The 2010 Big 12 Farewell Tour is getting ready to kickoff and the last chapter is about to be written.
Coming off an undefeated 2009 regular season, a nail-biter of a Big 12 Championship, and a heartbreaking national championship game loss, the Texas Longhorns are looking to reload and find their way back to the promised land.
To do so, they will have to break in a new quarterback for the first time since 2006, and navigate a tough four-game stretch against includes the likes of the Oklahoma Sooners and Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The Longhorns play their season opener away from DKR Memorial Stadium for he first time since 1995, but it won't be much of a road game. Texas travels a couple hours east to take on the Rice Owls in Houston, where a burnt orange-majority crowd will be sure to welcome them to the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium.
Last season, the Owls finished 2-10, including an 0-3 record vs. BCS teams, and an 0-7 record vs. bowl teams. They finished ranked among the bottom 20 FBS teams in all major offensive and defensive statistical categories. And they've only stayed within 40 points of Texas one time out of the last six meetings.
Garrett Gilbert will be making his first start at Texas, but the Owls will be a stroll in the park compared to the last action he saw. Rice shouldn't be much more than a warm-up game for the entire Texas squad and Mack Brown will look to get everybody but Chris Jesse onto the field.
Prior to their 2008 game, Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger told reporters that he thought the Texas Longhorns were soft, and that his Owls would come into Austin and bully them around. Florida Atlantic suffered a 52-10 defeat that day in Austin, so you can bet that Schnellenberger won't be giving UT any bulletin board material prior to this year's game.
Schnellenberger brings his Owls to Austin for a late-season, out-of-conference tilt to play the Longhorns in a game that should be another layup.
The FAU defense returns nine starters from last year's squad, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. The Owls gave up almost 34 points a game last season, and finished in the bottom 20 of rushing yard allowed and defensive pass efficiency.
The '09 Owl offense was moderately successful. Their 432 yards a game of total offense was good enough for 15th in the nation, and they score over 27 points a game. But FAU returns only three starters from that side of the ball, and that doesn't include a single offensive lineman.
The Longhorns should be a well-oiled machine by the time they line up against Florida Atlantic. They'll be able to pretty much name the score of the game.
*Image courtesy of Life.com
After giving a first half scare to the Longhorns in Laramie last season, the Wyoming Cowboys travel to Austin to face Texas in their 2010 home opener.
The Cowboys return 16 starters from last year's team and are looking to build off of a 7-6 campaign that ended with a New Mexico Bowl win over Fresno State. The offense will be led by sophomore Austyn Carta-Samuels, the Mountain West Freshman of the Year and New Mexico Bowl MVP. Also returning is the Cowboy's leading receiver from last season (77 catches), David Leonard.
On the defensive side of the ball, Coach Dave Christensen will be changing
to a 4-3 defense in an attempt to get more athletic players on the field. Some good news for the Cowboys is that they are returning their entire starting secondary. The bad news is that Wyoming opponents had a 133.03 pass efficiency rating against them last season, and allowed 27.3 points per game.
The Wyoming Cowboys will end up being just another of the lightweights on the Texas schedule. Don't expect Texas to get off to the same kind of flat start that they did in last year's contest. The Longhorns should come out fired up for the season's first home game and jump all over the over-matched Cowboys.
*Image courtesy of the AP
In one of the great turnarounds of the 2009 season, coach Paul Rhoads took a 2-10 Iowa State Cyclone team and turned them into a 7-6 Insight Bowl champion. The Longhorns will welcome Rhoads and the improved Cyclones into Austin after the 'Horns play a brutal stretch of games that concludes with Nebraska in Lincoln.
Speaking of the Cornhuskers, Iowa State's season-defining win came at the expense of Nebraska, in Nebraska, in a 9-7 slobber knocker. The Cyclones forced eight turnovers against Nebraska, including four within their own five yard line.
Unfortunately for the Cyclones, they lost five of the top seven tacklers from last year's defense. They do, however, return Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in safety David Sims, and Freshman All-American Leonard Johnson at cornerback.
With the departure of so many senior leaders, Iowa State's offense will have to improve upon last year's totals if they expect to get another bowl invite. They'll have a chance with four of the five offensive lineman returning as starters, along with an an all-senior backfield (quarterback Austen Arnauld and running back Alexander Robinson).
To beat the Longhorns, the Cyclone defense will to have another eight turnover day and convert on those extra opportunities. Nine points won't be enough to escape Austin with a win.
This is another game that Longhorn fans should expect to see backups in by the early fourth quarter.
Quarterback Robert Griffin's 2008 freshman season had everyone in Waco dreaming of a bowl game for the 2009 Baylor Bears. But Baylor's bowl aspirations were squashed early in the year, when Griffin blew out his knee in the third game of the season.
Griffin took part in spring drills, and is hoping to regain his starting position for the Bears. Hopefully, for Baylor's sake, Griffin's knee will return to 100 percent and allow him to be the same dual-threat quarterback he was prior to the injury.
Outside of Griffin, the Bears don't have many playmakers to work with. Outside of wide receiver Kendall Wright, who is coming off of back-to-back 50 catch seasons, there isn't much talent coming out of Waco.
Defensively, the Bears are don't have a ton of promise. Last season the Bears gave up over 27 points a game, 178 rushing yards a game and 405 total yards a game.
Texas hasn't lost to Baylor since 1997, when John Mackovic still roamed the Longhorn sidelines. Since then, Baylor has been within 24 points of Texas one time (a 10-point Texas win in 1998). This matchup should be more of the same when they meet in late October.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys will look vastly different this season when the Longhorns welcome them into Austin for their mid-November match. Mike Gundy will be replacing 15 starters off of last year's team, including offensive lineman Russell Okung and receiver Dez Bryant.
Coach Gundy has brought on offensive coordinator (Dana Holgorsen from Houston) to call plays after five years of handling the duty himself. Holgorsen will try to recreate the quick, up-tempo style of offense to Stillwater that put up points in bunches on the scoreboard in Houston.
The Cowboy's defense only allowed a respectable 21.7 points a game last season, and help opponents to 95.8 rushing yards a game. If Linebacker Orie Lemon can come back from a 2009 pre-season injury, he will be a huge addition for the Cowboys. The secondary of OSU will be mostly young and inexperienced, but the front seven should be salty.
When the Longhorns meet the Cowboys, the circumstances haven't seemed to matter in the last 10 years. Whether at home or on the road, whether they fall behind by 28 early in the first half, or trail by as many as 21 in the fourth quarter, Mack Brown and Texas have absolutely owned Oklahoma State.
With OSU having to break in a new quarterback and replace the majority of their offensive line, don't look for the Pokes to break their string of misery against the Longhorns this season. Texas' defense is loaded, and the Longhorn offense should find its identity by the time Oklahoma State rolls into Austin.
The last time that UCLA traveled to Austin, the Bruins handed the Longhorns one of the program's worst defeats in a 66-3 beatdown. While neither Mack Brown nor any of the current players were victims of the bloodshed, the 2010 meeting of the teams will provide a chance at payback.
Coach Rick Neuheisel brought UCLA back to bowl eligibility last season as the Bruins finished 7-6. The strength of the 2010 Bruins will once again be on the defensive side of the ball. Safety Rahim Moore (one of the nation's best) returns to lead an experienced secondary. Defensive end Datone Jones anchors the defensive line, and is a handful rushing the pusher off the edge.
Norm Chow leads the UCLA offense, but it has failed to take off under him mainly due to the previous regime's recruiting failures. Like Texas, the Bruins don't have a lead running back but a stable of rushers they like to use. Yet unlike Texas, Chow is trying to implement the zone blocking schemes that Texas coordinator Greg Davis is moving away from.
The UCLA secondary will be a good test for young Garrett Gilbert, and the Texas offensive line will be challenged by the speed and strength of the Bruin defensive ends. If they struggle to get anything going out of the gate, the Texas defense should be able to stymie an offense still searching for its identity and send the Bruins home with a loss.
The Kansas State Wildcats are probably the scariest team on the Texas schedule for fans of the Longhorn.
The Wildcats upset the Longhorns in Manhattan in 2006 in a game that cost the Longhorns a spot in the Big 12 Championship and derailed their national title hopes. In 2007, KSU put a 20-point whoopin' on the 'Horns in DKR Memorial Stadium in the pouring rain.
The good news for Texas is that Ron Prince is gone, the Wildcat's coach during both upset victories.
The Wildcats enter 2010 with no clear-cut starting quarterback. Gone are the top three receiving options from 2009. But the Big 12's top running back, Daniel Thomas, will be back for KSU along with four starting offensive lineman.
KSU will be rebuilding the front seven of their defense, but return their entire secondary. If they can get a good pass rush up front, the Wildcat defense will be solid.
Kansas State has had the Longhorn's number recently. KSU needs to find some semblance of a passing attack so defenses won't stack eight or nine in the box to slow down their run. If the passing game can be average, their running game will keep them in games they shouldn't be in. They will be a true test to the middle of the inexperienced Texas defensive line.
Texas has the superior talent, and the Longhorns should leave Kansas with a victory. But please excuse Texas if they are having purple nightmares leading up to the game.
Texas Tech is one of the great unknowns of the Big 12 heading into the 2010 season. With former coach Mike Leach gone, it is unclear how much the gimmicky Red Raider offense will change.
Will they continue to chunk the ball all over the field at the same high rate? Will they use the running game as an after though? Will new coach Tommy Tubberville go for it on 4th-and-who cares deep in their own end?
Chances are that the new Red Raiders will be a more conservative version of their old selves. Despite being from the SEC, Tubberville is smart enough to know that you can't go from an all-out aerial attack to a power rushing game overnight.
Texas Tech enters summer camp with Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield battling it out for the starting quarterback spot. Both quarterback missed valuable evaluation time in the spring with injuries. Time that Tubberville could have used to get a feel for his new quarterbacks.
Barron Batch is a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield, and Tech continues to be a revolving door of talent at the receiver position. With four new starters on the offensive line, these three skill players will be extremely busy in the passing game.
Tubberville's strength can be seen on the defensive side of the ball. His Auburn teams were known for great defense, and he is bringing along defensive coordinator James Willis from Alabama. It will take time to revamp the defense in his image, but there is little doubt that Tubberville will make a huge impact on that side of the ball.
There aren't many crazier environments in the Big 12 outside of Lubbock. The Red Raiders derailed the title hopes of the Longhorns in 2008, a 33-38 loss to Tech in the season's only loss. The Longhorns match up well with the Red Raiders, and will have the superior talent on the field. But anything can happen in Lubbock, and this game could be tougher than it should be for Texas.
In 2009, Jerrod Johnson saved one of his best performances of the season for last in a rare letdown game for the Texas defense. Johnson almost led the Aggies to an upset win over the Longhorns, throwing for 342 yards and four touchdowns, while chipping in 126 yards on the ground.
Outside of the Texas game, it was hit or miss for Johnson. He played great against mediocre competition. But as the lights got brighter against tougher competition, Johnson became far more average in his play.
The Aggies might have the best collection of skill players that the Texas defense will face in 2010. Along with Johnson, A&M returns its top three receivers from last season (Jeff Fuller, Ryan Tannehill, and Uzoma Nwachukwa). The Big 12 Freshman of the Year also resides in the Aggie backfield, as Christine Michael average 5.0 yards per carry last season and scored 10 touchdowns.
The offense will have to hope that they will get better play from their line this season. Gone are three starters from a unit that didn't play very well last season. The Aggies have recruited the position well in the last couple of seasons, but the talent is still extremely young.
The defense formerly known as The Wrecking Crew allowed nearly 34 points a game last season along with over 426 total yards a game. Coach Mike Sherman has brought in Tim DeRuyter as the defensive coordinator from Air Force. Von Miller is a beast as a pass rusher. But the Aggies are pretty thin and unspectacular once you get past him.
The Aggies were the lone team to go off on coach Will Muschamp's defense last year. It will be a real shocker if the Aggies can come out and be that successful on offense again. The wave of pass rushers that the Longhorns will send at Johnson will be too much for the young Aggie offensive line.
The most anticipated game of the Texas Longhorns' schedule, and one of the most hyped games of the entire 2010 college football landscape.
You could go on and on about the back story. The Texas shocker in 1996 that cost Nebraska a trip to the national championship. The Longhorn upset wins in 1997 and 1998. The 1-8 record that Nebraska has against Texas since the inception of the Big 12. The hate of everything Texas by the people of Nebraska. Big 12 realignment.
And last season's Big 12 Championship game.
The Cornhuskers want this one. Badly. Since early July, Cornhusker nation has been calling for a Red Out on October 16th, the day that the Texas Longhorns come to town. They feel wronged for what happened in the team's last meeting, and they want revenge.
And the Longhorns want it just as badly. They've had to hear all the complaining that has taken place since the one-second "fiasco." They've been made to be the bad guys of the Big 12 realignment. And they want to send Nebraska off with the same result as they gave to Nebraska when they joined the conference - with a big win.
Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers back on its way to nation prominence by playing elite defense. Other-worldly Ndadmukong Suh is gone to the NFL, but defensive tackle Jared Crick and cornerback Prince Amukamara return to lead the Blackshirts.
Nebraska allowed the fewest points in the nation last season at 10.4 points per game. If they can find a respectable replacement for Suh, the defense will once again be dominant. Easier said than done, though.
The question marks on this Nebraska team lie on the offensive side of the ball. Against Texas last season, Zac Lee led the Cornhuskers to only five first downs and 106 total yards. They have to be better if they want to meet the expectations that many around the nation have for them.
The atmosphere in Lincoln will be hostile. And the defense will be the toughest that Garrett Gilbert will have faced since Alabama in last season's national championship. The good news for Texas is that unlike the Alabama game, Gilbert will know that he is playing. And he will have an extra week to prepare for Nebraska.
Texas' hopes lie with the improvement of the running game, as it is highly unlikely and unfair to expect Gilbert to carry the entire load against this defense on the road. If the Longhorn running game can find some room, it will slow down the pass rush of NU and give Gilbert a better chance at success.
In my opinion, this game has a permanent place as the toughest game for the Longhorns.
The Red River Rivalry is a gameday atmosphere like no other. And you never truly know what to expect going in to each game.
Sophomore quarterback Landry Jones enters the season as the starting quarterback for the first time. Jones played well in his first season given the circumstances of him being thrust unexpectedly into the role of starter. But he will need to improve upon his consistency, as Jones was mediocre at best against tough competition (three touchdowns versus eight interceptions in Oklahoma's losses).
Ryan Broyles will return as many people's pre-season selection as the Big 12 offensive player of the year. However, the Sooners are losing three of their top six offensive lineman from last season from a unit that struggled to run block or keep their quarterback upright.
The Sooner defense will once again be stout. OU loses Gerald McCoy from the middle of their line, but they have young talent waiting in the wings. Last season saw OU hold opponents to 92.9 rushing yards a game, and only 14.5 points a game.
Phil Steele has selected the Oklahoma Sooners as his pre-season top ranked team in the nation. In my mind, they have a lot of holes to fill and questions to answer before I believe that prognostication. But like always, the Sooners will be a tough match-up for Texas.
Mack Brown has won four of the last five meetings. But Texas, too, has some questions that will need to be answered before the Red River Rivalry. Can Brown and the Longhorns extend their current dominance over their hated rival to the north? Or will Bob Stoops and the Sooners end the recent success of the 'Horns?
*Image courtesy of The Austin Chronicle