very likely that the Longhorn QB position will remain a work in progress well into the season.

It’s the impressive strength of the rest of the UT team that is providing optimism for fans of the Burnt Orange. Talent in depth at RB. Plenty of big-play potential at WR in sprinter/long jumper Marquise Goodwin (33 recs. LY), streaky junior Mike Davis (45 catches), a healthier Jaxon Shipley (44 recs., plus three TD passes; missed three games), and true-frosh speedburner Kendall Sanders. Moreover, the defense projects to be one of the gnarliest in the nation.

Insiders says that explosive blue-chip frosh RB Johnathan Gray, who led his team to three Texas state high school titles while smashing several national rushing records, will get plenty of playing time this season despite the presence of two 2011 blue-chippers ahead of him! Soph RB Malcolm Brown collected 742 YR last year vs. opposing defenses stacked to stop the run. 230-pound fellow soph blue-chipper Joe Bergeron had 463 YR (6.3 ypc) despite being limited by injuries for much of the year. While the two sophs will carry much of the early load, “Coach Mack” says that promising frosh RB Brown will see early action, perhaps taking direct snaps in the “Wildhorn” formation while he absorbs the intricacies of Harsin’s offense, which will gradually display more dimensions and “trickeration” as his 2012 skill people gain experience.

Lots of development is not needed for the defense, which finished 11th in the country last season and figures to be even more rowdy this year, the second under aggressive defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz says he expects his DL rotation to run ten players deep, an extreme rarity these days in college football. That expectation includes a return to health of DE Jackson Jeffcoat (left; 8 sacks) after a torn pectoral muscle LY, joining with fellow NFL prospect Alex Okafor (6 sacks) on the edge. Soph Desmond Jackson & jr. Ashton Dorsey are young veterans expected to take over at DT, aided by blue-chip true frosh DT Malcom [sic] Brown, who appears to be headed for early action. The Longhorns took a couple of graduation losses at LB, but jr. Jordan Hicks (51 tackles LY) has given every indication he is ready to assume a leadership role, and Dalton Santos—another star recruit—has vowed to take over MLB as a freshman. The starting secondary returns virtually intact after helping the Horns rank 17th in the country on third down last season. CBs Quandre Diggs (4 ints. LY) & Carrington Byndom both appear to have NFL futures, while S/nickel-back Kenny Vaccaro has a proven record as a punishing hitter.

Texas lost valuable kicker/punter Justin Tucker (17 of 21 FGs in 2001) after last season. The FG duties this year seem likely to fall upon Nick Jordan, a true freshman. But experienced graduate-student punter Alex King (24 games in three years at Duke) has walked on and will be eligible immediately for his final year of college competition.

Summary...After some important recruiting “misses” in recent years, Texas is on its way back. With its bountiful talent, it would not be much of a surprise if UT were able to contend for the Big 12 championship. But winning the title would be a surprise considering its youthful, still-developing QBs in this pass-happy league. After all, much of the offensive supporting cast for the Longhorns is also young, and Mack Brown has crafted the Longhorns into a powerful running team now in the third year removed from the Colt McCoy days. Yes, clever offensive coordinator Harsin will work more of his Boise-style magic in his second season in Austin. UT is likely to run the ball furiously this year, strike for more deceptive big plays than in 2011, and intimidate most foes with its defense. A nice bowl seems in the offing in 2011, but no title unless the young Longhorn skill players can somehow out-point Oklahoma October 13 in Dallas.


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