The Texas Longhorns were one of the youngest teams in the FBS in 2012, but in 2013 they will become one of the most veteran squads in the country.
Losing high-quality starters in defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro hurt significantly, as did the loss of wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, but the general make-up of the team figures to be strong in a season that may be defined by Texas' junior class—think David Ash, Malcolm Brown, Jaxon Shipley and Quandre Diggs.
After two seasons of well-documented and observed progress, however marginal it may have been, the 'Horns are finally on the cusp of a special season that could catapult the program back into the conversation of the elites.
Circumstantially laced with inexperience at some positions and straight-up poor play from others, Texas will need further growth in some areas before it can legitimately stake a claim for the Big 12 title.
Without further ado, let's dive into a power ranking that outlines the strongest position groupings for the Longhorns. The rankings are based on depth, experience, talent, leadership potential and what Texas knows it is getting from its players.
With little doubt, the Longhorns boast one of the country's top running back units. However, talent alone hardly translates directly to success and championships.
Still, Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron would all be starting-caliber backs for virtually any program in the nation. And at Texas, the trio split carries in a scheme that looks to keep them fresh.
Although Brown has suffered from some injury trouble in his two seasons in Austin, when healthy, he is arguably the most talented running back on the roster, no slight to Gray. Speaking of Gray, who assumed the starter's role when Brown missed five games in 2012, the former Aledo standout became a prized asset to the Texas running last season.
When at full strength, the three—when utilized in complementary fashions—have a great combination of skills to wear down opponents systematically.
Throw Daje Johnson into the mix and the Longhorns will be able to make some huge noise via their ground game.
Texas' "DBU" moniker is a sustained tradition in Austin, headlined by defensive backs coach Duane Akina.
And when it comes to Texas and defensive backs, it seems customary to give the 'Horns the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fielding a strong secondary.
Even without the likes of Vaccaro, Texas' 2013 bunch is about as talented as the next group.
Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom immediately come to mind as the top dogs. Diggs is the candidate to fall into Vaccaro's role as the nickelback, and his versatility will help the Texas secondary get a grasp on exactly which players will get their chances to shine.
Behind those two is a group of DBs who have had limited snaps but have shown plenty of promise. Adrian Phillips, Mykkele Thompson, Sheroid Evans and Josh Turner have all had their ups and downs in the past couple of seasons, some more than others.
It will be hard to replace what Vaccaro was able to bring to the field, but if any program has the guys to replace an all-conference performer, it will be Texas.
However talented the rest of the offense may be, there is so much that rides on the shoulders of junior quarterback David Ash, who, in his third season in Austin, is in a position to take a huge leap in 2013.
Trailing behind him are senior Case McCoy—who is currently overseas on a mission trip—and true freshman Tyrone Swoopes.
Redshirt freshman Connor Brewer is seemingly in the mix, but he has gotten lost under the hype and promise of Swoopes.
Few question that it is Ash's show to run, and for the Belton product, he will have to be at least very good for the Longhorns to have a chance at sniffing out a conference championship.
Ash made some big strides in 2012, though many still wonder if he has the "it" factor that can catapult the 'Horns to the big time. He demonstrated some mental strength in the Alamo Bowl win, throwing aside a terrible first half against Oregon State only to perform beautifully in the final 30 minutes in come-from-behind fashion.
If those 30 minutes are any indication of the kind of progress and consistency one would expect to see this year from Ash, Texas appears to be in good hands.
Texas' offensive line has been dying a slow death, but offensive line coach Stacy Searels finally has a number of working pieces that makes his group one of the strongest on the team.
Anchored by veterans and experience, the 'Horns can live comfortably deep with a seven- or eight-man rotation that figures to provide enough athleticism, push and power to get everything done offensively.
Junior college transfer Desmond Harrison enters the fray this season, and his arrival should allow for even more breathing space up front.
Starters Mason Walters, Donald Hawkins, Trey Hopkins, Dom Espinosa and Josh Cochran will all be back in 2013, meaning Harrison's presence will push one of them into a reserve role.
Combined with reserves like Sedrick Flowers, Kennedy Estelle and Curtis Riser, the Longhorns finally have quality numbers on their side.
There are some big questions hovering over the Texas defensive line.
Can Jackson Jeffcoat return 100 percent healthy and productive? How good is the rotation at defensive tackle? What can Texas expect in a full season from Cedric Reed? Will depth provide enough consistency?
Okafor's presence will be sorely missed in 2013, but that hardly means that Texas is not prepared to handle the challenges in front of it.
Jeffcoat is returning from offseason surgery for the second straight year, but his performance record speaks for itself. Now he just needs to play in all 13 games.
Inside, Ashton Dorsey, Chris Whaley, Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson offer a comfortable rotation that provides virtually every desired strength from top-quality interior linemen. They have the experience, but can they bring it for the whole season and shore up the inconsistencies up the gut?
Texas' wide receiver corps truly lacks the desired depth to be utterly successful in the passing game.
Outside of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, there simply is not that much to write home about when it comes to the pass-catchers.
Kendall Sanders, by many accounts, appears to be the next big thing out wide, but the doors are wide open for virtually every receiver on the roster.
Marcus Johnson, John Harris, Bryant Jackson, Miles Onyegbule and Cayleb Jones can be in the mix as well, but their combined production has been minimal.
Jake Oliver, Montrel Meander and Jacorey Warrick are the freshmen who will join the fold, but they are about as unproven at this level as every other wide receiver on the roster not named Shipley or Davis.
No Jordan Hicks? Problem.
That is the kind of trouble the Texas linebackers ran into in 2012. Without their leader roaming the middle of the field, the Longhorns' defense suffered incredibly due to the inexperience at the position.
Now that Hicks appears to be full-throttle for 2013, the group looks much stronger.
Peter Jinkens arguably played the best of any 'backer at the position, though he did so in very limited starting action.
Steve Edmond was often the culprit of poor positioning and generally poor performance at middle linebacker, and with Dalton Santos pushing the buttons behind him, it seems something only pretty good, at best, can come out of that position battle.
Elsewhere, Kendall Thompson and Tevin Jackson provided spurts of brilliance last year, but we will have to see it on a more consistent basis this season before the more positive projections come their way.
Make no mistake, there are still some concerns about just how well this group will play, but there is little question that getting Hicks back fully healthy will help the Longhorns regain their defensive mojo.
Strictly talking punter and place-kicker here, Texas cannot feel very confident at either position heading into 2013.
Anthony Fera and Nick Jordan are in line to handle those positions, respectively, although neither impressed significantly in 2012 in split time as the place-kicker.
In short, Texas will miss Alex King, who transferred in from Duke and performed brilliantly as the punter.
The kicking game provides so much hidden yardage to gain that any acceptable production from either Fera or Jordan will come as icing on the cake as far as what the 'Horns are able to do elsewhere.
So we have come to talk about tight ends again, have we?
Nothing new here, but Texas needs to get something out of its tight ends this season.
M.J. McFarland has long been the candidate to explode onto the scene, but he has had plenty of developmental and injury bumps along the way. In fact, McFarland recently suffered from a minor knee setback that may or may not cause concern later this season.
Junior college transfer Geoff Swaim is a virtual unknown at this point, merely a body. Additionally, Greg Daniels has shown very little in his pass-catching potential (yeah, we remember that Iowa State game).
In a faster offense, the tight end position could be a critical mismatch-making machine. Who will answer the bell?