Quarterback play will decide how far the Longhorns climb in 2012.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/21/12, 6:10 AM EDT
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Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mack Brown , 141-39 (14 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bryan Harsin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Manny Diaz
After winning one national title and playing for another with stellar quarterback play from Vince Young and Colt McCoy, Texas is in Year 3 of trying to find an heir apparent. The good news is that Texas appears to have a running game that can take pressure off the quarterback position for the first time in years.
The Longhorns are loaded at running back with returning sophomores Malcolm Brown, the team’s leading rusher with 172 carries for 742 yards in 2011, and Joe Bergeron, who had 463 yards on just 72 attempts. Joining the backfield is freshman Johnathan Gray, who helped Aledo (Texas) win three Class 4A state titles while rushing for 10,908 yards and setting the national high school record for rushing touchdowns with 205.
“Our top priority is developing a passing game to provide balance in our offense,” Texas coach Mack Brown says.
That means Texas needs huge improvement from sophomore quarterback David Ash, who threw six interceptions with zero touchdown passes in five regular-season starts but earned Offensive MVP honors of a 21–10 victory over Cal in the Holiday Bowl. Ash appeared to have the edge on Case McCoy, Colt McCoy’s younger brother, coming out of the spring, although coaches refused to name a favorite.
The team’s top two pass-catchers are back in junior Mike Davis and sophomore Jaxon Shipley. Coaches are excited about the progress of an offensive line that returns four starters and will probably have junior college transfer Donald Hawkins starting at left tackle. At tight end, redshirt freshman M.J. McFarland could be a breakout player this season.
Has Mack Brown Lost His Edge?
Under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz, the Texas defense got better as the 2011 season progressed, finishing No. 6 nationally against the run and No. 11 in total defense. Despite losing productive senior linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson and run-stuffing tackle Kheeston Randall, the defense could be the best in the Big 12. That’s because a ton of talent returns, including junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who had eight sacks last season despite playing the final three games with a torn pectoral muscle that required surgery.
Senior defensive end Alex Okafor, who had seven sacks, returns along with a tackle rotation that goes at least four deep, led by likely starters Desmond Jackson and Ashton Dorsey.
Talented junior Jordan Hicks is the only returning starter at linebacker. But coaches are very high on 6'3", 255-pound sophomore middle linebacker Steve Edmond and speedy junior outside linebacker Demarco Cobbs.
The secondary loses Blake Gideon, a four-year starter at safety, but is loaded with explosive talent, led by cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs and senior safety Kenny Vaccaro.
The playmaking linebacker was named a third-team All American and All-Big 12 after a stellar senior campaign in 2011. Acho led the Longhorns with 131 tackles, and 19 of those were behind the line of scrimmage.
Alex Okafor, DE - Teams with Jackson Jeffcoat to form one of the nation's top defensive end combinations.
Kenny Vaccaro, S—Sets the tone physically on defense with his hard hits and also can cover the slot.
Carrington Byndom, CB—Big-play corner whose pick-six against Texas A&M helped turn the tide in Texas’ win over the Aggies.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE—Led the team with eight sacks in 2011 and got better as the season wore on.
Jaxon Shipley, WR—Jordan’s younger brother nearly led the team in receptions and yards as a freshman despite missing three games to injury.
|Sept. 8th||New Mexico|
|Sept. 15th||at Ole Miss|
|Sept. 29th||at Oklahoma State|
|Oct. 6th||West Virginia|
|Oct. 13th||at Oklahoma|
|Oct. 27th||at Kansas|
|Nov. 3rd||at Texas Tech|
|Nov. 10th||Iowa State|
|Dec. 1st||at Kansas State|
Gone is Justin Tucker, who handled kickoffs, field goals and punts last season and ended his career as the second-most accurate field goal kicker in school history. However, the Longhorns had an intriguing late summer pickup, as Anthony Fera decided to transfer from Penn State. Fera handled the kicking and punting duties with the Nittany Lions and could be one of the top special teams' performers in the conference.
Brown says he believes Texas will win a national title in “the next two to three years.” Texas nearly won 10 games in 2011 with inconsistent quarterback play. If that position improves the way coaches hope, the Longhorns could be back in the mix for a Big 12 title this season, because the defense could be championship-caliber.