After a mediocre 2011 campaign, in which Texas crushed inferior opponents but failed to capitalize on opportunities presented to them by four of the top teams in the country (and a head-shaking loss to Mizzou), Texas looks to build on its overall improvement from the year prior.
Texas is set to have one of the best defenses in the Big 12 once again this year, but with the QB situation still somewhat of a blur and easily one of the toughest schedules in all of college football, Texas has become an enigma of sorts. Do they continue to improve and look to build on last year's turnaround, or lack the finish, intensity and coaching, much like they did in 2010?
The start of the season will be the guideline to answering that question, with Texas going against teams they simply should not lose to (Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss). But as the season progresses, the schedule only gets tougher and tougher. Key battles, like the Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma and the matchup against the hard-nosed attack of West Virginia looms as they approach the halfway point of the season.
With the Big 12 always strong and competitive, don't look for much separation between teams. Instead, look forward to these tough tests Texas has to face to return to the Promised Land...or just college football relevancy.
As I said before, the top six teams in the conference will induce tons of pain between each other. The bitter rivalry between these two teams is no exception. Texas will have a very nicely timed week off before this battle, and they are going to need it. Texas needs to score on a consistent basis. With three cake walks in the first few weeks of the season, this game will become the barometer of how the offense needs to run to be successful.
The defense was close to lights out when it needed to be last year, but turnovers on offense and the quarterback struggle left the team reeling scoring-wise. Texas, over the past two seasons, is 4-12 when scoring 27 points or less, while being a solid 8-0 when scoring more. Coincidence? I think not.
The inconsistencies of the offense need to be worked out before this game if Texas believes they have a chance to win. With the defense sure to be solid once again, 28 points or more should be enough to take down most teams in the Big 12, but not a guarantee when squaring off against the high-powered, offensive-minded Cowboys.
This game kicks off the most important stretch of games in their wave-like season and will not be an easy one. Pitted against the Cowboys on the road to start off the Big 12 season could potentially be calamitous with the games that follow it. If Texas falls at the hands of OK State, the proverbial shift in power may be at hand. While Texas had won 12 straight against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys have won three in a row since.
Look for Texas to establish the run early in this game, with Malcolm Brown heading the attack. Getting the run going will keep the Cowboy defense honest and off the case (no pun intended) of David Ash or Case McCoy. Expect a high-scoring nail-biter.
Many may feel the Oklahoma State game is more important than this one, especially since it'll set the tone for the rest of the Big 12 season. But this one closes out the season as a whole.
Texas will look to avenge the loss at the hands of the Wildcats at home last year by establishing the run early. The Horns' two leading men in the backfield, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron will look to attack the average defensive line of Kansas State from the get-go.
Both teams utilize a ground and pound, physical style that few in the nation possess. While Bergeron will bruise through the line, expect to witness the 5-star status of incoming freshman, Johnathan Gray. The elusive and shifty back should have no problem carving out the D of the Wildcats a few short days after Thanksgiving.
Even before this game takes place, the world will know if Texas is back to being Texas. If they are, this one shouldn't be too tough.
Welcome to the Big 12 West Virginia! Now try to keep up!
The speed of Texas should be the focal point of this game, especially on the defensive end. Mack Brown has a gift for finding and recruiting top talent defensively. This year's crop looks like one of the best thus far for Brown.
This one follows the tough rivalry game against Oklahoma State, and should be a much lower scoring game, granted the Longhorn defense doesn't slip up on a Geno Smith-Tavon Austin connection. The speedy secondary will be double teaming Austin and finding ways of trapping him to prevent the game-changing plays he is readily able to do.
Demarco Cobbs will be a big factor in this one too, as he will be stronger on the weak side, forcing Smith out of the pocket and into the hands of Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond.
PK Nick Jordan's leg will decide this game's outcome. It will also decide where Texas sits, as far as power teams in the Big 12 goes. The freshman has yet to be thrown into the fire and his leg could decide whether this upcoming season will be good, great or special. Since late 2006, the Longhorns are 9-0 in games decided by three points or less. But no pressure Nick.
Now members of the Big 12, TCU looks to leave their mark. The last time the two played one another, Texas won 34-13 in an utter beatdown. TCU has improved since then and looks for revenge in this highly-anticipated game.
TCU prides themselves on balance. That was shown last year, when they were the only team in the nation to have three separate rushers run for 700+ yards. The Horned Frogs did lose rusher Ed Wesley however, but TCU has never had a problem simply plugging new back into their run-friendly offense.
This is where senior defensive end Alex Okafor and junior end Jackson Jeffcoat come into play. This dynamic duo on the defensive front always looks to make things happen on the ends. While they are more keen on rushing the passer, they also have the ability to stuff the run, a TCU specialty. The Longhorns ranked first in total defense, rush defense and pass defense in the Big 12 last year, and with another week in-between games to rest up and game-plan, this should be a relatively winnable game, filled with incredible importance.
Was there any question?
I don't know if this could be called a rivalry after recent years, namely last year's thrashing 55-17 at the hands of the Sooners. But with the talent Texas has coming back, in addition to the outstanding recruiting classes over the past couple years, the Longhorns will look to make this questionable rivalry a true one.
The quarterback situation last year could easily be the scapegoat as to why the Horns weren't successful, but it also could be because Oklahoma was just better. Oklahoma has now won eight of the last 12 games in the rivalry and is outscoring Texas 355-201. To further get under the skin of Longhorn fans, guess how many Big 12 titles Bob Stoops has compared to Mack Brown...7 to 2.
Mack Brown is entering the final years of his coaching career, and he needs to start consistently beating OU to avoid having his legacy tarnished by the fans.
QB Landry Jones is back for the Sooners, passing at the opportunity of becoming a top ten pick in the NFL last year, as well as Mike Stoops, Bob's brother, to maintain the mighty Sooner defense.
This is the game of the year for both teams. Plain and simple. The young Longhorn team has gotten popped in the mouth the past two years by the Sooners. The young guns need to reverse logic, and get points up on the board first. The Sooners always boast a stout defense, but establishing their three-headed beast early, should put them on the board early too. Can Texas prove that it can win a shootout with OU recently? No, but this year is the time to put up or shut up. It's no longer just about bragging rights, or legacies. It's about who will come on top in the Big 12.