Greetings, Bleacher Report. My name is Taylor Gaspar and I will be your Texas Longhorns lead writer this season. I will be attending every Texas press conference, weekly player interviews and football games, to provide you with the most comprehensive Longhorn coverage on the web.
I am a native of Mission Viejo, California, the youngest of five children and a self-proclaimed tomboy. Sports were introduced to me at a very young age, by my father, Rod Gaspar, a member of the 1969 World Series champion Miracle Mets and my brother, Cade, the Detroit Tigers 18th overall pick in the 1994 MLB draft. I currently reside in Austin, Texas and enjoy anything that involves sports/competition, cooking and food.
In 2008, I got my start in the media at ESPN Radio - Austin, covering the Texas Longhorns, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and San Antonio Spurs. After two years of working at ESPN Radio, I made the move to Yahool! and Orangebloods.com to cover Texas athletics, Texas recruiting and the Big 12.
Here are some of the reasons why I love my job and what to expect from the 2013 Texas Longhorns.
Best Coach to Interview
I have covered a variety of coaches at Texas, but one of the best coaches to interview is Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina. If you do not follow Texas football, you may be thinking, "Who?" If you are a Texas fan and are asking the same question, then shame on you.
In his 13 years as Texas defensive backs coach, Akina has coached Thorpe Award winners Michael Huff and Aaron Ross and helped send 16 Longhorn defensive backs to the NFL, including Pro Bowlers Michael Griffin and Earl Thomas.
Akina is a ball coach, that is all. He's not one to give sugar-coated answers to tough questions. He's not out in the public, shaking hands and kissing babies. He is all about football. When talking to the media, Akina often talks X's and O's, in a manner that helps reporters understand how his game plans work. He is not always the easiest coach to quote, unless you are writing an article on the X's and O's, but his passion for the game, skins on the wall and ability to relate to the team make him the best Texas coach to interview.
Most Interesting Team Covered
The easy answer would be the 2009 Texas Longhorns, who lost to Alabama in the 2009 BCS National Championship. I have never been one for the road more traveled, so I am going with the 2011 Longhorns.
After Texas went 5-7 in 2010, Mack Brown started an overhaul of the football department, hiring six new coaches from all over the country. The expectations for the 2011 Longhorns were not high and from a fan perspective, 2011 was likely a year to forget.
It was a year where Texas was forced to rely on 18 true freshman players due to some recruiting misses from the previous two years. It was a year ESPN launched the Longhorn Network, which many people believe led to Texas' 100-year rival Texas A&M bolting for the SEC. It was a year where players and coaches were forced to overcome adversity, especially after a 55-17 blowout by Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. It was, by no means, a banner year in Texas Longhorns football history.
The team finished the season 8-5, with a Holiday Bowl win over Cal, but from my perspective, 2011 was much more than wins and losses on the football field. It was the year that followed one of the most astonishing collapses in program history, it was a rebuilding season, which included a complete schematic transition of one of the most polarizing programs in college football.
It was a year six new coaches attempted to work together to coach athletes they did not recruit and it was the year when Texas made history signing a controversial 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to launch its own network. Sure, the 2011 Longhorns were nowhere near the "best" team Texas has produced, but it absolutely was the most interesting team I have and probably will ever cover in my career.
Most Memorable Game
The most memorable Texas football game I have ever witnessed was the 2008 Red River Rivalry between No. 5 Texas and No. 1 Oklahoma.
Texas entered this game as the underdog, lead by veteran quarterback Colt McCoy and a defense that had only given up five touchdowns in the first five games of the season. Oklahoma entered the Cotton Bowl as the defending Red River Rivalry champs, with soon-to-be Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford calling the snaps. Texas trailed Oklahoma 35-30 with 12 minutes left in the game, but McCoy took the reigns and lead Texas to a 45-35 win.
The Red River Rivalry is arguably one of the greatest game-day atmospheres in college football, with the 50-yard line division between Texas and Oklahoma fans creating a deafening atmosphere from start to finish. But the roars that were heard in the fourth quarter of the 2008 Red River Rivalry was the loudest I have ever witnessed the Cotton Bowl.
What do the Longhorns have to do to beat the Sooners in 2013?
Out of all of the games on Texas' 2013 schedule, an absolute must-win matchup will come October 12th against rival Oklahoma. Texas enters 2013 as one of the most experienced teams in the Big 12, with one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference and a new style of offense that is built to wear down opposing defenses. Mack Brown has expressed his confidence in the direction of the Texas program, and a win over rival Oklahoma could be Brown's saving grace this season.
Oklahoma has not received a lot of preseason recognition, ranking 16th in both the AP and the Coaches Polls, and it's difficult to set high expectations for the Sooners as they will start the season with redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight. Oklahoma could have a down year in 2013, but this is not the approach Texas should take when the two teams face off in the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma holds a three-game winning streak over Texas, with the Sooners averaging 59 points and 565 yards in the last two years. In order for Texas to break the streak, the Longhorns need to enter the game angry, with a chip as big as the state of Oklahoma on their shoulders. The Texas defense, which likes to talk about playing physical, needs to show that "physical" play on the field and be ready to shut down Oklahoma's offense.
Last, but certainly not least, David Ash, who has been less than stellar in the Cotton Bowl the previous two seasons, needs to step up his game, period. Historically speaking, the team with the best quarterback play usually wins this game. Ash will need show the best game management skills and poise of his career when he enters one of the most deafening atmospheres in all of college football.
Will Major Applewhite's new up-tempo offense help or hurt David Ash?
Texas deciding to change to an up-tempo, no-huddle offense should help quarterback David Ash. Ash is familiar with fast-paced offense from his days playing at Belton High School, where he led the Belton Tigers to the second round of the 5A Texas high school playoffs his sophomore season. At Big 12 Media Days, Ash discussed his experience transitioning to the new offense.
"It's what I love. I was recruited by Greg Davis, who I believe was a great coach. He had one bad year and unfortunately had to go," Ash said. "When coach [Bryan] Harsin came in, the offense changed. We wanted to be a downhill, ground running attack with play action shots and shifting motion. I learned a lot from coach Harsin, but now I have coach Applewhite, who I love playing for. I love the way he teaches, I love his style and competitive nature and I love his offense. I'm looking forward to running the new offense."
Is Mack Brown on the hot seat?
The short answer to this question is no. I understand that may not be the answer some Texas fans are looking for, considering the Longhorns' 11-15 Big 12 record since 2010 and a three-game losing streak to Oklahoma. But in big-picture terms, Mack Brown is still one of the winningest football coaches in college football. Earlier in August, Brown told Yahoo! Sports Pat Forde he will not be fired and as long as he is healthy and Texas wins, Brown wants to finish up his contract at Texas, which expires in 2020. I think if Brown wants to hang it up, he will do so on his own terms.
What are the biggest keys to turning around the Texas defense in 2013?
The Texas defense finished the 2012 season as the worst statistical defense in school history, meaning the defense cannot be any worse in 2013, right?
The injury bug hit the Texas defense hard early in the year, most notably with the season-ending injuries of linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. The Longhorns were forced to rely on many young, inexperienced players on defense, which rarely ends well for any team.
One of the biggest struggles the Texas defense faced in 2012 was tackling. There were many games where I watched the defense and wondered if their arms were somehow not attached to their torso. The only word to accurately describe it is awful. Just plain awful.
The good news for Texas is, barring injury, the defense will have nowhere to go but up in 2013.
At the 2011 Texas football banquet, Mack Brown said Texas will be back in contention for a national title within the next two to three years. The time is now for the Longhorns to show the college football world that they can once again be in the mix for a national championship. With 19 returning starters, Texas returns one of the most experienced teams in the country in 2013, leaving no reason for the Longhorns to not be in the national title picture come December. But until Texas decides to show up against the Sooners and other top ranked opponents, the critics will continue to question the Longhorns' ability to get back to the Texas standard.
If the Texas defense can fix its 2012 tackling woes, while playing physical football and Ash plays consistently well this season, I think Texas could be in the mix for the Big 12 Championship and a berth in a BCS bowl game. If any of those factors do not occur, it could be a very long season for Texas football fans.
Prediction: 10-2 playing for the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
Unless otherwise noted all quotes obtained firsthand.
Follow Taylor on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.