The time for the Longhorns to make their long-awaited return to the field is almost here, and almost all of the mystery is gone now that the depth chart for Week 1 has been released.
We all know by now that David Ash has gotten the nod as the starter for the September 1st opener, so the real treat here is seeing how the freshmen have injected themselves into the equation. None are starting, but the chart is littered with members of the nation's third-ranked recruiting class. 15 freshmen have a shot at making a major impact for this team.
Here's how the young guns and their teammates stack up on paper as we build up to Saturday's game.
After a full offseason and heated debate all through camp, true sophomore David Ash has been named the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. Well, at least for now.
Though the Longhorns have stated that they will use both Ash and junior Case McCoy under center, Ash has been named the starter right now for the team. There is some speculation that Ash will be named the permanent starter if he goes out and plays like he did in the Holiday Bowl for the first few games, but we will just have to wait and see.
Behind these two is freshman Connor Brewer, who is probably the best thrower on the team. The coaches obviously do not want to have to play Brewer or fellow freshman Jalen Overstreet, but the team is not taking any chances after David Ash went from fourth-string to starter last season.
Bet on Ash holding on to the top spot for at least the rest of this season. He has big-game experience, is deceptively athletic and opens up the playbook for offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. Once again, we will just have to wait and see.
Somewhat surprisingly, sophomore Joe Bergeron has been given the title as the starting running back for Week 1. But a title is really all that is.
With freshman phenom Johnathan Gray and fellow sophomore Malcolm Brown in the fold, Bergeron was somewhat the forgotten man in this group of uber-talented backs. However, Bergeron is a big-time bruiser with the speed to break away.
He will make any defensive coordinator who forgets about him miserable.
But there is a big "or" next to Bergeron courtesy of his classmate Brown, who led the team in rushing last season. Despite not being named the starter, Brown certainly figures to have a major impact this season, and will probably get just as many starting nods as Bergeron.
Behind these two is the freshman Gray, who will need Week 1 to get his legs under him. Along with Gray is senior fan-favorite Jeremy Hills, who earned himself some playing time this season by learning to run Harsin's Wildhorn formation.
The other major surprise with this group is the absence of freshman speed demon Daje Johnson, who was suspended earlier this week for violating team rules. Johnson and his speed will be back after the Wyoming game, but you would like to see him get some burn sooner rather than later, with the big games starting in Week 4.
I am now officially begging him to stay out of trouble—4.3 speed does not grow on trees.
As for the fullbacks, senior Ryan Roberson sits atop the chart, though that may not mean much for playing time with now four running backs worthy of significant playing time. Behind him you have troubled sophomore Chet Moss and freshman Alex De La Torre, who are both converted linebackers.
This group is where the 'Horns will hang their offensive hat this season. They should be very fun to watch with all of this talent.
If continuity means anything to the success of a quarterback, then David Ash must be ecstatic. All three of his starting receivers from last season have made it back to the top of the depth chart for 2012.
Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley and Marquise Goodwin have all been put at the top of their depth chart for their respective receiving positions heading into the first game of the season.
After somewhat of a down sophomore year, Davis will be looking to start living up to all of the promise he showed as a freshman deep-threat.
Also out wide is the versatile Shipley, who is also on the depth chart as a punt returner. He is easily this offense's most dynamic threat. After an awesome freshman season, don't be surprised if the younger "Ship" becomes this team's best offensive player in 2012.
In the slot is the senior Goodwin, who may take some time to get back in the swing of things after representing his country in London this summer. Let's hope it doesn't take too long, as Goodwin was the team's best pass-catcher through the second half of last season and is the leader of this unit.
After these guys, you have senior D.J. Monroe backing Goodwin in the slot, where he will really have to prove himself. After him you have three freshmen in Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson, all placing themselves in the thick of things.
John Harris and Bryant Jackson are also listed as backups, but should definitely see the field this season.
Keep an eye on the freshman Sanders, a converted corner. He is listed right behind Davis in the X slot, which is very impressive considering this is his first time playing receiver. Mack Brown would not have him that high on the depth chart if he was not very good, so pay attention there.
At tight end, D.J. Grant gets the nod as the starter with an "or" next to his name for converted defensive lineman Greg Daniels.
Sophomore M.J. McFarland was thought to at least appear on the depth chart and possibly start for this team, but the team has decided that his ineptitude as a blocker is too big of a liability. This is too bad for the team because you would really like to see a tight end out there that can give Ash some help as a security blanket. Luckily, there is still time for that.
The offensive line is another group that is loaded with familiar faces, though the unfamiliar one may be the most important of them all.
Returning as starters are Mason Walters, Josh Cochran, Dom Espinosa and Trey Hopkins. The new guy is JUCO transfer Donald Hawkins, a massive tackle that will be protecting David Ash's blindside. His presence allows Cochran to move to his natural position at right tackle.
If Hawkins gets hurt, things could get interesting with the big uglies up front, as the backup left tackle is freshman Kennedy Estelle. No knock on Estelle or his talent, but again, he is a freshman.
That is not exactly ideal when your quarterback is already under enough pressure and scrutiny.
Joining Estelle as backups are Luke Poehlmann, Sedrick Flowers, Thomas Ashcraft and Garrett Porter. These guys are experienced, but none are really proven players, so an injury along the line could be devastating to this team's success.
Now onto the defense. And who better to lead with than possibly the best secondary in all of college football?
The leader of this unit, and the entire defense, is senior stalwart Kenny Vaccaro, who was a no-doubter at safety to start this season.
Joining him at the other safety position is first-time starter Adrian Phillips, who should be just fine after learning the position from Blake Gideon for three years. Behind them are Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson, both unproven sophomores with tons of potential.
Now Vaccaro may be the leader, but the title of the best player of this unit goes to shutdown corner Carrington Byndom, who is my favorite to win the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Award this season. Alongside him is sophomore ball hawk Quandre Diggs, who is also listed as a punt and kick returner.
Backing these two are Sheroid Evans, Duke Thomas and Leroy Scott. Thomas is a freshman, but has been impressing the coaches all through camp and should see plenty of time despite his youth.
Really, everyone on this D has a chance at playing solid time due to Coordinator Manny Diaz's emphasis on depth.
There are many that would argue that the defensive line is the best group on this defense, with guys like Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. I barely disagree, but I will yield that it is probably the most important.
Manny Diaz loves to pressure the quarterback. To do that he will start two probable All-Big 12 first-teamers in Jeffcoat and Okafor at defensive end.
Between them will be another massive JUCO transfer in Brandon Moore, and former running back Chris Whaley. Whaley is a bit of a surprise here, but his athleticism is a huge asset since Moore will be able to occupy so much space in the middle.
The backups for these guys will probably see the most action of any backups on the team, since Diaz wants these guys going all-out on every play.
That means we will be seeing a lot of guys like Desmond Jackson, Cedric Reed, Ashton Dorsey, Reggie Wilson and Kyle Kriegel. Even third-string freshmen Shiro Davis and Malcom Brown should see plenty of on-field action.
These guys are going to be kept fresh all season so the results are going to be very exciting for fans—and very miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
By far the greenest group of players on this defense, a lot of eyes will be on these linebackers to see if they can keep pace with their mates in the trenches and in the secondary.
No surprise here with junior Jordan Hicks starting on the weak side. He is easily the best backer on this team and should be really fun to watch in his first full season as a starter.
Backing him are Kendall Thompson and freshman Peter Jinkens, who possesses running back-type speed.
In the middle is first-year starter Steve Edmond, who has never made a start for this team. The other starter is Demarco Cobbs, who has also never started, but has impressed the coaches with his speed and athleticism.
Hopefully they both can live up to the praise they have received all offseason.
Rounding out the backups are Tevin Jackson and another freshman in Dalton Santos. Keep a close eye on Santos, who has been praised by teammates and coaches alike for how quickly he has taken to the middle linebacker position.
Diaz is going to want to create pressure with the linebackers as well, so these guys should be cycled out rather frequently and all of them should see ample action.
And now for the special teamers, who have some serious holes to fill if they hope to improve upon last season's somewhat down year as a unit.
The real point of interest with this group is who will kick with Anthony Fera still sidelined by injury.
Well, for at least Week 1, it is going to be freshman Nick Jordan. Jordan beat out a walk-on in Nick Rose, who has been given kickoff duty.
The punter will be Duke transfer Alex King, playing with the Longhorns for his final year of eligibility. Backing him up will be sophomore William Russ, who probably would have punted last year instead of Justin Tucker if he was any real threat to King's hold on the job.
As for the returners, Quandre Diggs will be returning punts again for his sophomore season, while D.J. Monroe and Mykkele Thompson will handle kickoffs.
Backing them are familiar faces Jaxon Shipley and Marquise Goodwin, whom the team would rather keep fresh than risk them being injured returning kicks.
And to round them out, Kyle Ashby will be the snapper and Cade McCreary will be the holder, filling in the two most unenviable positions on the team.