The Texas Longhorns will go to the BCS National Championship Game. Wait, it's just August? Take a deep breath, college football season is almost here.
How can a football team go from 9-4 to national champions?
For starters, since the start of the BCS in 1998, there have been five teams to win the national championship coming off a four or more loss season: 2000 Oklahoma, 2001 Ohio State, 2003 LSU, 2008 Florida and 2010 Auburn. There was also one runner-up: 2012 Notre Dame.
Also, there's been one team to win the championship after coming off a nine-win season, 2006 Florida, along with one runner-up, 1999 Virginia Tech.
Following the abysmal 2010 season that saw the Longhorns compile a disappointing 5-7 record, head coach Mack Brown and Co. entered rebuilding mode. In 2011, the motto was "brick by brick," as per Mark Rosner of the Austin American-Statesman. The season was a step in the right direction the team finishing No. 24 in the final BCS rankings and winning the 2011 Holiday Bowl.
On the strength of the Rivals.com's third-ranked recruiting classes in both 2010 and 2011, the 2012 Longhorns went 9-4 in their second year of rebuilding. Their motto was "R.I.S.E." Relentless, Intensity, Swagger and Emotion, as per Bill Little of Texassports.com. Notably, the freshman on that team were 2012 Rivals.com's second-ranked recruiting class.
With a new year and rebuilding in the rear view mirror, how does this team get to the 2013 BCS National Championship? The acronym C.L.O.S.E., coaching, leadership, opportunity, stampede, experience, will help break it down.
The coaching staff is under more pressure than ever before. With that being said, Mack Brown and his staff won't allow the Longhorns to lose four consecutive years in a row to both Kansas State and Oklahoma. Many questions surround the Wildcats as they lose their star quarterback Collin Klein, the former Big 12 male athlete of the year.
And, how about that Red River Rivalry game played at the Cotton Bowl?
Oklahoma will be fully breaking in the "Belldozer," otherwise known as Blake Bell, who has only been proven to be a red-zone threat. Cue the four touchdowns against Texas last year, three of which were from the one-yard line. After seeing his powerful running style in last year's game, the coaching staff will be prepared this year.
But, besides game-planning for Oklahoma and other threats such as Oklahoma State and TCU, the Longhorns must be better in terms of tackling. Last year, the Longhorns had 112 missed tackles. In those terms of tackling, players were in the right position, credit Manny Diaz, but they just couldn't come through with the stop.
B/R's own Jonathan Woo highlighted the stronger emphasis from the coaching staff in "Fixing 'Horns' Tackling Woes"
The fundamentals of the game are the building blocks of success, and if the players demonstrate weakness in those areas, it is up to the coaching staff to break it all down to build it back up.
That means better efforts will have to come from the top, starting with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and trickling down to the various position coaches to see a complete reformation of discipline.
Manny Diaz will make the right adjustments before the start of this season to ensure that players, bluntly, know how to tackle.
On the other side of the ball, co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has been given full control of the offensive play calling. One thing Applewhite will be looking to do is to give the ball to his playmakers.
B/R's Zach Shelton explained Applewhite's style that he brings to the Longhorns in "Players Who Need More Touches"
One side effect of trading out Bryan Harsin for Major Applewhite at offensive coordinator is that many of Texas' skill players will see expanded roles in the fall or at least have a shot at securing one for themselves.
Applewhite wants speed and pace, which translates into more playmakers being needed on the field. That means certain Longhorns will maintain their previous duties in the offense while others may seemingly come out of nowhere to become major contributors.
The Longhorns' offense has plenty of players with big play ability. As highlighted in Shelton's article, Daje Johnson is one playmaker that Applewhite will try to get the ball more this year. See video below.
David Ash will step up this year as the offensive leader, something this team has lacked since the departure of Colt McCoy. Essentially, the team will operate through the junior quarterback, as it should.
In a June press conference, Shawn Clynch of KVUE reported the comments Brown made on Ash's leadership.
He's pulling kids in, even in the team meeting, he was up front high-fiving them and talking to guys before we even waked in. He's definitely at a different place than he was.
You see him more with guys, he's calling guys and getting them to come out and throw with him, he would not of done that two years ago.
One thing that shouldn't be forgotten is that this will be Ash's second full year behind the center. While no excuses will be made for Ash, the former Longhorn great McCoy didn't gain full control of the team until his second year as quarterback. There's also been a plethora of BCS championship game quarterbacks who were in their second full year as starter. Love him or hate him, former University of Florida quarterback, Tim Tebow, won the national championship in his second full year as starter, after going 9-4 the previous year.
As Ash best said before the start of last season, via Wescott Eberts of SB Nation, "I think guys want to follow the guy who is going to put them into the end zone. That is my goal."
On the other side of the ball, linebacker Jordan Hicks will step up as the defensive leader. Before his injury-shortened season, Hicks was expected to be the leader of the Longhorns defense.
In a August 2012 article by William Wilkerson of HornsNation, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talked about Hicks' leadership role.
What you need are natural leaders, and Jordan Hicks wants that role. He embraces that role, wants to be the guy that everybody looks up to, and everybody on the football team does look up to him.
Now almost a full year later, Hicks is still a guy players will look up to on defense. The once heavily recruited five-star linebacker will continue to live up to coach Diaz's leadership expectations from just a short year ago.
The opportunity for Texas comes in the form of the schedule. Two teams that stick out, as much better than last year and wanting revenge, are the Ole Miss Rebels and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. These are two teams that will have a bitter taste in their mouths from the 2012 result.
Texas gets them both at home.
While DKR, home of the Longhorns, is not known for getting as loud as it needs to, imagine if Texas had to travel back to Oxford and Stillwater with last year's results fresh in the opponents' minds.
Texas also has a favorable scheduling format as it plays Iowa State on a Thursday with Oklahoma nine days later. That's the most days Texas has had to game plan for OU since Brown has taken over as head coach.
Why are the extra two days important? Texas gets to watch TCU and Oklahoma that upcoming Saturday. The Longhorns also get TCU two weeks after heading to the Cotton Bowl.
Scheduling opportunities like these put Texas in the driver's seat.
The Longhorns have the ability to stampede opponents. They'll crush them in a convincing matter. In 2012, they put up 35-plus points on six different teams during the regular season.
Hanging up a large amount of points on teams with the same or worse defense should be no problem. What about stopping those Big 12 offenses?
Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Baylor will all be breaking in new starting quarterbacks. When they square off against the Longhorns, offense will come from defense as the Texas defense will create as many turnovers as possible.
The Longhorns will try to put the ball in the offense's hands for as many possessions as possible. After averaging 68.5 snaps per game in 2012, Mack Brown wants to be running 80 plays per game this season.
Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite worked on picking up the tempo for the offense so it can increase the amount of offensive plays ran. Check out what the offense did in the spring game with the video embedded to the side.
Running up the score and stampeding through the competition will bode well in the final BCS rankings.
The strongest factor to the team's success is the experience. The Longhorns have an offensive line that leads the nation in career starts. As put together by college football analyst Phil Steele, the Longhorns will be the most experienced team in the country.
They'll have eight senior starters, 81.5 percent of lettermen returning, 92.3 percent of the yards returning and 83.3 percent of the tackles returning—all of which can be found in this 2013 Combined Experience Chart.
But, looking at this chart might raise some eyebrows. Will a team like UTSA make a run with the third most experience in the country?
As noted before, the Longhorns had some of the best recruits in the nation over the last several years. The big difference with experience is that the Longhorns get these five and four star recruits entering their upperclass years. A team like UTSA doesn't have the talent, regardless of the experience.
The Longhorns experience is scattered throughout their depth chart.
The receiving core has experience as playmaker Mike Davis will be returning for his senior year and sure-handed Jaxon Shipley will be entering his junior year.
The defensive line will be littered with juniors and seniors, led Jackson Jeffcoat, a senior named to the Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list.
Veteran Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs will be captaining the secondary, while Diggs takes over at nickel back.
Whether Diggs starts the season at safety or cornerback, defensive backs coach Duane Akina has been proven as one of the best specialist coaches in the nation. He's the head of DBU, Defensive Back University. Look at his track record with producing NFL ready defensive backs (With too many to count, he notably forgot to mention Earl Thomas but no complaints).
What about the opposition to Texas? There's several teams that make their case to end up in the BCS National Championship game with the Longhorns as well.
When Texas has gone to the BCS National Championship game, they had a perfect record. 11-0 in 2005 and 11-0 in 2009. That's what it will take this year.
How about Ohio State? They did go undefeated last year, and they do have key starters including Braxton Miller returning. But, the odds are against them. In the BCS era, only 2002 Miami was able to follow a championship year with a prefect regular season (they lost in the national championship).
There's also the heavy favorites, Alabama. A school that Texas played against in the 2009 BCS National Championship in the Rose Bowl. There's honestly no evidence as to why they shouldn't go back to the game. They have a favorable schedule, the best recruits, and A.J. McCarron is looking for his fourth ring.
But, it takes two to tango.
And how about the unheralded Pac-12? No team, while playing in the conference, has gone undefeated in the BCS era, and 1991 Washington was the last conference team to do it.
There will be challengers, but if Texas can go undefeated in convincing fashion, they should have the edge.
How many regular season games do you think the Longhorns will win?
With the season rapidly approaching, fans should be anxious to see the tower lit orange weekend after weekend. Coaching, leadership, opportunity, the ability to stampede opponents, and experience all give the Longhorns the edge in the Big 12.
Lastly, the BCS National Championship is in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl this season. Texas was the last non-SEC school to win a national championship; it was played at the Rose Bowl. The last two times the BCS National Championship Game was held at the Rose Bowl, Texas was in both of them.
The Longhorns start their quest for a national title on August 31 at home against the New Mexico State Aggies.