Where Will the Texas Longhorns Finish in the Big 12 in 2013?

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Can Texas contend for a conference title in 2013?

<p> Where Will the Texas Longhorns Finish in the Big 12 in 2013?</p>

With each of the top contenders experiencing some key personnel departures, the Big 12 is easily the toughest conference to predict for 2013.

Texas has underachieved in recent years, but the Longhorns appear to be back on track after a 9-4 record last season. After going 5-7 in 2010, Texas has made the climb back to Big 12 title contention, but another 7-5 or 8-4 year could spell the end of Mack Brown’s tenure in Austin.

Most of the key players are back for Texas, and the schedule sets up favorably for a run at the Big 12 title. However, can the Longhorns have question marks on defense and need a big season from quarterback David Ash.  

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Where Will the Texas Longhorns Finish in the Big 12 in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is on a slide, and it’s trendy to to pile on the Longhorns after the last few seasons. The upcoming year might not be the turnaround Texas fans want with UT winning the Big 12 again, but there’s enough talent here to think Texas can finish in the top three in the Big 12 again. And I don’t mean third like Texas finished third last season -- at 5-4 behind two teams that finished 8-1. We forget David Ash looked pretty good early in the season, completing 78 percent of his passes for 1,007 yards with 10 touchdowns and an interception in the first four games. Five offensive linemen and Johnathan Gray back means the offense should get better from last season, but that’s not the question. That defense was a mess last year. Nine starters are back, and the Big 12 won’t be as good an offensive league as it was a year ago. That’s going to even things out for Texas, enabling to at look like a Big 12-contending team in 2013.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I know this sounds insane, but I am going with the Texas Longhorns to win the Big 12. Now, it may happen with two losses, but this is a critical season that Mack Brown has been pointing to for years. The offensive line and running game has steadily improved the last two seasons and will feature one of the best backfields in the nation. David Ash took a huge step forward as a sophomore and could be ready to be much more than a game manager as a junior. And the much-maligned defense has plenty of star power. Most importantly, a once QB-rich conference now appears devoid of talent at the position. Offenses won't be as potent this time around and it means the Longhorns will win the league based on tie-breakers.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Outside of the Big East, the Big 12 is probably the toughest BCS conference to predict in 2013. The lack of a clear favorite is largely due to the state of the quarterback position within the conference, which experienced a lot of turnover from 2012 to 2013. 

There’s no question the talent is in place for the Longhorns to win the Big 12 title in 2013. The offense returns nine starters, including one of the best running back corps in the nation, along with an offensive line that has made steady progress the last few seasons. Quarterback David Ash wasn’t awful last year but needs to take another step forward in 2013.

The biggest question mark for Texas is a defense that surprisingly finished sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed. This unit was pushed around by opposing offensive lines, allowing 192.2 rushing yards per game. Losing end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro are huge setbacks, but the Longhorns return end Jackson Jeffcoat from injury, and the offseason should help some of the younger players get more acclimated to the defense.

Although the talent and schedule is in place to win the Big 12, I think Texas will finish third in the conference. The Longhorns are moving in the right direction, but there are enough concerns about the defense and passing attack to push this team down a few spots in the conference. The Big 12 race is a wide-open affair, but I would give Oklahoma State and Oklahoma a slight edge over Texas right now. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
The natives down in Austin have been restless for the last few seasons as Texas hasn't won at least 10 games and played in a BCS bowl since 2009. The Longhorns are 22-16 in the past three seasons combined and have fared even worse, 11-15, in Big 12 play. Despite amassing 150 wins and one national championship (2005) in his 15 seasons at Texas, the pressure is on head coach Mack Brown to return the Longhorns back to where the fan base is accustomed to seeing them, atop the Big 12.

Will that happen this fall? It very well could as Texas returns nine starters on each side of the ball. These returnees were part of a team that went 9-4 last season, with all of those losses coming in Big 12 play. The Longhorns will get tested early as their non-conference slate has them going to BYU and hosting Ole Miss the first two Saturdays in September. That should get this team more than ready for conference play, which opens with Kansas State at home. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU figure to be the other Big 12 contenders and Texas will get a shot at each of them. These three games could very well decide not only the eventual conference champion, but the difference between finishing second and fourth.

Texas has seemingly lost some of its mystique and swagger because of the lack of typical Longhorn success over the past three seasons. And as good as this Texas defense may be, I like the defenses at TCU and Oklahoma a little bit more. It should be a fairly tight race for the top spot in the Big 12, but I have the Longhorns coming up short of another conference title. I think the program will continue to get back to where it once was, but as far as this fall goes, I have Texas a step or two behind both Oklahoma and TCU, resulting in the Longhorns finishing third. I also wouldn't be shocked if they somehow ended up second, but don't see enough to crown them, at least not this season.
 

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