The Downward Spiral of Texas Football, Where Did the Longhorns Go Wrong?

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The Downward Spiral of Texas Football, Where Did the Longhorns Go Wrong?
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Heading into the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns were on top of the world.

Texas was coming off of a perfect 13-0 season, a season in which they scored 34 or more points in 11 games and won the Big 12 conference.

Nine plays into the game, the Longhorns' fortunes took a turn for the worse.

Quarterback Colt McCoy was tackled by Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus on a designed quarterback run play, which resulted in a pinched nerve in his throwing shoulder and left him ineffective for the rest of the game.

Alabama went on to win, 37-21, as Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert struggled, throwing four interceptions and making pivotal mistakes in a game that was close until the fourth quarter.

It was the first time that Texas lost a game to Alabama, as they fell to a record of 7-1-1 in nine attempts against the Tide.

That was also McCoy's final game, and since the loss, the Longhorns have not been back to a BCS game, after playing in four in their previous five seasons.

The next season was a disaster, as the Longhorns struggled to 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the first time since Mack Brown's arrival 12 years before.

2011 and 2012 were better, as the Longhorns improved to 8-5 and 9-4 respectively, and won both bowl games in which they appeared.

Still, a combined 22-16 record over three seasons is unheard of at Texas over the first decade of this century, and Brown has never had a worse stretch since he arrived in Austin.

While the Longhorns seem primed for another double-digit win season in 2013 with the right breaks, it feels like an eternity since the team has even come close to sniffing a BCS game, after being a staple of the BCS for four out of five seasons.

So what went wrong?

Rather than try and pin the problems on one specific issue, there is a list that has to be taken into consideration, including the myth of the Will Muschamp effect, failure to develop talent, no star quarterback and a lack of flexibility.

Mack Brown and his staff have done an excellent job recruiting, bringing in a top five class from 2009-2012.

While that kind of recruiting success has translated to championships and undefeated seasons in places like Ohio State, Alabama and LSU, the 'Horns have been squandering that talent away.

College football, in spite of what some would argue, has much to do with the level of talent on the field, but truly elite coaching staffs take that talent, polish it, shape it and mold it into a team that produces.

Teams like Oregon, Alabama, Notre Dame and LSU are pulling in excellent recruiting classes, some better than the Longhorns, but the thing that sets them apart is the player development.

The second piece to this fall from grace is a lack of flexibility, especially when implementing a system on offense.

When Ricky Williams was punishing defenders, Brown and his staff relied heavily on a power run game. When Vince Young was dominating Rose Bowls, the offense relied heavily on zone read. Under Colt McCoy's leadership, the spread option led to tremendous success.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Ricky Williams punished defenses during his time with Texas

In recent seasons, lacking the quarterback to lead a specific offense, the Longhorns have struggled, which brings us to our next issue—Mack Brown's need to have excellent quarterback play to succeed.

While Vince Young was under center for Mack Brown's offense as the sole starter in 2004 and 2005, the Longhorns were an incredible 24-1. Young's ability to run the offense was incredible, and run it he did. He led a revamped Texas offense incredibly well en route to consecutive BCS game victories.

Upon Young's departure, Colt McCoy took the reins of the offense, and tied a then freshman record 29 touchdown passes thrown in his first season.

Three years and 45 wins later, McCoy was an icon of Texas football, a gunslinger who ran and threw the ball better than any college quarterback in the nation, and whose very name seemed to fit like a glove for a Texas quarterback.

Since McCoy's departure, a combination of Case McCoy, David Ash and Garrett Gilbert has not been the answer. It remains to be seen whether Ash can reverse that trend in 2013.

And then there is the curious case of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Muschamp was anointed Coach Brown's successor in November of 2008, with the university making an announcement that he would take over the program upon Brown's departure.

That was shortlived, as Muschamp bolted for Florida following the Longhorns' disastrous 5-7 season.

But please don't look at Muschamp's departure as a major cause for the Longhorns' disastrous free-fall in 2010 and the ensuing mediocre seasons.

Even during the 2010 season, Muschamp's defense was ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, so it's impossible to lay the blame there.

However, in 2011, while Muschamp was in his first season at Florida, the defense finished 11th in the nation in total defense.

Then for some inexplicable reason beyond poor tackling and technique, the Longhorns, with seven starters returning to the defense, found a way to plummet to 68th in the same category last season.

The defense was atrocious last season, but let's not pretend that the loss of Muschamp was responsible for the sudden decline in production and execution.

Even one of these several issues could cause severe problems for an elite program, and four years ago, Texas was that. All of them together have been near crippling.

But the future is bright. Brown and his staff again return loads of talent, the Big 12 is as wide open as it has ever been and the Longhorns are changing up the offense to suit the talent.

In just a few months, we will see if Mack Brown and his staff are still in hot water, or if the new found flexibility coupled with emphasis on the fundamentals can help return the Longhorns to a BCS game for one final rodeo.

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