Injuries and tackling were two of the bigger talking points in the Texas Longhorns' 2012 season, and the 12-game campaign offered plenty of opportunities for growth and improvement.
In the second years under offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, Texas looked to be in a critical season.
At 8-4, 5-4 in the Big 12, the No. 23 Longhorns can do no worse than their 2011 season when they finished 8-5 after a Holiday Bowl win over Cal. And with an impending matchup with No. 13 Oregon State (9-3, 6-3), Texas has a final chance to manufacture some positive momentum for a critical 2013 season for the program.
But with over three weeks to talk about what we could see between the Horns and Beavers, let's examine just what kind of campaign Texas put together and the direction it is going.
A Streaky Season
With a couple of two-game losing skids sprinkled between two four-game winning streaks, it is easy to see when and where the Longhorns struggled.
Against some defensively woeful teams in Wyoming, New Mexico, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State, Texas was able to get the moving parts in motion while building some confidence at the same time. Offensively, those pieces were shiny and enticing, but on defense, the parts began showing signs of the weaknesses that would plague the team all season.
But against the offensive juggernaut in West Virginia and a wholly sound Oklahoma, that confidence went quickly out the window as Texas' 4-0 mark quickly went to 4-2 after a second-straight blowout defeat to the Sooners.
Then against a handful of the conference's underlings, the Longhorns, in a somewhat unconvincing fashion, clawed back to an 8-2 record with wins over Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
With a two-game with TCU and Kansas State, Texas was looking at an opportunity to turn some heads to claim a 10-win season and possible earn a BCS berth.
Instead, the Longhorns struck back to mediocrity by dropping both games in respectively disappointing performances.
Themes of the Season
Here are some words and phrases that littered the Longhorns' 2012 season.
Injuries. The injury bug is a commonly found insect in every corner of the world, but it bit hard on Texas this year.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Malcolm Brown and Jordan Hicks are huge pieces to the Texas program, and their absences, especially on defense, presented huge challenges that the Longhorns mostly failed to overcome.
Youth. Most of the Longhorns' biggest contributors are also some of their younger players.
On offense alone, the likes of David Ash, Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Jaxon Shipley are all sophomores. Joining them are freshmen Daje Johnson, Johnathan Gray and Cayleb Jones.
Defensively, Texas had to overcome the departures of Blake Gideon in the back and Kheeston Randall, Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson in the front seven, leaving players like Steve Edmond, Kendall Thompson, Tevin Jackson and Mykkele Thompson in a position where they had to grow up quickly.
Tackling. Explosive plays are a huge vulnerability to the Texas defense, and poor tackling was a root cause of those shortcomings.
Whether a result of poor coaching, poor effort or poor form, perhaps all of the above, the Longhorns were killed against the run and the pass, most notably in the middle of the defense. And with a unit as fragile and uncertain as the Texas defense, one tumble often led to more, and that is where the Longhorns needed the improvement and seldom got it.
Regardless of what happens in San Antonio at the Alamo Bowl, the Longhorns have approached the most critical juncture since Mack Brown took the program through the rebuilding process following the 2010 season.
Youth should hardly be used as an excuse for poor performance, but from now on, Texas can no longer lean on that crutch to ease the pain.
The Longhorns will have to overcome two more departures on defense, with seniors safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Alex Okafor moving onto the next level.
The expected return of 18 of the teams 22 starters is a huge boost in confidence, but how intact will the coaching staff be come the spring?
The stars of tomorrow have to be the trio of running backs in Gray, Bergeron and Brown, while the passing game plays catch-up as it searches for additional playmakers beyond Mike Davis and Shipley.
In preparation for a formidable Oregon State team, the Longhorns have a final opportunity to showcase what kind of future is possible for the 2013 season.