Last season wasn’t quite the season that Texas probably hoped for, but it was a good season nonetheless.
The Longhorns started the season 4-0, but losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma in their first two Big 12 games dealt a huge blow to their conference title hopes. But, Texas reeled off five straight wins to keep themselves in the picture for an at-large BCS berth, until a 38-30 loss to Texas A&M in their regular-season finale saw them end up in the Holiday Bowl, where they defeated Arizona State 52-34 to complete a 10-3 season.
Starters Returning: 13 (7 offense, 4 defense, kicker, punter)
Key Returnees: QB Colt McCoy, WR Quan Cosby, WR Jordan Shipley, DE Brian Orakpo, DT LaMarr Houston, LB Rashad Bobino, LB Roddrick Muckelroy, LB Sergio Kindle, CB Ryan Palmer, K Ryan Bailey, P Trevor Gerland
Key Losses: RB Jamaal Charles, WR Limas Sweed, WR Nate Jones, TE Jermichael Finley, DT Derek Lokey, DT Frank Okam, LB Robert Killebrew, LB Scott Derry, CB Brandon Foster, FS Marcus Griffin, SS Erick Jackson
Key Newcomers: WR Dan Buckner, WR Desean Hales, WR D.J. Monroe, C David Snow, DT Jarvis Humphrey, LB Dravannti Johnson, LB Ryan Roberson, CB Aaron Williams, DB Nolan Brewster, DB Blake Gideon
Names to Remember
1. Colt McCoy, QB, Jr.: Last season, McCoy had issues with interceptions, as he threw 18 picks. But, he still threw for 3,303 yards and 22 touchdowns, and he also showed an ability to make plays with his legs, running for 492 yards and four touchdowns, including a 106-yard performance in the 38-35 comeback win over Oklahoma State on November 3.
2. Quan Cosby, WR, Sr.: The 25-year old senior (he’ll be 26 in December) is set to be McCoy’s top target this season with the departure of Limas Sweed and Nate Jones. Last season, Cosby caught 60 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns, finishing second on the team in the catches and yards and tied for the team lead in touchdown catches.
3. Foswhitt Whittaker, RB, Fr.: Vondrell McGee is the leading returning rusher (492 yards, 8 TD last season), but Whittaker is someone to watch for in the present and the future. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got the speed and moves to land on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays many a Saturday night for the next four years and beyond.
1. Brian Orakpo, DE, Sr.: The fifth-year senior might be Texas’ top 2009 NFL Draft prospect – if he can stay healthy. Last season, Orakpo missed four games, but he still registered 37 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and a team-leading 5.5 sacks, and he was named the Defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl.
2. Ryan Palmer, CB, Sr.: Texas’ pass defense needs to step up in ‘08, and Palmer, the only full-time starter returning in the secondary, will be counted on heavily. Last season, Palmer had 79 tackles (6 TFL), three forced fumbles, and 14 pass breakups, but with all of those plays that he made, he didn’t record an interception.
3. Sergio Kindle, LB, Jr.: After being the top-rated linebacker in the country in the 2006 class, Kindle has spent his first two seasons in Austin as a reserve ‘backer and special teamer. Now, he’s got his chance to start, and big things are expected of the 6’4, 240 pounder.
1. Better pass defense: If not for a pass defense that was, to say the least, suspect over the second half of last season, Texas would’ve had one of the best overall defenses in the country, without a doubt. The Longhorns’ schedule is full of top-notch signal-callers, from Florida Atlantic’s Rusty Smith to at least three Heisman candidates in their own conference.
2. Efficiency = excellence: Last season, Colt McCoy threw 106 more passes (424) than he did as a freshman (318), when he threw for 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, with three of those picks coming in one game (vs. Texas A&M). It could be that throwing more had an adverse effect on him, but whatever the case may be, I’d like to see him at least halve last year‘s pick totals.
3. Converting in the clutch: Texas was one of the better teams in the country when it came to converting in the 3rd and 4th down situations, as the Longhorns converted 47.4% of 3rd down attempts (92 of 194) and 63.6% (14 of 22) 4th down attempts, good for 11th and 17th in the country.
8/30 vs. Florida Atlantic – Double-Digit Win
9/6 at UTEP – Double-Digit Win
9/13 vs. Arkansas – Double-Digit Win
9/20 vs. Rice – Blowout Win
10/4 at Colorado – Close Loss
10/11 vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas) – Close Loss
10/18 vs. Missouri – Close Win
10/25 vs. Oklahoma State – Double-Digit Win
11/1 at Texas Tech – Close Loss
11/8 vs. Baylor – Blowout Win
11/15 at Kansas – Close Loss
11/28 vs. Texas A&M – Double-Digit Win
Projected Record: 8-4, 4-4 Big 12 – Good chance that Texas ends up doing better than 8-4, but the schedule doesn’t really do them any favors.
Best-Case Record: 11-1, 7-1 Big 12 – If they can prove to be quite the road warriors, then they’ll be in the hunt for an at-large BCS berth.
Worst-Case Record: 7-5, 3-5 Big 12 – As much talent as this team has, you can’t imagine them finishing 7-5, but nothing’s impossible.
Swing Games: 10/4 at Colorado, 10/11 vs. Oklahoma, 10/18 vs. Missouri, 11/1 at Texas Tech, 11/15 at Kansas
Upset Alert: 10/4 at Colorado – The Buffs knocked off Oklahoma in Boulder last season, and Texas has fallen to similarly, er, decent Kansas State teams over the last couple of seasons, so they need to be careful about zombie-steppin’ through this one with OU looming the next week.
Key Game(s): 10/11 vs. Oklahoma, 11/1 at Texas Tech – The Longhorns should be locked in a battle with the Sooners and Red Raiders for the Big 12 South crown, and winning at least one of, if not both, of these games is a must if they want to have a chance at their first division title since 2005.
There are many holes to fill for the Longhorns, but the talent is there to fill them. If those holes are filled, then they should be in the Big 12 title hunt. If not, well, they could be on the way to San Diego again.
Which Colt McCoy will we see this year? Accuracy isn’t the issue for him. Even last season, he completed 65.1% of his passes. But, he’s going to be a lot more consistent, and a lot less interception-prone than he was last season, as only three times last season did he not throw at least one interception in a game. When he’s on, he’s a Heisman-caliber QB, and that’s what he needs to be this season.
Spreading the ball around shouldn’t be a problem, even without Limas Sweed, Nate Jones, and Jermichael Finley. Cosby and Shipley (27 catches, 417 yards, 5 TD) will be McCoy’s top targets, while highly-touted freshmen Dan Buckner and Desean Hales could make immediate impacts. Buckner is a big target at 6’4, while Hales has highlight reel ability, which he showcased along with Terrence Robinson (now at Michigan) last season at Klein Oak.
At running back, expect someone, or at least hope for someone, from the trio of McGee, Chris Ogbannaya, and Whittaker to emerge as the feature back. McGee and Ogbannaya have the experience, but the speedy Whittaker has star potential. With the offensive line mostly intact, with the exception of left tackle Tony Hills, Jr., production shouldn’t be an issue for the ground game or the passing game.
That brings me to the defense. The run defense was a tremendous strength last season, giving up an average of only 93.4 yards per game on the ground. They were, however, taken advantage of by good running teams in Central Florida (192 yards), Oklahoma (170), Oklahoma State (164), and Texas A&M (171).
The front seven should be strong, as even though several starters are gone, there’s a great deal of returning experience. A healthy Orakpo is a must, but the same goes for tackle Lamarr Houston, who had a terrific sophomore season last year (66 tackles, 12 TFL, 4.5 sacks). 300-pound hoss Roy Miller (40 tackles, 8 TFL) was an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick despite not being a starter, and he’ll join Orakpo and Houston as the anchors of the front line.
The linebacker unit, while breaking in a couple of new starters, certainly isn’t short on talent. The spotlight is certainly on Kindle, but there’s a returning starter in Bobino (69 tackles, 4 TFL, INT), and Roddrick Muckleroy had 67 tackles and 2.5 sacks despite starting only one game.
The key in the Longhorns’ hopes of a successful season is the pass defense, which allowed an average of 360.3 yards per game over the last six games, with 16 touchdown passes surrendered. They did win five of those six games, but in a league full of talented quarterbacks, you don’t want that to be your undoing. Don’t be surprised to see freshmen playing a big role in the secondary, in Aaron Williams, Nolan Brewster, and Blake Gideon, with at least one standing a good chance of cracking the starting lineup at some point during the season.
Texas has won at least 10 games in each of the last seven seasons under Mack Brown, and it won’t be an easy task to match that mark fro the eighth year in a row, with some tough road games and the annual rivalry game with Oklahoma. However, they’re a good bet to reach the nine-win mark for the 11th straight time in Brown’s 11-year tenure. But, if all of their talented pieces can come together, and the weaknesses are kept at a minimum, the Longhorns will be in the thick of it for the Big 12 title.