Welcome back, Texas fans, to one of the most important seasons in the Mack Brown era. This year is make or break for the Longhorns. There is an abundance of talent, no shortage of experience and the Big 12 is at its most vulnerable in years. For convenience’s sake, here are seven storylines to follow for the 2013 season as Texas pushes to regain its contender form.
1. David Ash, the leader Ash enters his third year as the starter for the Longhorns. He’s no longer a wide-eyed freshman, nor is he a sophomore plagued by doubt about holding his starting spot. No, he’s ready to claw for the reins and become the Longhorns’ unquestioned leader. The way he embraces that role will be imperative for offensive success.
2. Up-tempo, more successful? This offseason, Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite altered Texas’ offensive formula by transforming the game plan from a power-rushing attack to an up-tempo, multiple clip firing line. This means fewer rushes out of plodding formations and more of the quick-strike offense that has defined college football the past five seasons. This is yet another philosophical switch by Brown to adjust to the times. Texas has the personnel to run the attack, but the real test will be in the execution.
3. Can they tackle? Last year, missed tackles spread like an epidemic for the Longhorns. The team missed 112 tackles and the majority of the whiffs appeared to come in high-profile situations. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is back from the hip injury that sidelined him for all but three games last season and the team has vowed to tackle better. But until the entire unit consistently wraps up, defense will still be a question mark.
4. Will the safety position hold up? Kenny Vaccaro, a first round NFL pick in the 2013 draft, headed the Longhorn secondary last season, yet the team still had trouble at safety. Now it will be up to Adrian Phillips, who was benched for part of last season, and a combination of Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner and Adrian Colbert to make plays in the secondary. Texas is set at corner, but the safety play must improve.
5. Will experience translate to wins? For the past two seasons, Texas has been one of the youngest squads in the FBS. That’s no longer the case in 2013, as Texas returns 19 of 22 starters. Brown believes that experience will translate into wins.
“They understand that nine’s not what we want to win at Texas, and they’re very excited to get started,” Brown said. “We’ll have more experience. We’ll have more depth. The leadership is much better than it’s been over the past couple of years because the guys are older.”
6. The Red River Rivalry One game defines the Longhorns fortunes more than any other: Texas vs. Oklahoma, the Red River Rivalry. The winner of this game has snagged at least a share of the Big 12 Championship in eight of the past nine years. The only issue is that Texas hasn’t won the matchup since 2009. Actually, they’ve been destroyed the past three years by a combined score of 146-58. If the Longhorns mean to return to prominence, they must conquer the Sooners.
7. Can Texas be Texas again? Texas has one of the country’s most historic and prestigious programs, but for the past three years, it hasn’t lived up to that reputation. Seasons of five, eight and nine wins have stained the perception of the school in the eyes of the nation in regards to elite college football, and only a 10-plus win season will help restore that. The Longhorns have the talent and experience to put together a BCS run, but in a conference defined by parity, they must stand out to get there. Is Texas ready for that? The best answer right now is maybe. It’s time for Texas to bring its talent to the field and prove that it is still Texas.