When you fall off your horse—the saying goes—you are supposed to get back on. That is exactly what the Texas Longhorns have done over the course of the past two seasons.
When the Longhorns dropped five of their last six contests to finish 2010 with a 5-7 record, it marked a historic stumble for a program that had made its second national championship appearance in five seasons.
Mack Brown was adamant about restoring what was once an elite program, and the results are beginning to show themselves after two years of marginal improvement—although the 2013 season figures to be the payout campaign filled with high expectations and media attention.
But behind all of that hype and rhetoric is the foundation of a team that arguably is ready for a special year.
The 2011 recruiting class—a group that includes quarterback David Ash and running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron—has had a number of players emerge to become a core, and it just might have enough working pieces to make something happen.
The ‘Horns locked up 22 commitments in their 2011 haul, and 14 of them figure to contribute in some fashion this season. If Texas is able to bring home some hardware this season, these juniors and redshirt sophomores will have huge roles in doing so.
Offensively, the 2011 class has fingerprints all over.
David Ash is going into his junior season with a wealth of experience. His physical abilities have helped him tremendously in the past, and now he will have to conquer the mental tasks of running an up-tempo offense.
Running backs Brown and Bergeron are both three-year contributors like Ash and are two-thirds of a trio of backs that can challenge any backfield in the country from a talent standpoint. Is this the year that the production catches up with the talent?
Jaxon Shipley is a fixture at wide receiver, one of two reliable options (Mike Davis). Shipley saw his numbers increase in virtually every category from his freshman to his sophomore season, and similar improvements will be the standard for the junior receiver.
The Longhorns have not had success at tight end, but M.J. McFarland definitely gives them a reason to be hopeful. After redshirting his freshman year in 2011, McFarland caught eight passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in 12 games in 2012. Blessed with great athleticism, McFarland could flourish in a spread offense.
Josh Cochran has made the most noise up front, having seen significant time at left and right tackle since arriving as a freshman. Two years later, Cochran has become a reliable contributor outside, and his efforts cannot be understated during a 2011 season that really called for help on the offensive line.
Defensively, the 2011 class delivered, although there is still much to expect from the group.
Desmond Jackson has become a solid fixture in the defensive tackle rotation—with 25 games under his belt—and is one candidate for a huge 2013 season.
Cedric Reed is the favorite to come out of summer with the starting defensive end spot opposite Jackson Jeffcoat. Reed’s development has been a steady climb, but after a standout sophomore season, Reed is firmly in the spotlight on the defensive line.
Linebackers Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson saw big minutes last season, and their inexperience got the better of them more often than not. Nevertheless, the two of them are significant pieces to the puzzle on defense.
Quandre Diggs is the obvious name drop, and his production speaks volumes over the course of his two seasons. Entering his junior season, Diggs is expected to slide into the nickelback position, taking over where Kenny Vaccaro left off.
The last three all play in the secondary as up-and-comers who flashed some brilliance last season and are expected to serve big roles in the defensive backfield.
Sheroid Evans has emerged as a legitimate option at cornerback, allowing Diggs’ move to the nickel and some safety. Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner have come along nicely as well and have made enough plays in the past to warrant a place in the rotation. While players like Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom have the seniority, Thompson and Turner have not been without their standout plays.
Ultimately, Texas’ 2011 recruiting class has produced solid pieces at virtually every position. The Longhorns were one of the youngest teams a season ago, but with all of these third-year players gaining valuable experience early on, the foundation is a huge reason why they are one of the favorites to win the Big 12.