For the Texas Longhorns, the conclusion of the 2008 season was certainly bittersweet. Though the Longhorns beat Ohio State in a thrilling, 24-21, last-second victory at the Fiesta Bowl, Texas still believes it deserved to play for the BCS Championship in Miami.
But while 2008 did not end as many had hoped, what is lost is that this was supposed to be a "down" year for the young Texas team, and it is possible that 2009 will bring the honors and accolades that the Horns missed out on in '08.
Here is a preview, position by position, at what Texas will look like in 2009.
As long as Colt McCoy doesn't have a sudden change of heart, he will enter the season not only as the Longhorns undisputed starter and team leader, but also as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy in 2009.
Behind him the picture is less clear, though. The Texas coaches will likely try to redshirt star recruit Garrett Gilbert, but his talent and reputation may make that an impossibility.
The biggest question at the position going into the off-season is whether John Chiles or Sherrod Harris will transfer. Harris reportedly flirted with the idea last year before ultimately staying in Austin, and Chiles' talent is likely to get lost behind McCoy and Gilbert unless he switches positions.
This is likely to be the Longhorns' biggest question going into the '09 season. McCoy led the team in rushing in 2008, and while a repeat of that would be good for his Heisman campaign, the Texas staff would prefer to limit the number of hits their star QB takes next year.
Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee, and Cody Johnson all got carries this year, but none of them wowed as an all-purpose back worthy of carrying the load. True freshman Jeremy Hills also had flashes, but certainly not enough to earn the starting role. Recruit Chris Whaley could see significant playing time early if nobody is able to step up in the spring and set themselves apart from the pack.
The best news for Longhorns fans outside of McCoy's pledge to stay for his senior year was the NCAA decision to award Jordan Shipley a sixth year of eligibility. Having McCoy's favorite target back will ease the loss of graduating senior Quan Cosby, who was one of the most underrated players in the nation the last few years.
The Horns have one of the better young WR groups in the nation with Brandon Collins, Malcom Williams, and James Kirkendoll, all of whom saw significant time this year. Last year's star WR recruit Dan Buckner received limited time this year but shined when given the opportunity, most notably his long touchdown catch from John Chiles in the blowout over Missouri. So while Quan Cosby will be missed, it is possible, if not likely, that this group will improve in 2009.
Maybe the most inconsistent unit on the Longhorns team in 2008, the young offensive line showed the potential to be a dominant force, but was also prone to mistakes of youth.
However, unless junior OT Adam Ulatoski unexpectedly declares for the NFL Draft the entire unit will be back next year. Young players like Michael Huey, Kyle Hix, and David Snow could dictate the progress of this group, while a strong recruiting class including star prospects Mason Walters and Garrett Porter insure the future of the Longhorns' line.
The Longhorns' defensive line will be the hardest hit by graduation by far. Superstar DE Brian Orakpo is likely on his way to a top 10 selection in the draft with all the riches and attention that goes with it.
Also leaving will be solid players Roy Miller and Henry Melton. Ben Alexander will be expected to step up and assume a larger role in the defense, and youngsters Michael Wilcoxon and Kheeston Randall will need to continue to impress the coaches like they have this year.
With Jstar recruit JaMarkus McFarland choosing (albeit controversially) Oklahoma over the Horns, it is unlikely that Texas will bring in someone who can make an immediate impact unless fellow star recruit Devon Kennard decides to go to Austin.
Overall, this unit should drop off somewhat next year, but there's enough talent to keep it from seriously effecting the team.
With Colt staying, the only other serious underclassmen prospect on the Longhorns is Sergio Kindle. Kindle has a good relationship with defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and seems to be leaning towards returning for his senior year.
If Kindle comes back, then this will be a very fast and athletic group in 2009. The only loss will be Rashad Bobino, and that loss should be softened by the insertment of Jared Norton to the spot.
With Roddrick Muckelroy coming back and the rise of Keenan Robinson combined with the return of Kindle, this could end up being one of the Longhorns best linebacking corps in recent memory.
This season was baptism by fire for freshmen safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas. Both played extremely well, though Gideon's season may be remembered more for the play agaisnt Texas Tech that he didn't make than the many that he did this year.
Thomas was somewhat of a revelation at a spot that was completely open for competition at the start of camp. Fellow freshmen safety Christian Scott played well when given the opportunity, and redshirt Nolan Brewster is likely to get playing time next year regardless.
The loss of Ryan Palmer at corner will be eased by the return of Deon Beasley and Chykie Brown, with Aaron Williams likely to see action next fall.
If the Horns can land Dre Kirkpatrick, the nation's top cornerback recruit, then this could become a unit with the potential to be one of the nation's best in the next few years.
With a large number of returning starters, including Colt McCoy and nearly all of 2008's prolific offense, the Longhorns have to be considered one of the favorites to win the national championship in 2009, and should enter the season ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the preseason polls next fall.
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