The Texas Longhorns check in at No. 24 in the Athlon Sports 2011 Top 25 Countdown.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/3/11, 8:00 AM EDT
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Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mack Brown, 133–34 | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bryan Harsin & Major Applewhite | DEF. COORDINATOR: Manny Diaz
The lack of leadership, playmaking and game-planning on offense in 2010 were huge contributors to the Longhorns’ shocking 5–7 record. The aftermath of Mack Brown’s first losing season as a head coach since 1989 saw him replace five assistant coaches, including 13-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Now running the attack is Bryan Harsin, 34, formerly at Boise State, and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, 33, UT’s running backs coach.
Harsin’s offense is full of motion and shifting and unbalanced lines, unlike Davis’, which kept things simple. Until Texas can get its quarterback situation figured out, no one knows how good the offense can be.
Most assumed when quarterback Garrett Gilbert signed with Texas in 2009 as the Gatorade National Player of the Year the Longhorns had found the heir to Vince Young and Colt McCoy. But Gilbert struggled mightily last year, throwing 10 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions, including five in a 39–14 loss at Kansas State. This spring Gilbert found himself in a four-way battle to keep his job with Connor Wood, Case McCoy (younger brother of Colt McCoy) and early enrollee freshman David Ash.
Sophomore Mike Davis, the team’s top returning receiver, appears to be the next big thing at wideout. But the search for playmakers elsewhere on offense continues. Fifth-year senior running backs Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson figure to be pushed by freshman Malcolm Brown, one of the top recruits in the country.
The offensive line, one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2010, has to find three new starters and will do so under new position coach Stacy Searels, who had the same job at Georgia the past four years.
Can Texas compete for a Big 12 championship with Garrett Gilbert as its starting quarterback?
The strength of the Longhorns will once again be the defense. New coordinator Manny Diaz, 37 — who came from Mississippi State to replace former coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, now the head coach at Florida — is excited about his linebackers, led by seniors Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, the team’s top two tacklers in 2010. Sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Hicks is a star on the rise.
Texas is loaded at safety with hard-hitting junior Kenny Vaccaro and four-year starter Blake Gideon.
Pass-rushing ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones have to be replaced. Jackson Jeffcoat, the son of former NFL sack artist Jim Jeffcoat, and Alex Okafor, both 5-star recruits in 2010, will get the first shot. Senior Kheeston Randall is a proven commodity at tackle. But Diaz remains concerned, saying at the end of the spring, “We don’t have anyone on our line who an opposing team would be afraid to block. That has to change.”
Kheeston Randall, DT For a team that struggled to stop the run last season, his veteran presence in the middle of the line will be huge.
Keenan Robinson, LB A tackling machine who led the team in stops with 113 in 2010, Robinson moves from outside to the middle in 2011.
Emmanuel Acho, LB The team’s second-leading tackler in 2010, Acho is a leader who brings swagger and speed sideline to sideline.
Kenny Vaccaro, S The biggest hitter on the team. You hear him play football by the sound of his physical contact.
Mike Davis, WR Texas’ top returning receiver should be the next big thing at wideout in an offense that desperately needs playmakers.
|Sept. 17th||at UCLA|
|Oct. 1st||at Iowa State|
|Oct. 15th||Oklahoma State|
|Nov. 5th||Texas Tech|
|Nov. 12th||at Missouri|
|Nov. 19th||Kansas State|
|Nov. 24th||at Texas A&M|
|Dec. 3rd||at Baylor|
Texas should be solid on special teams with veteran kicker Justin Tucker, who was 23-of-27 on field goals in 2010, and impressive redshirt freshman punter William Russ. Punt returns were a nightmare last season because of several muffs, but Davis and freshman Quandre Diggs showed promise in the spring.
Brown’s string of nine consecutive 10-win seasons before 2010 were a big reason ESPN signed on to launch the Longhorn Network for $300 million over 20 years. Now, the network launches this fall as Brown is trying to pick his program up off the deck. No one knows how quickly Texas can bounce back in 2011, but ESPN will be there to document every second.