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You can read the entire team preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
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Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mack Brown , 150-43 (15 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Major Applewhite, Darrell Wyatt | DEF. COORDINATOR: Manny Diaz
After losing to Alabama in the BCS national title game after the 2009 regular season, Texas spent most of the next three years trying to build an SEC-style offense around a power running game with co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. Harsin is gone — he’s now the head coach at Arkansas State — and so is his offense. Texas is returning to the spread offense that helped the Longhorns reach four BCS bowl games between 2004-09, including a national title in 2005.
Under new play-caller Major Applewhite, the Texas offense will be up-tempo, no-huddle with the ball being snapped every 15 seconds.
The offense seems to suit junior David Ash, the unquestioned starter at quarterback. Ash needs to even out the inconsistency that caused him to be benched in four games last year, including losses to Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State.
Leading receivers Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley return, and Davis’ ability to stretch the field should help create running room for a trio of strong running backs led by sophomore Johnathan Gray.
All five starters return on the offensive line, a group that helped Texas average 4.6 yards per carry in 2012. The coaches also have big plans for 6'6" tight end M.J. McFarland, who has the speed to be a down-the-field threat.
Oklahoma or Texas: Who Will Have More Wins in 2013?
The Longhorns’ defense made the wrong kind of history last year, giving up more yards (5,244) than any other Texas defense — ever.
The breakdowns seemed to magnify when outside linebacker Jordan Hicks went down with a season-ending hip injury in Game 3. Hicks is back this year and showed in the Spring Game that he may be able to add some serious punch to a defense trying to replace NFL Draft picks Kenny Vaccaro at safety and Alex Okafor at defensive end.
While Hicks and sophomore outside linebacker Peter Jinkens have a chance to be difference-makers, middle linebacker is a huge question mark. Sophomore Dalton Santos appears to have beaten out junior Steve Edmond, who started all but one game last season.
The defensive line has depth, but it needs to be more disruptive, led by senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (the son of former NFL sack artist Jim Jeffcoat), who returns from a ruptured pectoral muscle.
The secondary will desperately miss Vaccaro’s leadership and physical play. The emergence of corners Sheroid Evans and Duke Thomas will allow junior Quandre Diggs to replace Vaccaro as the nickel back.
David Ash, QB – Coaches are hoping for consistency from Ash and not the up-and-down performances that caused him to be benched in four games last season.
Quandre Diggs, CB – After leading the team in interceptions in each of the past two years as a cornerback, Diggs will be all over the secondary in 2013.
Johnathan Gray, RB – The lead back of a talented trio, Gray has the elusiveness, toughness and speed to break out this season.
Mike Davis, WR – He nearly had a 1,000-yard season in 2012, and his ability to stretch the field in 2013 will be a huge key to UT’s new up-tempo spread attack.
Jordan Hicks, LB – His season-ending hip injury in Game 3 seemed to help doom the defense. The former 5-star recruit returns this year with huge expectations.
When kicker Anthony Fera transferred from Penn State before the 2012 season, he arrived as an awards candidate after making 14-of-17 field goals in 2011. But he also arrived with a groin injury that never seemed to heal. This year, Fera appears to be the favorite to replace punter Alex King, who averaged 45.3 yards per attempt last year. Sophomores Nick Rose and Nick Jordan are the frontrunners to kick field goals, because Fera’s recurring groin injury seems to be aggravated by the motion to kick field goals but not by punting.
The Longhorns have more starters back than any team in the Big 12 and have the most experienced quarterback in the league in Ash.
But few are picking Texas to win the title after the Longhorns were blown out 63–21 by an Oklahoma team last season that paled in comparison to some of Bob Stoops’ other squads.
Mack Brown said in December 2011 Texas would win a national title in the next “two to three years.” That time is now, and for many Texas fans weary of a 22–16 record (11–15 in Big 12 play) the past three years, it’s put up or shut up time.
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