The case for
The Longhorns at last look like the kind of talent-laden team Mack Brown once trotted out annually. Nineteen starters return from last year's 9--4 squad, which struggled mightily on defense before generating 10 sacks in a 31--27 Alamo Bowl win over No. 13 Oregon State. Standout defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and outside linebacker Jordan Hicks, who both missed most of 2012 with injuries, are back as well. David Ash, overwhelmed as a true freshman in 2011, is now the Big 12's most experienced quarterback (18 starts), and receiver Mike Davis leads a proven group of skill players. The Longhorns began installing a hurry-up offense during bowl practices and amped it up in the spring. The new scheme is a nice fit for Ash, a 67.3% passer last season. "We're not trying to throw the ball 65, 70 times a game," says offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, "but we are going to throw it more."
The case against
The defense is counting on the development of several players (linebackers Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkins, safety Mykkele Thompson) who have started games in the past. And while Ash came up big in several road wins last year, he has struggled with consistency and was benched twice.
How's your confidence level compared with last year's, when you were coming off a 5--7 season?
Two years ago we stunk on offense and were good on defense. Last year we stunk on defense but were pretty good on offense. This year we're going to be older, we've got depth, the quarterback's older. I finally think that all comes together and we're a lot better.
You've lacked experience and depth the last few years. But shouldn't Texas always be Texas?
If you go back, that happened at Oklahoma, USC, Ohio State, Michigan. For a coach who's at a place for 15 years, it usually happens. You look up and all of a sudden nothing's working, you've lost your swagger. The expectations that are out there, we created. They weren't here when I got here. So I'm proud of those.... It's not like every minute of my day isn't spent trying to get us back and get better. I remember '98.
Are you aware of the "Mack Brown recruited Johnny Manziel as a safety" meme?
We offered David Ash that year, and we're proud of where he is and where he's headed.
Player to Watch
Look for the 5'10", 180-pound sophomoreDaje Johnson,who clocked a 4.34 40 at a high school combine, to motion in and out of the backfield and break for daylight on speed sweeps and swing passes. He may also return kickoffs. Announcers: It's duh-JAY.
FRED BROOKS/ICON SMI (JEFFCOAT)
DARREN CARROLL FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BROWN)
Projected 2013 Stats
QB David Ash
Pass: 3,021 yards, 23 TDs
Run: 163 yards, 2 TDs
RB Jonathan Gray
Run: 766 yards, 7 TDs
Rec.: 120 yards, 0 TDs
WR Jaxon Shipley
Rec.: 872 yards, 9 TDs
Run: 70 yards, 0 TDs
A Sept. 7 trip to defensive-minded BYU presents an early challenge, but as usual the Red River Rivalry (Oct. 12) will define the season. After Oklahoma, the Longhorns then get a bye before a crucial road matchup with TCU, which beat them in Austin last year, and finish the season with an in-state showdown at Baylor.
SI Power Ratings
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