Texas lost to the likes UCLA, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State en route to a 5-7 season in 2010. Everyone expects the Longhorns to bounce back - but how far?
Over/Under Texas Longhorns win total for 2011: 7.5?
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): It’s not easy to fall from an unbeaten regular season and a berth in the BCS national title game to 5-7 in one season, but that is what the Longhorns did last fall. And since there is no possible way Texas can be as bad in 2011 as it was in 2010, I will take the over.
First, there are normally pretty good athletes running around the 40 Acres, so there is no shortage of elite talent. There are NFL prospects at nearly every position, so Mack Brown just needs to do a better job of developing it.
Second, Brown revamped the coaching staff with two young coordinators after Will Muschamp bolted for Gainesville. Bryan Harsin (34) and Manny Diaz (37), along with Major Applewhite (33), are all hungry coaches on the rise with much to prove.
Third, Texas still managed to lead the Big 12 in total defense (sixth nationally) at 300.2 yards per game and should be just as good this fall. There are senior leaders at linebacker and safety to go with a long list of super sophomores – i.e., Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks and Ashton Dorsey to name a few.
Fourth, Malcolm Brown. The No. 1 running back recruit in the nation may not be Marcus Lattimore, but his impact will be felt immediately in Austin. The Burnt Orange should have the most physical running game it has had since Cedric Benson left town nearly a decade ago. If the young offensive line can improve from an a mediocre 2010, the power ground game will be the best thing for whoever is taking snaps, be it Garrett Gilbert or Connor Wood.
Certainly, the offensive line and quarterback situation are cause for concern, but I believe they will be improved in 2011, so an eight-win season is well within reach for the Burnt Orange.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): I’ll take the over. Texas had a puzzling 2010 college football season, losing to UCLA and Iowa State and four Big 12 games by eight points or less. There’s simply too much talent in Austin to go 5-7 again, which is where the coordinator hires of Bryan Harsin (co-offensive) and Manny Diaz (defense) will help. Maybe some complacency set in after making it to the national title game in the 2009 season, and the youthful combination of Harsin and Diaz should bring some much-needed energy.
Despite losing three key contributors at cornerback, I think the defense should be one of the best in the conference,. The offense is the biggest uncertainty. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert has to play better and didn’t have the best spring. If Gilbert struggles early, Case McCoy or Connor Wood will get a shot. Although improved quarterback play is a must, the Longhorns need freshman running back Malcolm Brown to live up to the hype. The offensive line also needs to be more physical in run blocking.
The schedule isn’t overwhelming, but BYU and UCLA will be early September tests to see how far Texas has improved. I think the Longhorns will to eight wins, but would be very surprised if they got to 9 or 10. Although there’s no shortage of talent, I’m not sure the offense will improve enough to get back into the BCS.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I will go over. My guess is 8–4 heading into the bowl season. Texas was one of the most difficult teams for us to evaluate for the preseason rankings. The Longhorns went 2–6 in the Big 12 despite the fact that they had the No. 1 defense in the league (at least statistically) and they outgained their opponents by 53.0 yards per game in league play.
Think about that: Texas outgained its eight Big 12 foes by an average of 53.0 yards yet still went 2–6. The problem? An offense that struggled to move the ball and turned the ball over at alarming rate.
The keys to a turnaround are pretty simple — take care of the ball and improve the rushing attack. If Texas can do both of those things, there's no reason why this team can't win at least eight games.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I’ll be the contrarian and take the under. Obviously Texas has the talent on its roster to win eight, nine or even ten games. But something was missing in Austin a year ago, and I’m not sure that wholesale changes on Mack Brown’s staff will cure everything. Will this team have the leadership and playmaking ability that seemed to be lacking during a 5-7 campaign last season?
There are many questions for the Longhorns’ offense, and new coordinator Bryan Harsin has plenty of work to do to fix a unit that was anemic in 2010. Can he restore quarterback Garrett Gilbert’s confidence? Will the offensive line play up to its potential? Can freshman phenom Malcolm Brown fulfill his enormous expectations and give Texas a running game? How long will it take for the players to become comfortable with all of the motion and shifts in Harsin’s offense? If Texas wants to get back to prominence, these answers must be found to keep up with the loaded offenses in the Big 12.
The defense should be strong, but they allowed points in bunches last year despite good yardage statistics. Kheeston Randall is a load up front, and senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho should have great seasons. Add in veteran safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Blake Gideon, and new coordinator Manny Diaz looks to have a strong unit to lead the team until the offense catches up. However, he must cut out some of the lapses that allowed less-talented teams to score big point totals last season.
Texas will be in the unusual position of being an underdog against rivals Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M this fall. If those three go in the loss column, an eight-win season could become challenging. It’s very difficult to see the Longhorns losing again to the quartet of UCLA, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State, but I’m not sure they will beat all four plus the trio of Missouri, BYU and Texas Tech. Even though the roster is loaded with talented players, Texas will have to improve greatly to achieve an eight-win season.