Texas Football: Why Longhorns Are Still Years Away from Winning Big 12
Sporting one of the best running back groups in the country and with as complete a defense as Texas has ever had, there is no question that this is the best Longhorns team since 2009's national championship squad.
But will they be good enough to win the Big 12?
Once thought to have a foot in the grave, the Big 12 has re-established itself as a top-three conference after adding TCU and West Virginia to its already-talented pool of teams. And now with a brand new playoff system in place, the conference champion is all but guaranteed a chance to play for a national championship, so the stakes could not be higher.
The Longhorns may be much improved in 2012, but this will not be their year with so much proven talent in their path to the conference title. Here's why.
David Ash Is Not a Winning Quarterback...Yet
After a very up-and-down freshman season, David Ash should show a lot of improvement as a quarterback in Year 2. However, he is still not ready to lead this team to a conference championship.
First off, it is very very tough to win the Big 12, so this is not a knock on Ash. Remember, it took Colt McCoy and Vince Young both until their final years on campus to accomplish the feat with both of them being top Heisman runners-up the years they did so. Needless to say, David Ash is not at that level.
That said, Ash will be a much better player in 2012 after a full offseason than he was in 2011 as a true freshman when he turned the ball over 12 times in six starts.
Unfortunately, he plays in the same conference as Landry Jones and Geno Smith, who are both capable of putting up 50 points in their sleep.
And then there are the defenses of Oklahoma State, featuring two top-tier corners, and Kansas State that are more than capable of making opposing quarterbacks miserable.
Looking at the schedule, there are going to be games where Ash will have to make plays with his arm in order to win—and he is not capable of doing that in all four games that will determine the course of Texas' season.
He will make plays and may even surprise some people with his improvement, but he is not yet the steady hand needed to take this team to the next level. On a positive note, the licks he takes this season will give him the experience he needs to gain in order to make it happen next season.
The Running Backs Are Not Ready to Carry This Team Offensively
Aside from the defense, the group of running backs present on the Forty Acres are the talk of the town and will be the focal point of this year's offense. Unfortunately, this group is not quite ready to carry this team offensively.
With the addition of super freshman Johnathan Gray, the Longhorns left little doubt in anyone's mind about how they intend to get it done this season as Gray joins star sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.
And therein lies the problem—the focal points of the offense are two sophomores and a freshman. Even more of a concern is that Brown and Bergeron missed a combined five games last season, making durability a concern for the two backs with the most experience.
Make no mistake, these three guys are very special players and will certainly do more than their share of the work this season. But this is their first year together and there will be some growing pains as they figure out their roles, especially the freshman Gray.
They will undoubtedly improve as the season wears on, but three of their first six games come against Big 12 contenders, which does not give them a whole lot of time to jell.
This group, much like the quarterback Ash, will benefit greatly from the experience they gain as they take their shots throughout the season. We will see great things from all three members of this group, but it will take a few games and that growing period will unfortunately see a couple of losses.
Let's just hope Bergeron and Brown can avoid the injury bug this season.
The Lack of a Proven Kicker
With the graduation of the ever-reliable Justin Tucker, Texas is left without a proven kicker in the ranks. And that could be a huge problem for this team going forward. Just ask Boise State.
Dusty Mangum, Hunter Lawrence and the recently departed Tucker were all very reliable for this team and very rarely disappointed in the clutch. Now they have a serious void at the position for a season in which they cannot afford a struggling kicker, since they figure to play a lot of close games given the lack of explosiveness on offense.
Sophomores William Russ and Ben Pruitt both struggled mightily during the spring, leaving freshmen Nick Jordan and Nick Rose to battle it out for the position. The obvious concern with starting a freshman at kicker is how they will handle the pressure of a major college atmosphere.
There is another option possibly on the horizon however, as HornsNation's William Wilkerson reported today that Penn State senior Anthony Fera and his 82.4 percent conversion percentage have shown interest in transferring to Texas.
The addition of Fera would certainly alleviate the concern here, but it is still too early to tell whether or not this will happen. The safe bet here is that Texas will roll the dice and give Jordan a short leash as the starter come September 1, making clutch kicking a serious point of concern.