Something unheard of happened to Texas in 2010; a losing record and no Bowl which indeed has the fans and college football in general wondering what to expect this season. After all, the Longhorns were the model for winning with nine consecutive seasons with ten or more victories so not even challenging for the Big 12 title and watching hated Oklahoma bring home the hardware was doubly tough to stomach. The question of course is what will we see from head coach Mack Brown’s team in 2011.
The Texas offense is a good place to start looking when trying to figure out what happened to this team a season ago. In particular quarterback Garrett Gilbert had a less than memorable first year behind center with a whopping 17 interceptions and ten touchdown passes. The Longhorns are hoping a year of seasoning will pay dividends in 2011 but the caveat is Gilbert looked much the same in game one as he did in the final contest of the season so don‘t be surprised if Case McCoy or Connor Wood step in if he continues to struggle. To be fair, Gilbert didn’t have much of a running game to balance out the passing attack with a unit that barely surpassed four yards per carry. Fullback Cody Johnson led the team with nearly 600 yards but freshman Malcolm Brown is poised to be the go to back with his combination of speed and power. Whoever takes the snaps will have a reliable target in Mike Davis who had 47 receptions a year ago. Malcolm Williams is a huge target at 240 pounds but he and speed demon Marquise Goodwin often non factors. The Longhorns offensive line did a creditable job pass blocking but carving up opposing defensive lines on the ground wasn’t a strength. If this group stays healthy the rushing numbers should improve.
Texas also gets back seven players on the defensive side of the ball and probably would have had better numbers if not forced to overcome a turnover prone offense but this group was sixth nationally in yards allowed so it wasn‘t doom and gloom. Defensive coordinator Wil Muschamp jumped ship for Florida and has been replaced by Manny Diaz who has enough talent to improve on their 2010 numbers. With Sam Acho and Eddie Jones gone, Texas loses 15 sacks and 27 TFL. Texas has some depth at defensive end but little on the inside but finding all that lost production will be the key. The line backing crew was good in 2010 and should be just as stout this season with All Big 12 honoree Keenan Robinson on the outside after leading the team with 113 tackles. Emmanuel Acho mans the inside and is a capable run stopper and coverage man and was second in tackles with 87. The secondary is a concern with their corners gone especially considering this unit had a miniscule five interceptions last season. The safety spot looks solid however with Blake Gideon receiving honorable mention for three straight years and finished as the unit’s third leading tackler with 68.
The place kicking job is in excellent hands with Justin Tucker who has both a strong and accurate leg going 23 of 27 on field goals including a 51 yard boot. He will also handle the punting chores after averaging over 41 yards on 35 kicks in 2010. The longhorns will need to find a few new bodies in the return game with Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom likely candidates.
Knowing the enormous amount of talent that resides in the Longhorns locker room I can say that I don’t see another losing season in 2011. At the same time I don’t believe Texas will win the Big 12 either but if this team doesn’t bounce back from a disappointing 2010 that would be more shocking than last year in my view. Look for a return to a Bowl and a finish in the top half of the conference.