2011 record: 8-5 overall, 4-5 in Big 12 (6th-tie)
2011 postseason: Holiday Bowl (21-10 win over California)
2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Mack Brown (227-113-1 overall, 141-39 in 14 seasons at Texas)
Offensive coordinator: Major Applewhite (fourth season at Texas, second as co-OC); Bryan Harsin (second season at UT, second as co-OC)
2011 offensive rankings: 21st rushing offense (202.6 ypg); 86th passing offense (189.9 ypg); 54th total offense (392.5 ypg); 55th scoring offense (28.1 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 10
Defensive coordinator: Manny Diaz (second season at Texas, second as DC)
2011 defensive rankings: 6th rushing defense (96.2 ypg); 42nd passing defense (209.8 ypg); 11th total defense (306.8 ypg); 33rd scoring defense (22.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Austin, Texas
Stadium: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (100,119; FieldTurf)
Last league title: 2009
2011 statistics: [view]
The Longhorns certainly couldn’t be any worse than they have been the past two seasons, right? Coming off a stretch in which it won 10-plus games for nine straight seasons, Texas proceeded to win just 13 games total in 2010 and 2011 — the same number they had during their title-winning 2005 season. With a total of 17 returning starters — tied for 20th in the country according to the esteemed Phil Steele — from a team that “rebounded” with an eight-win season in 2011, it appears the ‘Horns are ready to emerge from its inexplicable two-year sabbatical from meaningful football.
A four-game stretch of the schedule beginning in late September that features road games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and home contests with West Virginia and Baylor, combined to go with uncertainty (still) at quarterback to go along with a defense that’s ill-equipped to withstand attrition in any form. In other words, yes, this ranking could very well — hell, may very well — be such a stretch that I’m pulling a muscle/muscles as I type this.
The quarterback position, of course. After seven straight seasons of Vince Young/Colt McCoy under center, the Longhorns the past two seasons have had, well, the exact opposite at the position. And, no, it’s no coincidence the worst two-year stretch under Brown coincides with abysmal play at quarterback. David Ash, who rotated in and out of the starting lineup with Colt McCoy’s brother Case last season, showed flashes that he could be the guy, although not enough for Brown to name him the starter entering camp. If either Ash or McCoy can emerge as even an average player at the position, the Longhorns are positioned defensively and with the running game to get back to Texas normalcy record-wise. That’s a huge, huge if, however.
Make-or-break game: vs. Oklahoma at Dallas, Oct. 6
While the preceding two games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia were tempting to slot here, the annual (warning: political incorrectness ahead!!!) Red River Shootout warrants the spot. With the Sooners once again expected to be at or near the head of the class in the Big 12, the annual rivalry game will serve as a very solid midseason litmus test of where the Longhorns stand in the conference — and how far they may still have to go to get back to where they were just a couple of years ago.
Heisman hopeful: running back Malcolm Brown
If we have to put anyone here for Texas, it has to be the talented sophomore. As a true freshman last season, Brown led the Longhorns in both rushing yards (742) while adding five touchdowns on the ground. It’s a stretch to put Brown in the Heisman mix in the first place; add in incoming freshman Jonathan Gray and the return of Joe Bergeron (2nd in rushing with 463 yards) and it morphs into merely a pipe dream as there may simply not be enough carries for Brown, as talented as he is, to shine on a stage as bright as the Heisman.