There is no doubt that the 2010 Texas Longhorns will go down as one of the most disappointing teams in the program's history. What is questionable, however, is whether the season was a one-year fluke or whether the season was proof of a crack in the foundation of the perennial power.
Was it Just a Fluke?
Many are arguing that this Texas football season was a "perfect storm" of several factors including a young quarterback, lack of leadership, ineffective defense and questionable coaching decisions.
Garrett Gilbert, for a large portion of the season, looked lost and uncomfortable behind center. He often threw into coverage, held the ball too long, and hesitated to use his legs to pick up extra yardage when plays broke down.
As the Longhorns entered Big 12 play, Gilbert made these plays on his feet, completed long throws for big gains, and looked generally more confident. His performance overall, however, was not what was expected out of a former Gatorade Player of the Year and highly-touted recruit.
For the Longhorns' fortunes to change in 2011, Gilbert will need to show the consistency and cockiness that made him one of the top high school players a few years ago.
Over the past few seasons, the Longhorns have had leaders emerge on both sides of the ball which the team could turn to when times were tough. The National Championship runner up in 2009 had Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, Roderick Muckleroy, Earl Thomas and several others pull the team through close games and those games where the team didn't perform well enough to win without someone stepping up as a leader. The 2010 version simply did not have this leadership.
It was expected that Sam Acho on the defensive side of the ball and guys like Malcolm Williams and Foswhitt Whitaker on offense would be these leaders. While Acho played well throughout the season, an offensive leader never emerged. One NFL scout was recently quoted as saying that there is not a single NFL caliber talent out of the entire senior class on the offensive side. That alone speaks volumes.
According to Mack Brown and Will Muschamp, coming into the season, the 2010 Longhorns defense was one of the best in Brown's tenure. There were moments of this brilliance early in the season, but largely against weaker non-conference opponents.
Once the conference season began, the defense, especially the secondary and defensive line, were consistently exposed and teams across the country had no problem scoring at will.
For the first time since his arrival on campus, Muschamp's ability to game-plan and react to offenses was called into question. Prior to this season, it was almost a taboo topic to question the guy who has already been anointed Mack Brown's "replacement in waiting."
Only time will tell if the defense will become the dominating unit which has been promised to the Texas faithful but that has yet to emerge.
Each of these factors make it reasonable to suggest that the 2010 season was just a fluke. A single, perfect storm of coincidences which will not happen again. Or is it? Could it be the first crack in a program's crumbling foundation?
Is the Foundation Cracking?
College football history has shown that even the greatest programs experience down cycles where, for whatever reason, they become less competitive and struggle. These downward cycles are often triggered by a season that defies logic and that does not meet expectations. Both were definitely true for this past Longhorn season.
Some Texas observers are starting to question the leadership capability of several coaches on Mack Brown's staff, including offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Davis has been accused of letting the game pass him by, being too conservative and not willing to take risks with a young quarterback which could have helped Texas to win some games that they were not given the opportunity to win otherwise.
The 2010 class of incoming freshmen had great expectations placed upon their shoulders, perhaps unfairly. When a team is in the position of expecting freshmen to be impact players, the result is usually disastrous.
If, however, these freshmen do step up and play with consistency, things can be very different. Is it possible that a talent evaluation issue could be at the core of the Longhorns' current and possible future struggles?
Texas football does not recruit, as much as it selects. Over the past several seasons, the team has brought in the top recruits in the state of Texas and plucked a few out of traditional football hotbeds in other parts of the country.
With a team of this talent level on paper, expectations are high. Mack Brown depends heavily on the talent evaluation skills of his positional coaches and assistants. Is it possible that these men may not be the talent evaluators that they were assumed to be?
It would only take two or three poorly evaluated recruiting classes to allow what could be seen as a crack in the foundation of the Longhorns' winning foundation to become a gaping hole.
Is this season the first sign of this crack getting larger?
The 2011 version of the Longhorns will certainly answer this question once and for all, but it is certainly an interesting one to ponder.