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Can Mack Brown lead Texas back to a national title?
Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 11 Texas. The Longhorns missed out on a bowl in 2010, but rebounded with an eight-win campaign last year. Texas has quarterback question marks, but should contend for the Big 12 title.
Has Mack Brown Lost His Edge?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The extreme reaction to the last two seasons at Texas is more of a testament to what Mack Brown rebuilt in Austin than the actual results. I’m not excusing how Texas has performed in 2010-11. The Longhorns should have no excuse to go 5-7 as they did in 2010. Ever. But after nine season with at least 10 wins, Brown deserves at least the benefit of the doubt. He delivered on that in 2011 by going 8-5. Now it’s time to finish this brief and unexpected rebuilding job. I don’t know if Brown ever lost his touch; he just pushed the wrong buttons for a couple of years. Garrett Gilbert wasn’t the answer at quarterback. Will Muschamp wasn’t the guy to be coach in waiting. Brown’s best skill has been more as a great program manager – recruiting, hiring the right assistants and so on. And it looks like that is returning to normal. Texas is still pulling in top-10 recruiting classes. Although quarterback play is still a question, Brown has two ace coordinators in place in Bryan Harsin on offense and Manny Diaz on defense. After improving by three wins last season, Texas should contend for the Big 12 title in 2012. Brown, 60, may not be with Texas for another nine-year run like the one that ended in the BCS championship game against Alabama, but the foundation looks like it has been rebuilt to finish in the top 10 more often than not.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It is virtually impossible to operate with the same fervor, passion and drive in your 39th year in the labor force as it is in the first 15 or 20. This rings true for essentially any walk of life and any professional field. To quote a well-listened to radio show, it is nearly impossible to keep the "passion bucket full." Life is full of peaks and valleys. Mack Brown reached his ultimate summit in 2005 and nearly repeated that feat in 2009. Yet, the Longhorns haven't been the same ever since the anti-climactic loss to Alabama in the BCS title game.
Do I think that Brown burns the midnight oil designing game plans, working 20 hour days, seven days a week? Not a chance. But you don't just forget how to coach, so the word complacent feels much more appropriate. At the level with which Texas recruits, a seven-loss season should be completely unacceptable. Even in a rebuilding year. And I believe that when he hired Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz to run his team, that he realized he had settled into a groove — and got extremely fortunate to go from the most unstoppable force in modern college football history (Vince Young) to the one-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history (Colt McCoy).
The result was an increase in wins from five to eight and a bowl win over Cal. It meant the No. 1 rushing, passing and total defense in the Big 12. It meant heightened expectations heading into 2012. It also means that fans everywhere will find out exactly where Brown's heart is this season. If he is still as dedicated as he was for the first decade of time in Austin, this offensive line will show marked improvement, David Ash will play relatively efficient football and Texas will challenge for the Big 12 crown. If they lose five games once again with a defense that could be the best in the nation and one of the top three or four rosters in the nation, the word complacent won't be going anywhere.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think 2012 is going to be a very telling year for Texas and Mack Brown. Everything in college football seems to come and go in cycles. Right now, Texas is on the way back up – or so it seems. If the Longhorns fail to improve off their 2011 win total, then I think we can say Brown has lost his edge.
After winning five games in 2010, there was a sense that complacency had set into the program. Remember the Mack Brown retirement rumors that persisted late last year? While Brown may retire in the next couple of years, it seems to have ignited some energy back into the program. And it certainly helps to have some fresh blood on the coaching staff, as Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz are two of the top rising stars in the assistant ranks and both could be head coaches by this time next year.
Even with uncertainty at quarterback, the pieces are in place for Texas to threaten for at least 10 victories in 2012. The running back corps is deep, while Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis are emerging threats at receiver. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, but the defensive line and secondary are among the best in college football. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, as the Longhorns should start 3-0 with an easy non-conference slate, while catching Oklahoma State (with a true freshman quarterback) in the Big 12 opener.
With its location and ability to recruit, Texas should be one of the top 10-15 programs in college football every year. Mack Brown may have slipped, but I don’t think he’s lost his edge yet. If the Longhorns stumble again in 2012, then it’s fair to wonder if this program if really back on track.
Texas has certainly slipped in the last two seasons, going from 13 wins and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game in 2009 to just five wins in '10. But the Longhorns rebounded somewhat last season, increasing their win total by three and finishing the season with a victory in the Holiday Bowl over California. However, the Holiday Bowl in December is a far cry from the national title game or even the Fiesta Bowl, which Texas won to cap off its 12-1 '08 campaign, but I still think it's premature to say Mack Brown has lost his "edge."
Prior to the 2010-11 seasons, Brown had done no worse than nine wins since he became Texas head coach in 1998. What's more, from 2001-09, the Longhorns rattled off nine straight seasons of double-digit wins, including 13-0 in 2005 when they won their fourth national championship in program history. When you have that much sustained success, I think you have earned the benefit of the doubt.
To me, Texas' "decline" can largely be attributed to one position — quarterback. In the Longhorns' heydays of 2000s, Brown had the likes of Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy under center. The cream of this crop was clearly Young, who carried Texas to the national title in 2005 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting that season, and McCoy, who led the Longhorns back to the national title game in '09, in which he got injured and had to leave early, and left Texas as not only the school's most prolific quarterback in history, but at the time, he was the winningest quarterback in NCAA history (45 wins).
Since McCoy graduated, Brown has had to rely on Garrett Gilbert, David Ash and Case McCoy, Colt's younger brother. Gilbert, who was the full-time starter in 2010, is no longer with Texas as he transferred to SMU after he lost his starting job in early September of last season and later underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Still, he finished his UT career with more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (13). Ash and McCoy didn't fare much better, however, as they combined for more interceptions (12) compared to touchdown passes (11) the rest of the way in 2011.
As far as 2012 goes, Texas' defense should be pretty stout, which will take some of the pressure off either Ash or McCoy and the rest of the offense. If Brown has "lost" anything, perhaps it's his eye when it comes to recruiting quarterbacks, as none of them have seemed to work out since McCoy left Austin.
That said, McCoy was a sophomore and Ash was a freshman in 2011, so like Brown, perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt and see what strides they make this season. Besides, earlier this year Texas extended Brown's contract through the 2020 season, so if anything, it certainly looks like Brown will get the opportunity to prove to the doubters that he, the coach who has already won 227 games in his career, 141 of those at UT, hasn't lost his edge.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Mack Brown may have lost some of his edge a few years ago, but he also seems to have fixed those issues. The return to elite status is not complete, but the signs in Austin point towards regaining the consistency that the Longhorns enjoyed for so many years. After winning nine games in each of his first three seasons, Brown led Texas to double-digit victories from 2001-09 including a national title. That type of performance is so difficult to maintain, although the 5-7 debacle in 2010 was still a shocker.
One of the keys for Texas’ resurgence was the fact that Brown knew he had to adapt, and he hired quality coordinators in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz. The program has continued to recruit at a top five level, and the Horns should be back to national prominence as the offense develops consistency. The weapons are there, especially in the running game. The defense should be nasty this year, led by ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat and the best secondary in the country. After eight wins last year, Brown has the program primed to compete for the Big 12 title and a 10-win season.
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