If the Texas Longhorns are to realize a title-winning campaign in 2013, quarterback David Ash will need to become a consistent, top performer.
As much as the Longhorns defense will demand the spotlight after the worst year statistically in the program's history, Ash's development entering his junior season may ultimately determine Texas' success.
We saw Ash put the bits and pieces together in 2012. Consistency and leadership from Ash will be the necessary steps to take if the Longhorns stand any chance at capturing a Big 12 title. But while there is plenty of pressure on him to perform, he will need the working parts around him to exercise their roles as well.
It Starts Up Front
Before anything is possible offensively, the Longhorns offensive line will have to perform.
The group returns all five starting offensive linemen, although Josh Cochran and Trey Hopkins missed the spring with injuries. Add the 6'8", 300-pound junior college transfer Desmond Harrison, and the Longhorns may finally have the depth they have been waiting for, though health is an obvious concern overall.
The returning experience will have to pay off for the Texas offense to get rolling. If all goes well in the trenches, the Longhorns will field a fruitful attack.
Ash is driving the train, but the working parts and how they connect with Ash will be what ultimately gets the party going.
We are talking about Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Daje Johnson, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley.
These six players will do most of the damage on offense, and it will be up to Ash to ensure they get the ball in the right scenarios with room to work.
Davis' 939 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 sets a solid foundation for the senior to break the 1,000-yard barrier, a mark that has not been met by a Longhorns receiver since 2009 when Jordan Shipley posted 1,485 yards tag teaming with Colt McCoy at quarterback.
Ash's chemistry with Davis and junior Jaxon Shipley cannot be understated this season, and do not overlook the emergence of one Kendall Sanders.
Ash's Personal Growth
The connectivity with the offensive line and the skill players is one thing, but Ash's development on an individual level will provide quite the impetus for Texas' offensive fortunes.
Ash had clear ups and downs in 2012, overcoming a benching against Kansas and rallying his troops for a come-from-behind win against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. More of the latter will be what Texas needs.
Texas' adoption of a faster tempo in its offense should lessen the pressure somewhat on Ash, as long as he makes the good reads. Those quick decisions will be scrutinized throughout the year, and the nonconference schedule will give Ash plenty of snaps to develop a rhythm before Big 12 play.
Will we see the tangible results? Will Ash thrive in the new offense? What about his leadership?
Vince Young was among a throng of former players who made strides over the course of the spring and summer, and the hope is that a smidgen of Young's essence rubbed off on Ash. If Ash can display that confidence to make plays in big moments—much like the second half of the Alamo Bowl—leadership will follow, and Texas should be in great shape.
The Bottom Line
Ash is under pressure, no doubt, and the feeling is that he established enough of a foundation in 2012 to springboard into a standout 2013 season that will put Texas back on the map.
Fall camp will be interesting to watch as we observe the results of the spring and summer.
The offense—and hopefully the entire program—can go as far as Ash can take it.