The Texas Longhorns have struggled in the post Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley era. With a 5-7 season without a bowl appearance in 2010, the program hit one of the lowest points it has in over a decade.
The Longhorns saw improvement in 2011, finishing with a 8-5 record after winning the Holiday Bowl over California. While the Longhorns improved, the program is still well away from their 2009 championship form.
The Longhorns return nine starters on offense and seven on defense. Fans are expecting more in 2012, especially from the offense, and Mack Brown is ready to deliver.
Johnathan Gray comes in this fall as one of the most highly touted running backs in the country. Gray was a record setter while at Aledo High School, leading his team to three straight state championships. He was also named Mr. Football USA and Gatorade National Player of the Year.
The expectations for the young running back at Texas are about as absurd as his high school achievements.
There has already been talk about him being the next Ricky Williams or Earl Cambell. While it's a little early for those kind of predictions, it's certainly safe to say that Gray will provide an instant boost to the struggling Texas offense.
Mack Brown has already declared the institution of a wildcat formation when Gray arrives in the fall, but the leading running back position will likely remain with Malcolm Brown.
Gray will serve duties as a specialty player for Mack Brown in 2012, but this is a name that you will be hearing a lot of in the coming years.
Since the departure of Colt McCoy the quarterback play for the Longhorns has been sub-par at best.
Garrett Gilbert struggled mightily in 2010, and the Longhorns missed bowl season altogether. Last year, David Ash and Case McCoy shared reps at quarterback but serious issues still remained.
While Mack Brown has said that a starter will not be announced until fall, many are speculating that David Ash will earn the starting job.
The spring game reinforced many of these speculations.
David Ash zipped his passes to receivers and frequently avoided the pass rush with his mobility. He finished 5-for-6 for 83 yards. Meanwhile, McCoy threw two ugly interceptions along with another pass that was dropped by the defense. McCoy's passes were often inaccurate, missing even wide open targets.
Freshman quarterback Connor Brewer even looked better than McCoy.
With David Ash looking like the favorite at the position, Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin will likely focus on his development as the primary quarterback.
With the extra time to develop and some valuable offensive weapons enrolling in the fall, David Ash and the Texas Longhorns will have a much better season offensively.
The Longhorn's 2012 schedule has been released, and it looks fairly navigable.
|Sep. 1||Wyoming Cowboys|
|Sep. 8||New Mexico Lobos|
|Sep. 15||@ Ole Miss Rebels|
|Sep. 29||@ Oklahoma State Cowboys|
|Oct. 6||West Virgina Mountaineers|
|Oct. 13||Oklahoma Sooners|
|Oct. 20||Baylor Bears|
|Oct. 27||@ Kansas Jayhawks|
|Nov. 3||@ Texas Tech Red Raiders|
|Nov. 10||Iowa State Cyclones|
|Nov. 24||TCU Horned Frogs|
|Dec. 1||@ Kansas State Wildcats|
Non-conference games against Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss should get the Longhorns off to a quick 3-0 start heading into the meat of their schedule.
Oklahoma State will be without Brandon Weeden or Justin Blackmon but a trip to Stillwater, Okla., is always a daunting task. With a much better offense and an experienced secondary, the Longhorns should be able to nab a victory before heading into October.
West Virginia will be a wild card. This will be the first stiff test for the Longhorns defense but it will be interesting to see how the Mountaineers handle the new conference and the extra traveling. It is a long trip from West Virginia to the loud Texas Memorial Stadium.
It is a good thing Texas has this one at home because they will need all the help they can get shutting down the West Virginia offense.
There is not a Longhorn fan out there that didn't cringe when Landry Jones declared he was returning to the Sooners for 2012. I won't write off this one as a loss this soon, but there will have to be drastic improvement in the offense for this one to remain competitive.
After the back-to-back stretch against Oklahoma and West Virginia, the schedule lightens up a bit. Baylor will be Baylor again, while Kansas and Iowa State should both be victories, barring a catastrophe.
The final two games against TCU on Thanksgiving and a trip to Kansas State will be the toughest tests for the Longhorns in second half of the schedule. Fans should realistically expect at least one win in the final two weeks heading into bowl season.
The Longhorns ran through Texas Tech and Kansas last year, but maintaining that level of play throughout the season was a problem.
The three-headed monster of Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron,and incoming freshman Johnathan Gray will provide that consistency.
You can't forget David Ash, either.
With the development of a more efficient passing game and so many players who could break a big run, the Longhorns should have one of the best running games in the country in 2012.
While the Longhorns will certainly continue their improvement from 2010, a Big XII Championship is still probably a year away. With Landry Jones, the Sooners will be too much for the Longhorns to handle, and will likely win the conference title.
A nine-win season while developing a quarterback, and the incoming freshman will serve as a springboard for what will be a season of high expectations in 2013.