9 Reasons Why the Texas Longhorns Will Win the Big 12 in 2013

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2013

9 Reasons Why the Texas Longhorns Will Win the Big 12 in 2013

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    Really, it’s amazing that just three years removed from playing in the BCS title game that it would be somewhat of a brazen prediction to proclaim, “The Longhorns will win the Big 12 in 2013!”

    But, the truth is since 2009 when Texas went 13-0 only to get beat 37-21 by Alabama in the BCS championship it’s been, well, it’s all been downhill.

    How bad has it been?

    The Longhorns are 22-16 since that night and perhaps even more telling is the fact that they haven’t finished better than a tie for second in a Big 12 race that continues to shrink before our very eyes.

    So, with Mack Brown straddling the line with one foot out the door and hope diminishing rather than the burnt orange sun rising, how does Texas recapture the dominance it once enjoyed and win the conference in 2013?

    The following slideshow makes a very strong case for why the Longhorns absolutely should win the Big 12, and perhaps more, this upcoming season.

    The truth of the matter is, hiding underneath the very real layers of relative anguish that only unfulfilled expectations can bring exists one of the best scenarios in the nation for a championship run in 2013.

Returning Starters

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    According to Phil Steele’s very precise calculations the Texas Longhorns are tied with four other FBS squads for the most returning starters in the nation in 2013.

    The total number returning to campus for Texas this season is 19; split evenly with 10 coming back offensively and nine back on the defense.

    This point cannot be overstated in terms of its significance for the Longhorns, especially given the levels of talent they continue to welcome on to campus with each signing class.

    Given the cyclical nature of personnel in collegiate athletics, sometimes teams aren’t “bad” as much as they are “young.” And though you can’t necessarily say this about Texas over the last three seasons, having 19 starting-grade guys back certainly won’t hurt.

    This is a huge number, and given that Mack Brown and Co. can finally get it right again, the Longhorns have the experience levels to soar very high indeed.

The Offensive Line

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    Included in the smaller print of the returning-starter data for the Longhorns coming into this season is another positive indicator in terms of the offensive line.

    Indeed, set to hit the field this season for Texas are all five starting members of its O-line from 2012.

    Though these guys didn’t necessarily put up Alabama-type numbers, this is not a unit that will have to be “retooled”; it's ready to go in “as-is” condition.

    To put this unit’s performance into perspective moving forward, these guys led the way for an attack that averaged over 174 yards of rushing per game in 2012, and they allowed only 16 sacks all season, a total which earned them a No. 24 national ranking.

    Again, this is a tremendous difference-maker that could quietly change the course of the Longhorns’ title bid in 2013.

A Named Starting QB

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    Though the entire football nation might not be sold on David Ash being the next super-stud QB from the University of Texas, at least he is the named starter.

    Yes, David Ash is the first guy to be “the guy” coming into a season for Texas since 2009 when Colt McCoy was still the signal-caller in town.

    This is an indispensable asset for Texas because the last thing the Longhorns really need is another QB controversy.

    Yes, a QB battle good for some media attention and, yes, it pushes guys to perform, but one of the key elements that this program has been missing for three long seasons is leadership.

    In one way it matters not if David Ash is or isn’t the next Colt McCoy, James Street or Major Applewhite; he just needs to put up some solid stats and then provide some desperately needed guidance for the rest of the squad.

    What if Texas just needed a starting QB all along, not THE starting QB but A starting QB?

    Ash needs to limit mistakes, make good decisions, utilize the talent and experience that will be oozing out from all around him and take ownership of this team.

A Star RB

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    So, if David Ash doesn’t need to be the offensive star of this team, who does?

    Yes, if Ash isn’t the guy who will wind up on the Heisman short list if Texas is 12-0 at the end of the regular season, who will be?

    With five guys back on the O-line and what should be a much-improved defense, my guess is incoming sophomore RB Johnathan Gray who has all the right stuff to be a superstar.

    Gray has the same type of capabilities as does Georgia’s RB Todd Gurley, only he won’t have to deal with SEC rushing defenses all season long.

    Instead, Gray will be facing the Big 12 which is big on giving yards and sometimes even bigger on receiving them…

    Gray ran for 701 yards and three scores on 149 carries as a freshman in 2012, putting him in an ideal spot to fly under the radar in 2013 and explode into history.

    If Mack Brown can cash in on his ideal situation in Austin, don’t be surprised if Johnathan Gray’s name doesn’t shoot up the Heisman list by the time your neighbor dresses up in an ill-fitting Spiderman costume for Halloween.

The Defense

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    Texas’ bid to win its first Big 12 crown since 2009 may well come down to whether it can finally return its defense back to the form it enjoyed during its run of double-digit win seasons.

    After fielding the No. 12-ranked scoring defense in the nation in ’09 the Longhorns slipped to a No. 49 ranking in ’10, a No. 33 rating in 2011 and then all the way to a No. 72 ranking last season.

    In terms of points allowed, the difference between the 2009 unit and that in 2012 is 16.7 points per game versus 29.2.

    That’s 12.5 more points per game given up which goes a long way in explaining how a team goes from winning the conference one season to doing no better than tying for second over the next three campaigns.

    What makes this much-needed transformation more possible in 2013 is the fact that six of the front seven are back on campus for Texas, as are three starting members of the secondary.

    The proverbial “other side” of the story is that Texas ranked No. 90 against the run last season, a number that marked the worst performance in the category for the ‘Horns since 2009.

    No matter how you slice it, there are enough experienced, talented guys back on Manny Diaz’s defense this season to expect the Longhorns to stop opponents enough times to win almost every game.

    Especially when you throw in the strength of the rest of the conference in 2013 and the relative talent Texas enjoys.

Talent

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    When you discuss Texas’ prospects for success in any season it would be negligent to leave out recruiting numbers.

    Yes, since championship-college football teams begin with stellar-recruiting classes its difficult, regardless of actual on-field performance, to leave the Longhorns out of the mix simply because they’ve recruited so well.

    How well?

    Other than the class of 2013, which was just brought in at a very low No. 23 ranking according to Rivals.com, Texas hasn’t brought in a class lower than No. 5 since the group from 2008 came in at No. 14.

    The bottom line here is that Texas can fill holes made by attrition and injuries more effectively than almost any other program in the country because they have a higher grade of talent.

    In fact, if you’re looking at average recruiting numbers since 2010—which basically accounts for the seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshman competing in the 2013 season—only Alabama, Florida, USC, Florida State and Auburn have been more successful.

    And this includes factoring in Texas’ No. 23-rated group from 2013; if you throw that anomaly out then the Longhorns are in the top three nationally.

    As far as how this pans out in the Big 12: Oklahoma is Texas’ only close suitor but the Sooners bring in top 15 classes rather than those in the top five, while the rest of the pack operates more in the 30 to 40 range at best.

    This angle almost makes it inexcusable for Texas not to win the Big 12 in 2013, especially when you throw in all the other factors.

Schedule

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    Texas’ schedule in 2013 lines up very favorably for a run to glory.

    Though not a “cakewalk” affair by any stretch of the imagination, the nonconference foes and home vs. away games line up as well as could be hoped for making a run at perfection well within the realm of possibility.

    Plus, Texas gets three bye weeks to keep the team healthy, happy and well-rested as the season rolls along.

    Let’s take a look, keeping mind the other elements we’ve discussed up until this point.

    Week 1: vs. New Mexico State:  It’s really impossible to imagine the Longhorns dropping this game.

    Week 2: at BYU:  Though BYU won eight games in 2012, it returns only five starters to the defense that drove the bus last season. The Cougars D ranked No. 3 in scoring vs. their offense that ranked No. 65 in points. This will be a good early test for Texas, but it ought to be able to handle BYU.

    Week 3: vs. Ole Miss: The Longhorns' only nonconference game against a BCS team, Texas’ talent level and the fact that this game is played at home should give the Longhorns the edge against the Rebels. With 18 starters back in 2013, Ole Miss might be the trickiest early game on the schedule.

    Week 4: vs. Kansas State: Texas gets K-State at home in Austin and gone are QB Collin Klein and all but one Wildcat starter on defense. This is a much better year to face Bill Snyder’s squad.

    Week 6: at Iowa State: After a bye in Week 5, Texas travels to Iowa State for the first of its four Big 12 road games in 2013. Though the Cyclones will no doubt put up a good fight, the Longhorns have never lost a game in Ames, Iowa.

    Week 7: vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, Texas: The game that often decides who will win the conference crown, the Longhorn’s bid to knock off the Sooners for the first time since 2009 might be the toughest test on the entire slate. What could help is the fact that Oklahoma won’t have an experienced QB and that it returns just 11 starters total, which gives it the No. 98 ranking overall. If Mack Brown is going to beat Stoops again, this is the year to do it.

    Week 9: at TCU: After a well-placed bye in Week 8, Texas travels up to Ft. Worth to take on Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs. Though TCU will play wicked-good defense with nine-returning starters in 2013, it may struggle to score enough points to beat the revenge-minded ‘Horns. Though this is a road game, there will be as many Texas fans at the game as there are TCU enthusiasts.

    Week 10: vs. Kansas: Even if Kansas makes drastic improvements in Charlie Weis’ second year (with only 11 returning starters) it’s difficult to imagine that the Jayhawks will upset the Longhorns in Austin for the first time in history. The last time Kansas beat Texas was in Lawrence in 1938.

    Week 11: at West Virginia: Though it will no doubt be exciting to see the Longhorns pack their bags and travel to West Virginia to play the Mountaineers in Morgantown for the first time in history, the game itself shouldn’t be anywhere near as compelling as last year’s contest. The storyline here is simple, West Virginia returns nine total starters in 2013 (only three on offense), which earns it the No. 117 ranking nationally.

    Week 12: vs. Oklahoma State: Another scheduling perk, the Longhorns get Oklahoma State at home in Austin in 2013. After posting an eight-win season as a young team in 2012, the Cowboys might pose as big of a threat to Texas in terms of vying for a league title as Oklahoma and getting them at home certainly won’t hurt.

    Week 14: vs. Texas Tech: The Thanksgiving Day game that was once the big showdown vs. Texas A&M, the Longhorns will square off with the new-look Red Raiders on Turkey Day in Week 14 after taking Week 13 off. Regardless of how Tech actually looks under Kliff Kingsbury, Texas has been wicked good against the Red Raiders at home and last succumbed to Texas Tech in Austin in 1997.  

    Week 15: at Baylor: Texas’ finale involves a road trip to Baylor, which though improved from an atmospheric standpoint still isn’t Kyle Field or even Jones Stadium from a “tough-to-visit” perspective. Plus, for 2013 the Bears lose almost their entire offense leaving just a defense that ranked No. 113 nationally in scoring last season.

     

The Rest of the Field

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    When you look at the Big 12 from top to bottom coming into 2013, something we touched on by going through Texas’ schedule in the previous slide, it’s easy to see that this season sets up well for Texas to rebound.

    Not only does Texas return more starters than any other league opponent, it also has consistently out recruited all of its brethren and it is one of only three Big 12 schools to return its starting QB from 2012.

    The Longhorns return the most talent offensively, defensively and on the O-line, meaning that in the cyclical world of personnel turnover their cycle lines up ever so perfectly with the rest of the Big 12 field.

    Think about this way; the rest of the league is rebuilding while Texas is overstocked.

    And, as an overwhelming bonus, the Longhorns had more highly-ranked talent to start with.

    It’s not so much that Texas is that much better; it is just at the precise point on the workforce graph while everyone else is bottoming out or climbing.

    And, due to pacing the rest of the gang at recruiting, the Longhorns’ chart starts a few notches above everyone else’s by design.

    To put a cherry on top of this entire scenario, Texas only has to finish the regular season with the best record in the Big 12 to win the league crown.

    Yes, minus a conference championship the Longhorns won’t even have to play for a title other than survive the regular season with the most conference wins.

    Though this is precisely what the other nine Big 12 members need to do to win it all too, Texas hasn’t won a Big 12 title since the championship game was discontinued after the 2010 season.

    So, logically speaking, it’s even easier for the Longhorns to win the conference now than it was when they last did so in 2009.

    When you take this approach and throw in all the factors we’ve already discussed, again, it becomes pretty clear that there is no logical argument as to why Texas shouldn’t win the Big 12 in 2013.

Mack Brown’s Last Hurrah

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    After 15 seasons on the job at Texas it’s pretty safe to say that Mack Brown has reached the point of no return with the Longhorns.

    On one hand, he’s been an excellent ambassador of the university, he’s been a lights-out recruiter and he’s a coach who provided Texas with two Big 12 titles and the 2005-06 BCS championship.

    But, on the flip side, he’s a guy who has overseen one of the most painful three-season periods in the modern era of Longhorn football.

    Ironically, this all has come about due to the high expectations he himself set during his run of nine consecutive double-digit win seasons from 2001 to 2009.

    Either way, Texas will win the Big 12 title in 2013 because Mack Brown will find a way to personally will his team to do so not only to protect his own legacy, but also because he really is a good football coach with something to prove.

    And prove it he will.

    Of course it won’t hurt the he has all this other stuff—the returning starters, the talent, the schedule, the weaker Big 12, etc.—going for him.

    Welcome to 2013, Mack Brown’s swan song.

    Picture a feathery white costume, some light hors d’oeuvres and perhaps a little dancing.