Has Mack Brown's coaching ability become the Longhorns' biggest question mark?
USA Today has released the 2013 preseason Coaches' Poll with the Texas Longhorns coming in at No. 15 for the second-straight season. The ranking is low for the Longhorns, and will not make Mack Brown's job any easier in a make-or-break campaign.
The ranking, which is the second-highest in the Big 12, is a far cry from Phil Steele's No. 4 projection from earlier this summer, and does not exactly reassure Longhorn fans desperate for a winning season.
However, it is still just the preseason and the Longhorns still have a lot going for them in spite of the poll taking them down a notch. With the talent and experience this team has, it would be a major surprise if they fail to make a mockery of this ranking.
But this is where the 'Horns will start from in 2013, and Mack Brown will be the one who takes the blame for it. The poll proves that his coaching is the team's biggest question mark, and that feeling will trickle down to the fans and the potential recruits he is trying to lure to Austin.
Those facts will make Brown's job more difficult than it already was going to be in 2013.
Brown's coaching prowess has certainly lost its aura over the past three seasons.
How is it that a team that has the conference's most-experienced quarterback, that fields the nation's most returning starters (19) and is favored in every game but one ranked outside of the top-10? Because nobody believes Mack is back.
Last season, a No. 15 preseason ranking was acceptable for a Texas team in total quarterback limbo. Now, on paper, the squad is loaded and the pressure is officially on Mack to coach it up to its potential.
That is a scary proposition for two reasons. First, Mack has not been able to turn top-tier talent into even a good season in three years, evidenced by the repeated beat-downs in the Red River Rivalry.
Then there is the issue of doubt creeping in when something goes wrong. Brown knows he cannot let this season become water in his hands, so what will he do if Ash crumbles again against OU? Or if Manny Diaz's defense cannot stop a nosebleed?
No matter how the season unfolds, Brown has to prove that he can coach this team back to the top in 2013. This ranking from his peers proves that.
Texas fans will be less than excited about a No. 15 ranking.
Mack Brown's biggest critics have been and always will be the Longhorn faithful. And there is no way that they will like this ranking.
In general, football fans love their rankings. They give them simple fodder for trash talk and just enough information on their teams to carry on a conversation.
So when Texas fans, most of which have been calling for Brown's head since 2010, look at this No. 15 ranking they are not going to be happy. All they have been hearing this offseason is how good this team will be, that this is the year the program has been building toward and Texas is finally back on track.
Instead this poll is telling them to cool their jets a bit—that rock bottom is yet further down. So they will enter the season ready to pounce on their head coach's first mistake, and eventually that sentiment will find its way to the people that have kept Brown on the payroll.
The recent lack of wins has led to an even more recent lack of top-tier recruits choosing to take their talents to Austin. A low preseason ranking will not help change that in the coming months.
More than ever, recruits are paying attention to the status of the programs that are recruiting them. These kids want to play for programs that will get them to the league, and winning programs are the ones that tend to do that.
This is why, historically, Texas has always been able to reel in some of the nation's best recruiting classes. Except now that Texas is not winning, in-state recruits are selecting programs like Alabama and LSU as their pit stop along the way to collecting an NFL paycheck.
Currently, recruits like Jamal Adams and Solomon Thomas are waiting to see if the 'Horns get it together before spurning them for another program. While the preseason ranking may not keep them from coming altogether, it will make it more difficult for Texas to make up ground between now and the start of the season.