2011 College Football Preview: Garrett Gilbert and the No. 23 Texas Longhorns
So, uh... what was that?
No leadership. No playmakers. The Longhorns couldn't throw, they couldn't run, and they couldn't win.
Colt McCoy was gone. So, too, were Jordan Shipley and Sergio Kindle. But, still. 5-7? Losses to UCLA, Baylor, and Iowa State? Could anyone have seen that coming?
The eyes of Texas witnessed a level of futility not seen during the Mack Brown era in 2010. Can they rebound in 2011?
Greg Davis' offensive play-calling was trending toward stagnant prior to 2010. But, his increasing ineptitude was hidden by Colt McCoy.
Garrett Gilbert wasn't hiding anything.
The former Gatorade National Player of the Year has looked a lot more like Mitch Mustain than Matt Barkley. His struggles were extensive (10 touchdowns vs. 17 interceptions), and often times critical for a Texas offense struggling to score even when they weren't turning the ball over.
The result of such a lackluster sophomore campaign was a four-way quarterback battle this spring. Gilbert emerged the victor, but Connor Wood is on his heels.
The backfield was so pedestrian that it left more than a few folks questioning, "how is the University of Texas without a single above average ball carrier?" Fozzy Whitaker and Cody Johnson are both fifth year seniors that figure to be atop the depth chart heading into fall camp.
That anointment should be short-lived, as the Longhorns desperately need true freshman Malcolm Brown to emerge as the next great UT running back.
The offensive line was poor in 2010, and serves as a huge question mark yet again. Texas will feature three new starters and a new position coach in 2011.
With the exception of sophomore Mike Davis, the Longhorns receiving corps is very average. That is, however, is rather large exception. Davis is the man around these parts. With Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite calling the shots, he appears poised for a breakout season.
There is reason to believe that Texas can right the ship in 2011, and that reason is the defense.
The unit was the lone bright spot in Austin last fall, ranking first in the Big 12 and sixth in the nation in total defense. Obviously, Will Muschamp is no longer "waiting" and he's no longer a Longhorn. But, new coordinator Manny Diaz is very much capable of picking up where Muschamp left off.
The strong suit of the UT D is the linebacking core, which features a pair of All-Conference caliber seniors in Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Sophomore Jordan Hicks takes over at the remaining outside linebacker spot, and has the ability to potentially upstage the upper-classmen.
Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor—both 5-star recruits in 2010—book end a strong defensive line. Senior Kheeston Randall is an established cog in the middle.
Corner is a bit of a mystery. Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips ended the spring as the favorites to start. Phillips, though, is commonly viewed as Blake Gideon's replacement at free safety.
Sophomore Adrian White is also in the mix, along with freshman Quandre Diggs. Diggs is the most versatile player from the Longhorns incoming class (he played QB, RB, CB, and S at Angleton High School), and will benefit from his early enrollment. Whether he sees the field at corner, safety, or both, he will play early and often.
The safety spot is stacked with talent. Four-year starter Blake Gideon and heavy-hitter Kenny Vaccaro are the unquestioned starters. Senior Christian Scott, along with some combination of Phillips and Diggs provide serious depth.
Special teams should be solid for the 'Horns in 2010. Senior Justin Tucker is as reliable as any place kicker in the country (23 for 27 in 2010).
Redshirt freshman William Russ had an excellent spring, and will handle the punting duties.
The Texas return game should be ultra dangerous with Quandre Diggs and Mike Davis.
Game of the Year
Is there any other plausible answer to this one?
Texas played one of their two best games of the year vs. the Sooners a year ago. But, the Longhorns fell short, and five losses in their final seven games ensued.
When the two meet on the second Saturday in October, Texas should be 4-0. A win over Oklahoma would match their win total for 2010, provide an enormous boost in confidence, and set the table for a potential Big 12 Championship run.
In the words of Tony D'Amato: "that's all it is."
As you might have guessed, there is not much to like about an offense that ranked 88th in scoring last season. Bare with me.
Garrett Gilbert probably isn't a guy you want to use a draft pick on. Is there a chance that he blossoms under Bryan Harsin, and suddenly realizes his potential? Sure. But the odds are about dead even that he turns the football over early on and gets benched in favor of Connor Wood.
That kills the value of Mike Davis. If Colt McCoy were a seventh year senior, Davis would be a top-10 wideout. But, as you know, McCoy was not granted a seventh season of eligibility. Without any assurances coming from under center, you simply cannot afford to take anything more than a late round flier on Davis.
Malcolm Brown is the the Longhorn you want. The freshman has the pedigree and the potential to step in and immediately be "the guy" in Austin. Add in the uncertainty at the quarterback position, and Brown could end up shouldering the load for Texas. He'll go in the fourth to sixth-round range.
The Texas DEF/ST is a top-10 unit regardless of format. Scoop them up with confidence.
Texas Fight: Final Forecast
Texas is Texas. Last season was the definition of an aberration. The Longhorns are stocked top to bottom with talent, and it won't be long before they're back near the top of the college football mountain.
But, Gilbert has been a disappointment, and there is very real doubt as to whether or not he possesses the "it" factor to lead a school like Texas (Chris Simms anyone?).
One way or another, the quarterback situation will shake itself out. Just don't look for the Longhorns to return to championship form quite yet. Do expect them to take a Big Tex sized stride in the right direction, though.
Projection: 9-3 (6-3)