Earlier this week, Jason Madson took a look at the Big 12's quarterbacks and today I'll try and tackle the running backs. While some of the best quarterbacks in the country will reside in the Big 12 this season, the situation at running back is much less certain. Despite being known predominately as a passing conference, the Big 12 did have five running backs selected in the past NFL draft which is one big reason there are a few question marks at the postion heading into 2011.
Who has the best group as a whole? There's clearly one team that stands above the rest but after that, the pictures gets a little blurry. Who do you think? Log in and leave us a comment.
1. Texas A&M
There is no team in the Big 12 that has a running back tandem like the one Texas A&M will feature this season. Matter of fact, no other team is even close. Senior Cyrus Gray and junior Christine Michael combined for 1764 yards last season, although it was Gray who led the way after Michael broke a bone in his leg and missed the final five games of the year. Gray to over the reins full time following Michael's injury and finished the season by rushing for over 100 yards in A&M's final seven games.
Mike Sherman runs about as balanced as offense as you'll find in the country and even with Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller at quarterback and wide receiver, the Gray-Michael combo should be the strength of the Aggies offense.
DeMarco Murray is gone. That much we know. Who is going to get the bulk of carries in his place remains to be seen. The good news for Sooner fans is that Bob Stoops appears to have more than a few good options from which to choose. Despite not being listed on this summer's depth chart, Roy Finch is still likely to be a guy that figures heavily into the OU offense. After that, Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller will be right behind Finch fighting for carries. Miller saw his first action in 2009 before sitting out last season after injuring himself at the tail end of the 2009 season.
And how can anyone forget true freshman, Brandon Williams, who made quite on impression on OU's coaches during spring practice. Many believe Williams could be the guy leading the way by season's end. Combine the four tailbacks with do-everything fullback, Trey Franks, and you have the makings for a very talented backfield in Norman.
3. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders have four guys returning that combined for 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago. By far the most experienced of that group is junior Eric Stephens who figures to get the bulk of the work early on. The other three, Ben McRoy, Aaron Crawford, and Harrison Jeffers all bring something to the table to Tech giving offensive coordinator, Neal Brown, a deep group to choose from.
Texas Tech also made a haul at the position in recruiting this past February. Ronnie Daniels is the guy most likely to see the field early. Daniels was on campus this spring and Tuberville continually said he is a guy that will be tough to keep off the field. He's also a guy that could see some time at receiver if the aforementioned quartet has the position nailed down.
4. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys might be sitting fourth here in these rankings, but ask most Oklahoma State fans and they'll tell you their running back combo doesn't take a backseat to anyone.
Joseph Randle returns for year number two after an impressive freshman season that saw him rush for 452 yards while averaging over five yards per carry. Behind Randle is talented sophomore Jeremy Smith who had seven rushing touchdowns in 2010.
If something happens to Randle or Smith, the Cowboys can turn to freshman Herschel Sims who was ranked by Rival's as the 73rd recruit in the country and figures to see the field one way or another in 2011.
Depth certainly won't be an issue for the Jayhawks at running back this season. Sophomore James Sims returns after a very impressive freshman season that saw him rush for 742 yards and nine touchdowns. Sims was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal 2010 season and the early indications out of the Jayhawks' camp is that Sims has looked great thus far.
Behind Sim is a potpourri of talented backs Gill has to choose from. Redshirt freshman Brandon Bourbon is expected to contribute. There are two big-time recruits Gill brought to Lawrence, as well. Darrian Miller graduated high school early and participated in spring drills and was impressive to say the least. Anthony Pierson is another freshman who will get a good, hard look this spring.
It's was a running back-by-committee approach last season in Columbia in large part because of Derrick Washington's season long suspension just prior to the season. Whether that will be the case again in 2011 remains to be seen, but all three of Missouri's top three rushers return this year.
De'Vion Moore is the senior who led the team with 543 yards last season. He'll be joined by junior Kendial Lawrence and sophomore, Henry Josey, both who made significant contributions in 2010. Marcus Murphy, another contributor in 2010, will redshirt in 2011 due to offseason shoulder surgery.
Redshirt freshman Greg White should also figure into the equation making offensive coordinator, David Yost's, decision about who to give the ball to all the more difficult.
Senior Cody Johnson returns. Senior Fozzy Whittaker is back. Junior D.J. Monroe is looking for more carries. All three, however, have taken a backseat to true freshman Malcolm Brown however, at least when it comes to preseason hype.
Many recruiting experts felt Brown was the top running back in the country coming out of high school last season. Comments coming out of fall practice are scant, but Brown figures to get every opportunity to show his skills in Brain Harsin's new offense.
Whittaker, Johnson, and Monroe should also get their chances, although it will be tough to get them all carries, especially if Brown lives up to the hype. Throw in another freshman who has impressed in camp, Joe Bergeron, and to say it's a crowded backfield in Austin is a bit of an understatement.
8. Iowa State
The Cyclones will be spend a good deal of fall camp not only deciding who will play quarterback, but also who will replace Alexander Robinson in the backfield.
Shontrelle Johnson figures to be the first out of the gate to get the opportunity. He rushed for 218 yards while giving Robinson a break in 2010. He's only 5'9" and 180 pounds so whether or not he can carry the entire load is a bit of an unknown.
The good news for ISU is that he most likely won't have to. Jeff Woody is a big back who figures to do the bulk of the short yardage work. Sophomore James White and redshirt freshman Duran Hollis are also heavily involved in the battle for carries.
The Cyclones also sport two very solid freshman in DeVondrick Nealy and Rob Standard who will get their opportunities if need be, depending on what they guys in front of them are able to get accomplished.
9. Kansas State
Every team losses great players to graduation but none may have been more important to their team than Daniel Thomas. All he did was lead the Big 12 in rushing the past two seasons and provided a bulk of Kansas State's offense.
Tennessee transfer and Kansas native, Bryce Brown, figures to be the most likely to succeed Thomas, but given the rumors he didn't exactly put in the work this summer, it remains to be seen ff Brown is indeed that guy. And if he is, then the question becomes can he stay healthy?
If Brown doesn't get his act together in fall camp, 5'7" John Hubert figures to be next in line. He had a nice spring pushing Brown and will be joined by Robert Rose, Angelo Pease and DeMarcus Robinson as KSU's other options. Robinson is a redshirt freshman from Brown's hometown of Wichita.
Like Kansas State, Baylor also lost a major contributor at running back to graduation as Jay Finley set the Bears single season rushing record with 1218 yards in 2010.
Junior Jarred Salubi, senior Terrance Ganaway, and sophomore Glasco Martin appear to be the three main contenders for the job during fall camp. Ganaway is the bruiser of the bunch of at 240 pounds while Salubi and Martin are the more elusive runners. My best guess is you'll see all three to start the season and they'll ride whoever has the hot hand. Following the Bears' spring season, coach Art Briles indicated none of the contenders had done enough to distinguish themselves as the starter.
There is no doubt fall camps are now in full swing around the Big 12, and college football for that matter. With so much going on, it can be tough to keep up with it all, especially if you're trying to track what Texas A&M is going to do next in the conference realignment fiasco.
Over the next few weeks as fall camp rolls on, I'll pick out a few links from around the conference each day to try and play a small part in helping you keep up with what's going on in the Big 12. Today's first installment of Camp Chatter stops in Stillwater, Lubbock, Lawrence, and Ames.
Replacing 133 tackles on your roster from one guy is never easy but that's what the Cowboys are faced with in trying to replace middle linebacker, Orie Lemon. The two most likely candidates to fill the position are sophomores Caleb Lavey and Tyler Johnson.
Johnson is the guy everyone likes to talk about since, like quarterback Brandon Weeden, he's a former minor league baseball player. Lavey still holds the slight edge for the starting spot, but Johnson has made big strides since spring practice. “We can replace Orie's production with those two guys,” co-defensive coordinator Glen Spencer said. “Caleb's got a slight edge on him because he's more savvy.”
Whoever wins the job will work itself out over the remainder of fall camp, but both guys are expected to see significant playing time this season.
How often do you hear people in Lubbock talking about the defense? Not often, but from the sound bites coming out of Lubbock early in camp, the defense has had the upper hand. Maybe new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow is making his presence felt sooner than expected? Or maybe the Red Raider offense just isn't very good right now.
"Offensively, we took a big step backward," Tommy Tuberville said. "We've got to find some leadership on offense. Guys are just kind of going through the motions. I know the first game is three weeks away, but we have no room to waste a practice like this on offense today. We just didn't look very sharp, didn't look like we were trying to get better."
Coach Tubs wasn't finished, either. "Right now, as we all know it, in these practices, in the heat of the day, most guys are just trying to survive, but there's got to be somebody out there to get them motivated. Coaches can't do it themselves; it's got to come from peer pressure. So, Seth (Doege) and Jacob Karam, it's got to come from the quarterbacks. We're just not very vocal, so hopefully that'll start to come."
Remember the name, Jace Amaro, also. He's Tech's true freshman tight end and it comes as no surprise he's already made a strong impression in camp.
This video comes from the plays of the plays of the day from the Jawhawks scrimmage on Tuesday. The first play was no doubt a great move by the nose tackle, John Williams. I can't tell if that is starting center, Jeremiah Hatch or not, but whoever it was didn't look very good to say the least. If it was Hatch, big things are still expected from the trimmed-down senior this fall.
DL John Williams shows his pass rush ability by shedding a lineman and tagging the QB for a sack.
QB Jordan Webb makes an outstanding throw to WR Dj Beshears to pick up a big gain.
Last year's running back, Alexander Robinson, totaled 3,309 yards and 27 touchdowns during his Cyclone career which are not exactly easy numbers to replace. While Shontrelle Johnson appears to be the guy who will get the first crack at replacing Johnson, he appears to have some serious company to fight off if he wants to get the bulk of the work.
Iowa State enters 2011 with four legitimate Big 12 running backs in its stable. Behind Shontrelle Johnson, Jeff Woody, James White and Duran Hollis are two more studs in waiting, freshmen DeVondrick Nealy and Rob Standard.
Standard ran for 7,799 and 98 touchdowns in his four years of high school.
Nealy ran for 2,743 yards and 39 touchdowns during his senior season alone.
“Those guys don’t seem like freshmen right now,” Pope said. “They went through that summer bridge program so the biggest thing is the learning process right now. They have a lot of talent, a lot of ability. I think in the future, the program looks really good.”
Getting solid running back play is going to be crucial for the Cyclones who are also still deciding who will start at quarterback, Jerome Tiller or junior college transfer, Steele Jantz.
It happens every season and all any coach can do is keep their fingers crossed it doesn't happen to their team, especially to their star players, i.e., a star player goes down with an injury.
Well, it didn't take long for Bob Stoops to stop worrying about being lucky in that regard with the announcement that Oklahoma's star linebacker, Travis Lewis, will miss the first eight weeks of the season with a broken bone in his toe.
"We're disappointed for Travis," Sooner coach Bob Stoops said in a statement. "He has worked very hard, and I know he'll want to get back as quickly as possible. "We'll adapt in the meantime. We've recruited very well and have some excellent athletes in those positions. I'm confident that those players will perform well."
Lewis has been a star during his three years in Norman and has become the team leader on defense. He will no doubt be missed as much for his leadership as his on the field production, which too say the least, has been stellar.
Losing a player of Lewis' caliber is no doubt a tough blow for the a team that many expect to play for a national championship. This is Oklahoma, however, and the cupboard isn't exactly bare in Norman.
There just so happens to be a weakside linebacker on the Sooners' roster that goes by the name of Corey Nelson that Stoops and company feel pretty good about. He had such a solid spring camp, OU was going to find a way to get him on the field one way or another this season regardless of who was in front of him on the depth chart. Now, that issue has solved itself for the time being although losing Lewis in the process was hardly the solution Oklahoma was looking for.
Allen Kenney does a nice job at Crystal Ball Run of breaking down what Lewis' injury means for the Sooners and how they'll go about replacing him.
With Lewis out, Nelson rotates back to the weakside position, a spot where he contributed last year as a true freshman backing up Lewis. (Tony) Jefferson will move from the deep safety spot back to Royback, where he played well enough to earn Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors in 2010. (Javon) Harris slides back in at deep safety, a spot where he acquitted himself well last season on the occasions when Jonathan Nelson was hurt.
(The "moving back" Allen refers to is players moving back to their original positions after being moved to make room for Nelson).
Lewis is expected to miss roughly eight weeks which would put him back on the field just before Oklahoma's annual battle with Texas. An interesting note made by OU's trainer that shouldn't be overlooked in my mind is that no surgery will be required for Lewis, rather just immobilization and rest. That's good news for the Sooners.
Look, I'm no doctor, but looking at the calendar, Oklahoma is scheduled play one of their toughest games of the season approximately six weeks from now, taking on preseason number five ranked Florida State in Tallahassee. Could Lewis be back in time for that game? I have no idea, but it's funny how sometimes these injuries have a way of healing faster than originally believed. The bye week the second week of the season could all of a sudden be a blessing in disguise.
Either way, Lewis should have no trouble returning for the bulk of the schedule. There's never a good time for an injury like this to happen, but it's much better now with four weeks yet to go until kickoff than it would be to go down in the first quarter of the Tulsa game. Not to mention, it gives Oklahoma plenty of time to figure how exactly they'll replace their team leader.
Grab your popcorn, beverage of choice, and don't forget your glasses.
If you are one of the people on the cutting edge of technology, then you'll be happy to know you'll have a few more chances to catch some college football action in 3D this season.
Yesterday, ESPN 3D released their slate of games that will be shown to the country in the 3D this season with four more games yet to be announced.
For Big 12 fans, you'll have a chance to catch two games in 3D (assuming you have the technology, of course), both happening on the same weekend. The first will be the Thursday night (September 8th) matchup between Oklahoma State and Arizona. That will be followed up on Saturday with the BYU - Texas game also being made available in 3D.
I'm not privy to how these games are selected, but outside of the BCS National Championship, there doesn't appear to be many games that are going to have a huge national appeal.
For the readers of this site, the Big 12 games obviously have a lot of interest, but after that you are looking at LSU - Mississippi State, USC - Cal and North Carolina - Virginia Tech. Hey, I'm not complaining, but for whatever reason it looks like they have decided to stay away from the top tier of games coming to you each weekend.
I'll also admit, outside of a few highlight clips, I've yet to see much football in 3D. I do, however, have a 3D capable phone and after staring at that for more than a few seconds, I go cross-eyed and couldn't imagine watching an entire football game on it. Obviously though, watching on a 55-inch flat screen versus my phone is probably just a slightly better experience, at least it had better be or you would find my 3D TV (if I had one to begin with) in the "previously purchased" section of your local electronics store.
It's not every day when a national baseball reporter makes news in Nebraska. Of course, that can change when one of your incoming recruits was the fifth player selected in the latest major league baseball draft.
Much has been made over the past several months about Bubba Starling and the August 15th deadline he faces to decide whether he'll hit the trails in Kansas City's minor league system or continue to learn the quarterback position for the Huskers.
Eyebrows were first raised on Saturday when Nebraska took the practice fields for the first time this season and there was no Starling. Bo Pelini talked about it and said he wasn't surprised, however, stating that was the plan all along.
And then Peter Gammons of all people tweeted yesterday, "Bo Pellini going off on and threatening Bubba Starling is great news for the Royals." Immediately thoughts started racing through Husker fans mind wondering exactly what went down. After all, Gammons doesn't exactly have a reputation of throwing random thoughts against the wall to see what sticks.
That tweet caused Pelini to issue the following statement:
“As I discussed Saturday, Bubba Starling, his family and I are all on the same page, and have been throughout this entire process. Bubba has a lot at risk. We are all aware of that, and everyone involved is comfortable with how the situation is being handled," Pelini said in the statement.
“I have a complete understanding of how this situation works, and from the outset we have supported Bubba and his family as they make a very difficult decision. All of our interactions as a staff with Bubba and his family have been nothing but supportive, and have been very respectful from both sides. Any information contrary to that is not accurate. It is disappointing that media would comment on the situation without talking to any of the primary parties involved.”
So what do you make of this? Nothing, that's what I make of it. It's highly unlikely Pelini chased Starling around the Osborne complex wielding his five iron. It's also not likely Pelini threatened Starling with some sort of ultimatum regarding playing time, scholarship status, etc. This August 15th deadline is something both sides have known about long before Starling even signed his letter of intent. It's nothing new and until there's something more to go on, it's a lot to do with nothing.
Who knows what Gammons was referring to who has been silent, at least publicly, since throwing the tweet into cyberspace. The good news is August 15th is only six days away. Then Nebraska can add another quarterback to the stable currently pushing Taylor Martinez, or Husker fans can start following the Royals minor league games with much more interest.
In the meantime, practice at Nebraska will go on as scheduled Tuesday in Lincoln.
They are coming at a rapid fire pace now that all but one team in the Big 12 has started fall camp, but another surefire sign the season is almost upon us is the release of the week one college football lines. That of course means you can now place wagers on your favorite teams for the opening weekend of games, assuming you are in Las Vegas, obviously.
For the Big 12, there are six games listed.. For the other four teams that will be in action, there will be no lines since those teams are playing FCS schools, formerly known as Division I-AA.
|Miami (OH)||Missouri||Mizz -16.5|
|UL Lafayette||Oklahoma St.||OSU - 36.5|
|SMU||Texas A&M||TAMU -15.5|
By far the most interesting game in the conference opening weekend is the Horned Frogs of TCU visiting Baylor. They'll play in Waco this time around after meeting in Ft. Worth last season. Speaking of that game, things did not go well for Baylor, at all, as TCU drilled the Bears 45-10, on their way to an undefeated season.
Things could be drastically different this year, however. Baylor has another year of experience under their belt, Robert Griffin is back under center again, and Phil Bennett is now leading the Bears' defense. Not to mention, TCU returns only eight starters from last year's Rose Bowl Champion team.
After the Bears get the season rolling on Friday night, most of the games in the Big 12 should be of the yawning variety, at least when it comes to who wins and who losses. The smallest point spread after Baylor's game is Texas A&M who is a 15.5 favorite over SMU. There's no doubt TAMU should knock off the Mustangs, but SMU will provide a tough opening test for the Aggies.
Around the nation, two games will draw most of the attention. LSU will play Oregon at Cowboys' Stadium in Arlington in a game that should have every college football fans' blood pumping on opening weekend.
|Oregon||LSU||LSU +2 (in Dallas)|
|Boise State||Georgia||Georgia +3 (in Atlanta)|
Boise State will also take on Georgia in Atlanta at the Georgia dome as they continue to try and build their BCS resume by playing heavy hitters early in the year. Just as was the case last year against Virginia Tech, whether or not they are in the national title picture once again will largely ride on whether or not they can knock off the Bulldogs in their home state.
So there you have it. I'd say it's time for the pigskin to start flying.
It's definitely that time of the year. There were six Big 12 schools that started practice on Thursday with the rest to come over the next few days.
Another sign the season is fast approaching was the release of the USA Today's Preseason Coaches' poll on Thursday morning. Before we get to the poll, just a few quick thoughts:
There are those who believe the polls shouldn't be released until the season is a month old and I'm starting to fall more into the camp the more thought I've put into it.
Who's to say sight unseen that #23 Florida isn't better than #12 South Carolina? It's anybody's guess at this point.
Granted, most of the time these things work themselves out and the cream rises to the top in the end. The teams that start higher often times get the benefit of the doubt, however, should there be ties (especially at the top) for no other reason than they started the season ranked higher. Hogwash.
Let the season go a couple weeks, see who looks strong, and then rank them.
BUT, that wouldn't be any fun, after all, we all love rankings. What else would we talk about? Lord knows it wouldn't be the stock market.
So without further ado, five teams from the Big 12 found themselves in the first poll of the season. That was a tie for the second most with the Big Ten behind the SEC who had eight teams in the initial rankings.
8. Oklahoma State
9. Texas A&M
As far as the Big 12 teams go, I think everybody is about right.
*It's a coin flip right now between Oklahoma State and Texas A&M heading into the season. We'll know before September is finished where each stands, however, with the Cowboys having to travel to College Station on the 24th.
*It's no shocker that OU is starting out number one. They'll get tested in a big way in Tallahassee on the 17th of September before heading into Big 12 play (FSU starts at number five). Alabama, Oregon, and LSU were the other schools to get first place votes. All are worthy of the recognition but if OU knocks of Florida State, I have to imagine that would give them a solid stranglehold on the top spot, unless they lose somewhere along the line, of course.
*There are those out there that don't think Texas should be ranked in the Top 25. Oklahoman columnist, Berry Tramel, even called it silly and absurd in the same paragraph. I don't have a problem with it. Here's why:
This isn't last year for starters. Texas has the talent and should be better this year. In my Texas preview, I predicted an 8-4 finish in the regular season. In last year's final coaches poll, every team ranked 21 and below had at least four losses except Utah. Florida State even finished at number 16 with a 9-4 record. So if 8-4 is where Texas finishes (plus a bowl game), then yeah, they'll probably flounder around the bottom of the top 25 most of the year. And look at the teams in the "others receiving votes" column. There aren't many I'd take over the Horns straight up (maybe West Virginia, I'm surprised they weren't ranked).
*As for our old friends, Nebraska, they found their way into the poll at number 11. Wisconsin was the top ranked team in the Big Ten coming in at number 10. The Huskers won't have to deal with Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas, or OU in the Big 12 title game this time around. They'll trade in those ranked teams for Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State. Tough to say which is tougher, but I'd lean towards the Big 12 side of things being more difficult among the top teams in both conferences.
Overall, I thought it was a solid first effort by the coaches, but then again, I'm just like everyone else and have no idea how it all will play out (That's a lie, I really do know).
Nobody knows for sure exactly who is going to be carrying the Longhorn Network when it launches August 26th, but it's probably safe to assume somebody's going to be watching because Texas and ESPN continue to roll out the programming for the new channel.
The newest additions to the programming lineup (with descriptions from the press release) are:
Longhorn Legends: "A roundtable discussion featuring coach Mack Brown and the three biggest stars of his Texas tenure: Ricky Williams, Vince Young and Colt McCoy." - I'm guessing this must already be taped seeing how these guys tend to be fairly busy with their day jobs during the season.
The Season, 2005: "A look back at the magical season that began with lofty expectations and culminated in a Rose Bowl triumph over USC and the 4th national championship in UT history." - After their victory over Ohio State in week two, it was smooth sailing to the title. I hope they interview Gary Barnett about the 70-3 beating they gave Colorado in the Big 12 title game.
Texas' Greatest Games: "A countdown of the 10 best games in Longhorns football history, as selected by a blue ribbon panel of writers, former coaches & athletes." - That is sure to generate some discussion amongst Texas fans.
Texas' Greatest Athletes: "A countdown of the greatest athletes across all sports in UT history as selected by a blue ribbon panel of writers, former coaches & athletes." - It couldn't have been easy to put that list together.
Traditions: "A look at the history of some of the unique traditions of the University of Texas, including Bevo, Big Bertha, Smokey the Cannon, the World's Largest Texas Flag and the Hook 'em Horns hand sign." - I like this one plus it has the best name, hands down.
Putting all the controversy the network has generated over the past couple weeks aside for a minute, if you're a Texas fan, you've got to be loving this. Non-stop programming at all hours of the day about your school. Even if you're not into the Olympic sports, it still appears as if you'll be able to get your fill of other Texas centric sports coverage.
I'm still curious about the same thing I was day one, however. How does this appeal to anyone that isn't a Texas fan? And I'm coming from the point of view of distributing the content. Why would a cable operator in Missouri offer this to their customers? They'll probably have Texas and Oklahoma covered, but after that, you have to wonder if or how they'll be able to reach their alumni who live around the country. And even then, at what cost will they be able to do it?
And finally to finish this off, by my count, they've announced 17 hours of programming per week not counting live events (such as the Texas volleyball game on August 26th). That leaves 151 hours of programming each week left to fill. It'll be interesting to see where it all comes from. They may have to run the Friday Night Light reruns a few more times than they planned.
Texas Longhorns 2011 Preview
2010 Record: 5-7 (2-6 in Big 12)
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Bowl Game in 2010: None
Two Key Returning Players on Offense:
Fozzy Whittaker, senior running back; 351 yards rushing in 2010
Mike Davis, sophomore wide receiver; set Texas freshman record with 47 receptions.
Two Key Returning Players on Defense:
Keenan Robinson, senior linebacker; led team with 113 tackles in 2010
Kheeston Randle, senior defensive tackle; 22 career starts, led Texas with 12 TFL last season.
Key Losses from 2010:
Aaron Williams, cornerback; 13 pass break up last season.
Sam Acho, defensive end/tackle; finished career with 23.5 sacks.
Curtis Brown, cornerback. Strong cover corner that started 28 games for the Longhorns.
One of the most intriguing story lines going into the 2011 season that doesn't have anything to do with "The Big 12 has 10 teams" has to be what to make of the Texas Longhorns. Was last year's 5-7 record a one year blip on the radar screen or was it a sign of bigger problems on the campus at Forty Acres?
Based on the fact that Mack Brown replaced five coaches on his staff, not even counting the new strength and conditioning coach, it was probably a clear indicator the problems ran deeper than just one season where the ball didn't bounce their way.
Now, can the revamped staff which includes two new coordinators take the talent on the Longhorns' roster and mold it into something that looks like a football team? The short answer is yes, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. Here's a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses facing the Horns as they get set to take on the new Big 12.
Breaking it Down: The Offense
It's out with the old and in with the new in Austin this season. Gone is offensive coordinator, Greg Davis, and in is Bryan Harsin who comes to Austin via Boise State where he had been the offensive coordinator the past five seasons. What the means for the Texas offense remains to be seen, but if it looks anything like the Broncos have in the past, last year's dreadful performance will be a distant memory. Of course a new, state-of-the-art offense like the one Harsin is installing in Austin only works if the pieces are in place to make it go.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out Texas struggled on offense last year and their less than stellar quarterback play was a big reason why. As a team, Texas threw more interceptions (17), completed the least percentage of their passes (58.9%) and threw fewer touchdowns (10) than anyone in the Big 12. That's not an easy accomplishment and one Texas hopes doesn't repeat itself this season.
Not to defend the ineptitude Texas displayed at times last year, but it was Garrett's first season as a starter and the Texas coaching staff didn't do him any favors by trying to go away from the spread they had used so successfully in the past. In theory, more of a power running game made sense, but it's tough to develop that kind of mentality over the course of the summer, especially behind an offensive line that proved to be marginal at best. Somewhere in the transition, the Longhorns lost their identity and were rudderless a good portion of the season.
Heading into 2011, the quarterback position remains a huge question mark hanging over the offense. Will Gilbert start again with the hopes that a year of experience and a new offense will raise his game? Or will it be one of the other three contenders; Case McCoy, Connor Wood, or true freshman David Ash?
That will prove to be one of the biggest story lines in the Big 12 as fall camp opens this weekend. Whoever it is, the faster the Texas coaching staff trims down the contenders, the better for the Longhorns. It's nearly impossible to get equal reps for four different guys with the first team. The longer the battle goes on, the fewer reps the eventual starter will get and that is not a good thing when you are installing a new offense.
It's normally a positive when your top two rushers (top three counting Gilbert) are returning. While that may indeed turn out to be the case in Austin, as well, it's not seniors Cody Johnson or Fozzy Whittaker people are talking about, however. That distinction goes to true freshman, Malcolm Brown, who many believe is the big time back that the Longhorns have been missing the last several seasons.
In watching Brown's high school tape, it's hard to disagree with the high praise that has been heaped upon him. As we've all seen before though, division one football is a far cry from the high school ranks and whether or not Brown can live up to the lofty expectations remains to be seen. Many people believe that won't be an issue, however. Phil Steele already pegged the true freshman on his preseason first-team all-conference squad despite having never even gone through a practice on the Texas campus.
The good news for Texas is that if they discover Brown isn't quite ready for prime time, depth shouldn't be a huge issue even if the production hasn't been what many have hoped from the returning players.
Johnson is the big body back that will pound at you and get the tough yards. Whittaker and D.J. Monroe are the smaller, quicker backs that will are more likely to run around you than through you. Many Texas fans would love to see get Monroe (5'9", 175) get the ball much more than the 23 carries he had a season ago, a number that left many Texas fans scratching their head why he wasn't on the field more.
Whoever it is that leads the way out of the Texas backfield should be helped by Harsin's new schemes. When you think about Boise State's offense, many picture Kellen Moore and the Broncos passing attack. But don't think for a second Harsin doesn't like to run the ball. Last year Boise State ran the ball more than they threw it (486 rushes, 424 passes). Whether it's Brown or one of the other backs, they are going to get their chances and will be a huge key in how much Texas' offense improves this season.
Like several positions on Texas' offensive roster, the wide receiver position appears to have an abundance of talent, although there are big question marks yet to be answered.
The good news is that Texas returns sophomore Mike Davis. He was second on the team with 47 catches as a true freshman and could be in for a huge 2011 in Harsin's offense assuming Texas finds somebody capable of getting him the ball. He flashed some of that ability last year and from the sounds of what limited information Texas released during the spring, he didn't disappoint there, either.
After that, the picture gets a little blurry (and crowded). What's known is that Marquise Goodwin will sit out the 2011 season to concentrate on track and field and the World Championships which will open the door for someone.
Senior Malcolm Williams missed several weeks of spring practice to deal with some personal issues, although he should be ready for the fall, and could/should be the top guy behind Davis (Update 8/4: Texas announced Williams would not play this season. He will stay in school and finish his degree).
The likely candidates after Davis and Williams are DeSean Hales, 6'3" redshirt freshman John Harris, 6'3" Darius White, and 6'4" Patrick McNamara who raised some eyebrows with an impressive spring game (as did Hales). Add true freshman Jaxon Shipley and Miles Onyegblue into the equation and the Longhorns won't be short on bodies from which to choose.
Stacey Searls is the new offensive line coach and he's charged with building a group that hasn't lived up to its standard the last several seasons.
The good news is, along with Searls coming over from Georgia, is that David Snow and Mason Walters return at the center and guard positions. Both started all 12 games a season ago and should provide a solid base on the interior to build the offense around.
The starting spots at two other positions up front will likely fall to sophomores Paden Kelley at right tackle and Tray Hopkins at left guard, both who saw extensive time as true freshman last season. With another year of conditioning under their belt combined with the new offensive coaching staff, the Longhorns should be solid at both spots.
Texas will also get senior Trey Allen back into the mix at one of the positions on the left side of the line after missing all of last season with an ankle injury.
You can talk about new coordinators and schemes all you want, but if this group isn't a whole lot better than it was last year, it's going to be another long season in Austin. The pieces look to be in place and with Searls hopefully instilling a more physical style of play than Texas has shown the past several season, there is solid reason for optimism for a group that has absorbed its share of criticism lately.
Breaking it Down: The Defense
Defense was rarely the issue during Will Muschamp's three seasons as the defensive coordinator in Austin. While the unit had a few struggles last year, the group as a whole still lead the Big 12 in total defense giving up 300.2 yards per game.
With Muschamp's departure to be the head man in Gainesville, Manny Diaz is taking over the reins for a group that is stocked with talent. He spent last season at Mississippi State where he led a Bulldog defense that gave up just 19.9 points per game. Despite his success during his one season at MSU, that was his only season as a coordinator at the BCS level, although it would probably be wrong to hold that against the guy who is widely thought to be one of the brightest defensive assistants around, hence the reason he is now in Austin.
One thing is for sure, he'll have plenty of pieces to work this fall.
The guys upfront will be centered around one player and that is defensive tackle, Kheeston Randall. He's started 22 games in his career and begins the year on every preseason watch list he's eligible for. He led the team with 13 tackles behind the line last season and should be an anchor Diaz can build around in 2011.
On the ends, offensive tackles will have all sorts of problems dealing with sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat and junior Alex Okafor. Jeffcoat was limited by an ankle injury last season but still saw action in eight games finishing with 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, 2.5 of those being sacks.
Okafor started eight games at tackle last year and is more than capable of playing both spots. How and where exactly he'll be used by Diaz remains to be seen but one thing is certain, he'll be on the field one way or another.
The fourth spot on the line is a bit of an unknown heading into fall camp although Reggie Wilson and Ashton Dorsey should figure into the rotation in some form, Wilson at defensive end and Dorsey at the other tackle spot next to Randall.
Oklahoma's linebacking crew is nothing to sneeze at but the three guys Texas will run out there this season figure to be among the best in the country.
The group is lead by senior Keenan Robinson who has started 26 games in his career. He led the team in tackles last year with 113, had a couple sacks, broke up a couple passes, made a few interceptions - you get the point. He can play.
He'll be joined by senior Emmanuel Acho, most likely in the middle. Acho was second on the team in tackles behind Robinson after starting seven games at middle linebacker and four more on the strong side.
Jordan Hicks had a solid true freshman season in 2010 finishing with 23 tackles and will be in the mix at the other linebacker position. He missed spring practice entirely because of a foot injury but should be good to go this fall.
After the that the depth at the position is young, but nonetheless, very talented. Tevin Jackson is finally enrolled in school after originally being part of the 2009 class and is considered a true freshman this year. He's joined by Chet Moss and Steve Edmond who are two more freshmen Texas will take a look at when fall practice gets underway.
Blake Gideon and Kenny Vaccaro are two guys who will be the staples for the defense at the safety position. The group will lean on their experience and leadership after Texas lost three pretty good cover corners in Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown, and Curtis Brown, all three who were drafted in April's NFL draft.
Vaccaro is a guy many Texas fans have fallen in love with because of his aggressive style of play. He played in every game last year and finished with eight pass break ups and 56 tackles.
Gideon is a mainstay and enters his ninth year with the Longhorns. That's a joke, but it seems like it probably due to the fact he's started all 39 games during his career in Austin.
As for the cornerback position, give me a shout if you know what they're going to do because as far as I know, it's a bit of a mystery.
One guy that should figure into the mix is true freshman, Quandre Diggs. He was on campus for spring ball and made a big enough impression on the coaching staff that it would be surprising if he doesn't occupy one of the three spots (including the nickel).
The other two most likely candidates appear to be sophomores Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom. Both players saw action in 2011 during their true freshman seasons and should be the first to get looks this fall.
The cornerback position is the biggest weakness of this defense and something the pass happy offense in the Big 12 will no doubt try and exploit. The group will be helped by a big pass rush and the experience at safety but figures to have a few growing pains especially early in the season.
The Longhorns went a remarkable (or unremarkable, should I say) 0-4 in Austin last year in the Big 12 and were 2-5 overall at home. This season they only have six games at home, the biggest (toughest) will be the visit from Oklahoma State.
|10/8/2011||Oklahoma (in Dallas)|
After last year's 5-7 finish nothing is a given, but looking at the other five games on the home slate, it's not hard to envision Texas significantly improving on that record this season. You have to figure they'll be heavy favorites against Rice and Kansas, and also favored over BYU, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Again, that didn't mean a hill of beans last year, but if you're a Longhorn fan, there's no reason not to be optimistic about your home schedule.
Now the road schedule, that's a different story. The annual Red River Rivalry in Dallas might not be pretty, and visits to UCLA, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Baylor all figure to be tough. And you can't disrespect the Cyclones in Ames after they took care of business in Austin for the first time ever last season. Looking at their road schedule is all the more reason why it'll be vital for Texas to take care of business at DKR this fall. If they falter again at home for whatever reason, it'll likely be another holiday season watching bowl games from the friendly confines of their own couch.
All told, Texas has the talent to compete with anyone. If they are able to get to the eight, nine, or ten win plateau this year, they will have earned it because the schedule won't be doing them any favors.
The Final Prediction for 2011: 8-4
Like I mentioned above, Texas has the athletes to beat anyone they play. There's obviously a renewed sense of urgency after last season's disaster, plus a new, hungry coaching staff that has a lot to prove. Combine those variables with the fact Texas likely won't finish last in the Big 12 in turnover margin again (-12), and you have the recipe for what should be a much improved season, one that will be a solid building block for 2012.
There are no doubt uncertainties at quarterback, the offensive line has to prove itself, and the new corners have to show they can cover some of the top notch receivers they'll be facing (plus learning Diaz's system) but come December, look for the Longhorns to be back on track and starting another bowl streak.
What to call it? The Clash at Camp Randall or is it the Legend vs. the Leader? Whatever it is, its going to take Husker fans a little while to get used to all these names the Big Ten plants on its game, even if it is only temporary for this one. We already have the, um, Heroes Game, also known in other parts of the country as Nebraska vs. Iowa.
You can't go wrong with a good, solid poster, but this seems, well, I don't know. I'll let you be the judge. You've got Taylor Martinez squarely planted over "The Legend" while Wisconsin wide receiver, Nick Toon, is "The Leader." I thought it was Martinez who was becoming the leader this summer? It's all a little confusing.
Like the poster or not, it sounds like the fans in Madtown are already getting jacked up. Both schools are apparently going to have a location for fans to congregate that couldn't get tickets. Nebraska will be at a place called "Union South" across the way from Camp Randall. The Badger fans will be on the practice field under the tents to take in the festivities. It can't be all the often that fans from an opposing school need a place to hang out for regular season game, can it?
Assuming neither teams stumbles in the non-conference (Nebraska toughest game is against Washington. Wisconsin plays Oregon State) you can probably bank on ESPN's GameDay crew being on hand to add to the craziness. It's possible both teams would be ranked insided the top 10 if they're both sitting at 4-0.
And it's almost scary to think about the number of beverages that'll be downed on State Street Saturday afternoon. Wow. But anyway, first things first, and the would be UT Chattanooga for the Huskers, although it's not hard to get excited thinking about what the atmosphere will be like in Madison when 10/1 finally rolls around.