Texas Football: Power Ranking Texas' 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

Zach SheltonFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2014

Texas Football: Power Ranking Texas' 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

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    David Ash's health will determine if Texas can win some of its toughest games of 2014.
    David Ash's health will determine if Texas can win some of its toughest games of 2014.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Texas Longhorns return 13 starters to an 8-5 team that underachieved for the fourth-straight season. Improving on that mark against their 2014 schedule will require Charlie Strong to engineer a great turnaround.

    Texas faces eight teams that return as many or more starters than it does this season. Of those eight, three finished with a better record in 2013. Those teams are Baylor, UCLA and Oklahoma, who happen to sport the three best quarterbacks the 'Horns face all season.

    These teams are tops among Texas' 12-game slate, with quarterback play, experience and past success shaping where the other nine teams rank on the schedule from easiest to toughest.

    Quarterback play is the theme, and how David Ash's health situation unfolds will determine how well Strong's team does in his first season at the helm. Without him, winning games in the top half of the spectrum will be a tall order.

    Returning starter stats and information courtesy of PhilSteele.com.

12. 8/30 vs. North Texas

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    Derek Thompson's graduation leaves North Texas without its leader and best player.
    Derek Thompson's graduation leaves North Texas without its leader and best player.Mike Stone/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 9-4 

    Returning Starters: 9

    Charlie Strong's debut against North Texas is a preseason tuneup, through and through.

    The Mean Green had a strong 2013 campaign, winning nine games and crushing UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Those days are over after losing 13 starters from that squad, including bowl game MVP quarterback Derek Thompson.

    An inexperienced signal-caller having to go up against one of Strong's defenses, in a stadium packed with 100,000 opposing fans, doesn't exactly spell upset.

11. 9/27 at Kansas

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    Montell Cozart will be running for his life against Texas' talented front.
    Montell Cozart will be running for his life against Texas' talented front.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 3-9 

    Returning Starters: 16

    Yes, the Kansas Jayhawks are tied for the conference lead with 16 returning starters. Were Mack Brown and Manny Diaz still roaming the sidelines, that might be cause for concern this season.

    Through three seasons, KU is 4-20 with Charlie Weis as its head coach. Even with Montell Cozart providing some athleticism at quarterback, Weis' outlook is not much better for his fourth season as he replaces three starters along the offensive line.

    Both Cedric Reed and Malcom Brown are going to eat, and eat good, this game. Texas will need the confidence boost after playing UCLA the week before.

10. 10/18 vs. Iowa State

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    2013 Record3-9

    Returning Starters: 16

    They're low on this list, but Texas can't beat Iowa State by simply showing up.

    By bringing back 16 starters, the Cyclones are tied with the Jayhawks for most in the conference. That includes possible starting quarterback Sam Richardson, tailback Aaron Wimberly and receiver Quenton Bundrage, who all had big games in last year's controversial loss to the 'Horns.

    Coach Paul Rhoads was peeved, to say the least, after that defeat, and this group will be motivated to get some revenge on the road. Texas is obviously more talented, but bad quarterback play would be enough to make it a contest.

9. 11/8 vs. West Virginia

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    Mountaineer safety Karl Joseph is one the Big 12's finest defenders.
    Mountaineer safety Karl Joseph is one the Big 12's finest defenders.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 4-8 

    Returning Starters: 14

    Dana Holgorsen's back is against the wall after a disappointing display last season, and getting a second win at Texas would certainly help his case for a 2015 return.

    Losing the absolutely dynamic Charlies Sims really hurts an offense that went through spring football without supposed starter Clint Trickett. Until that situation levels out, the Mountaineers will have to lean on their sneaky good defense that will be spearheaded by All-Big 12 candidate Karl Joseph.

    Quarterback controversy or not, West Virginia is dangerous, as Oklahoma State and Texas found out last season. But the Mountaineers have much less bite when they hit the road, which should mean that the 'Horns come away with the late-season victory.

8. 9/6 vs. BYU

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    2013 Record: 8-5 

    Returning Starters: 13

    BYU is low on this list for one reason and one reason only—Charlie Strong.

    If there is any particular game that Strong has circled on the schedule, it's this one. He was hired to bring toughness to this team because of its marshmallow-soft showing in last year's 40-21 beatdown. There is just no way he is going to let Taysom Hill, a 54.6 percent passer for his career, throw up another 200-yard rushing performance.

    Even after losing stalwart Kyle Van Noy, the Cougars have the talent to do some serious damage this season. They just aren't going to do it to the Longhorns at home in the one game you know they are going to get up.

7. 11/27 vs. TCU

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    Can transfer Matt Joeckel resurrect TCU's quarterback position?
    Can transfer Matt Joeckel resurrect TCU's quarterback position?Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 4-8 

    Returning Starters: 15

    Until we see some actual performance from Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel, any and all expectations for TCU's bevy of experienced players needs to be tapered.

    The Horned Frogs will once again sport one of the Big 12's top defensive units. They finished second in the league in total defense last season, and that was without defensive end Devonte Fields storming the backfield. As long as he stays out of trouble, the enigmatic superstar is going to cover a lot of mistakes.

    TCU's offense is a different story. Trevone Boykin is Gary Patterson's only experienced quarterback, but also one of their best receivers, which should mean Joeckel gets the job. Whoever it is, he will have to play behind a line that just lost three starters.

    Joeckel won't save this team, and we already know Boykin is a much better athlete than he is anything else. So long as the Longhorns can break into the 20s, this game will be theirs. 

6. 11/15 at Oklahoma State

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    The Cowboys will go as far as quarterback J.W. Walsh can take them.
    The Cowboys will go as far as quarterback J.W. Walsh can take them.Brett Deering/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 10-3 

    Returning Starters: 9

    The defending Big 12 champs lose 13 starters from last year's squad, including quarterback Clint Chelf and shutdown corner Justin Gilbert. That said, Mike Gundy hasn't had a losing season since his first year as the Cowboys' head coach.

    It's a broken record in the Big 12, but OSU's season will largely depend on how much it gets from its quarterback. J.W. Walsh was the conference's Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2012, but he had trouble hanging onto the job even then. After struggling early, he was outright benched last season.

    This is a late-season tilt, so you expect Gundy to have figured out how to start winning games with this green group of guys. In Stillwater, this game is certainly winnable for his team.

    The interesting part, other than watching Joe Wickline scheme against his former team, is whether we will see Jerrod Heard, Walsh's high school teammate, playing quarterback for the Longhorns.

5. 11/1 at Texas Tech

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    Which version of Davis Webb and the Red Raiders will we see in 2014?
    Which version of Davis Webb and the Red Raiders will we see in 2014?Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 8-5 

    Returning Starters: 12

    How do you project a team that was so uneven in its first season under Kliff Kingsbury? For now, let's treat it like it's somewhere between the one that zoomed through Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, and the one that got pasted by Texas last Thanksgiving.

    Beyond any sort of doubt, the Red Raiders will move the ball. Expect Davis Webb to be much more consistent now that he has some job security, which will make Tech competitive when the defense is getting worked.

    Texas will be questionable on the back end unless everyone not named Quandre Diggs has a career season. That's bad news when you're playing in Lubbock, and we have no idea if the 'Horns will have the firepower to keep up with Kingsbury's operation.

    Unless it gets huge games from its running backs and defensive line again, Texas will not like the outcome.

4. 10/25 at Kansas State

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    Bill Snyder never fails to get his Wildcats rolling at the end of the season.
    Bill Snyder never fails to get his Wildcats rolling at the end of the season.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5 

    Returning Starters: 10

    In routine fashion, Bill Snyder's seemingly overmatched Wildcats find their groove as the season wears on. Of course, that's when Charlie Strong pays his first visit to the Little Apple that plagued his predecessor.

    Mack Brown got the last laugh against Snyder, but he did so at home in the fourth game of the season. Had they played the same game six weeks later, when the Wildcats were in the midst of their 6-1 finish, the result could have been very different.

    Strong can make a big statement by handling his business in this game. Easier said than done.

3. 10/4 vs. Baylor

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    Not even 6'9" Shawn Oakman will be able to cover all of the Bears' holes on defense.
    Not even 6'9" Shawn Oakman will be able to cover all of the Bears' holes on defense.USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 11-2 

    Returning Starters: 9

    They aren't Fiesta Bowl good like they were last season, but the Bears do return Heisman-candidate quarterback Bryce Petty. That's all Art Briles needs.

    Losing 13 starters will hurt the Bears more on defense than offense. Of their seven departed players on that side of the ball, they lose both starting defensive ends and do-it-all safety Ahmad Dixon, who has to be one of the biggest losses in the conference. They're in trouble here, even if Shawn Oakman is everything they say he is.

    Brian Baldinger referred to Shawn Oakman as "Oak Man" in this game, as if he was a superhero. I dig it.

    @OurDailyBears, 16 May 2014

    Baylor will lose at least one game it shouldn't because of that suspect defense. But when your biggest defensive hole is on the back end, which Texas' definitely is, the Bears have no qualms about beating you 70-63.

    Until Texas gets some clarity at quarterback, it's plain ignorance to think it can win a game with that much scoring.

2. 9/13 vs. UCLA (Arlington, TX)

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    Brett Hundley's return puts the Bruins on the national title map.
    Brett Hundley's return puts the Bruins on the national title map.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 10-3 

    Returning Starters: 16

    UCLA became 2014 title contenders the instant quarterback Brett Hundley elected to return for another season, with him and 15 other starters back from last year's 10-3 squad.

    The Bruins will approach their Week 3 meeting with the 'Horns as a possible springboard to the national spotlight. From there, they just have to figure out how to deal with Pac-12 heavyweights Oregon and Stanford. 

    This game kicks off a four-week stretch in which Texas plays its three toughest games of the season. Winning at least one changes the entire complexion of the season, and somehow taking this one would be a major statement from Strong.

1. 10/11 vs. Oklahoma (Dallas, TX)

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    Trevor Knight doesn't even have to be spectacular for the Sooners to win the Big 12.
    Trevor Knight doesn't even have to be spectacular for the Sooners to win the Big 12.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2 

    Returning Starters: 14

    Is Trevor Knight as good as the player that torched Alabama for four touchdowns? Probably not, and the same goes for the Sooners creaming a squad that should have played for the title. Still, this is the best team that Texas will play all season.

    On both sides of the ball, Oklahoma is as complete a team there is in college football. Knight's dual-threat ability will be a chore for any team to contain, and the Sooners have experience up front and just added 5-star back Joe Mixon to the mix. On defense, the Sooners can get four All-Big 12ers from their front seven alone.

    As a rivalry game, certainly anything can happen when these two teams take the field. Last season was a classic example of that reality.

    That said, Texas has to play an almost perfect game to win this go-round. It's going to be tough, especially if the 'Horns have to trot out Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard.