By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Longhorns went into last season with one of the top quarterbacks (Colt McCoy) in the country, ready to lead them to not only the Big 12 title but also the BCS National Championship Game. Texas took on four
non-conference teams during the campaign, outscoring them 199-40. Coach Mack
Brown's squad faced much tougher opposition in the Big 12, but still managed
to go 8-0 in conference and win the Big 12 crown with a hard-fought 13-12
victory over Nebraska in the title tilt.
That set the stage for Texas to battle top-ranked Alabama for the national
championship, and while the 'Horns gave it everything they had, an early
injury to McCoy coupled with the Crimson Tide's prowess in all facets of the
game were simply too much to overcome as 'Bama won 37-21.
During what was a whirlwind off-season, there was some speculation that Texas
would leave the Big 12, but unlike conference cohorts Colorado and Nebraska,
that did not happen and coach Brown is excited about what the league will look
like moving forward.
"We're really excited at Texas that the Big 12 stayed together and that we'll
keep a lot of the traditional rivalries, the Texas-Texas A&M game, the Red
River Rivalry, those type games will still be played."
He continued, "We are disappointed to see that Colorado and Nebraska will not
be part of it in the future because they both are tremendous universities and
have great programs. That's the only disappointing thing, I think, for us is
that we've had tremendous rivalries and games with both schools through the
OFFENSE: With McCoy now in the NFL, the QB job belongs to sophomore Garrett
Gilbert. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Gilbert has the size, arm strength,
intelligence and winning attitude to be the next great UT quarterback. He was
thrust into action in the BCS title game earlier this year when McCoy went
down in the first quarter, and despite the Longhorns not winning, he has the
confidence of his teammates and coaches to lead them back there.
Brown spoke candidly about Gilbert at the Big 12 media event this summer.
"When Colt got hurt and we turned to Garrett, and I said, Garrett, get your
helmet, his eyes were as big as silver dollars. He looked at me like you got
to be kidding. And he couldn't find his helmet, and it's got No. 7 on it. So
he wasn't planning on playing."
He went on to say, "After the game, I walked up and said, I'm sorry if we put
you in a real tough spot. His answer was the proper answer. He said, Coach,
that's not a problem. The problem was I turned the ball over, or we would have
won the national championship."
Helping Gilbert get it done this year will be RB Tre' Newton (552 yards, six
TDs) and WRs James Kirkendoll (48 receptions, 461 yards, six TDs) and Malcolm
Williams (550 yards, two TDs), all of whom will have to perform at or above
expectations to help take some of the pressure off their new gunslinger.
Having four seniors along the offensive line should also help, although only
OT Kyle Hix and OG Michael Huey have significant starting experience.
DEFENSE: The Longhorns dominated the defensive side of the ball in 2009,
yielding a mere 16.7 ppg. Their effort against the run was particularly
impressive as foes were permitted just 72.4 ypg, ranking coach Brown's team
first in the nation in that category. The loss of some key players (Lamarr
Houston, Sergio Kindle, Roddrick Muckelroy, Earl Thomas) means duplicating
that effort will be difficult, but c'mon...this is Texas. There is no shortage
of talented guys ready to step in and make plays.
The return of last year's sack leader, DE Sam Acho (10), gives Texas an anchor
along the defensive line, and with Keenan Robinson back at LB and FS Blake
Gideon (six INTs in '09) also back for another go around, expectations are
high that the Longhorns will have another formidable defensive unit. Texas
finished atop the Big 12 and ranked 15th nationally in turnover margin (+9)
last season, and you can fully expect that the 'Horns will once again be an
opportunistic bunch on the defensive side of the ball.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Longhorns will go into battle this season with a new
placekicker, he being junior Justin Tucker. The punting job belongs to senior
John Gold, who has enjoyed a consistent career to this point, but who in all
actuality wasn't needed in most games as the Texas offense went about its
business in workmanlike fashion. With as much speed as the skill position
players have, there will be no shortage of guys capable of making things
happen in the return game.
OUTLOOK: There is little chance the Longhorns will lose either of their first
two games of the 2010 ledger, as both Rice and Wyoming figure to offer little
in the way of resistance. The conference opener in week three at Texas Tech
could prove challenging, although this is expected to be a down year for the
Red Raiders who are implementing a completely new system under current head
coach Tommy Tuberville. Up next is a clash with UCLA, followed by the annual
rivalry game against Oklahoma. Playing at Nebraska in its final year in the
Big 12 will be tough, but the rest of the schedule, save for a game here or
there, should afford the 'Horns some comfortable wins.
Texas was the top scoring team in the Big 12 last season (39.3 ppg), but a
drop in production is likely as the team breaks in a new QB and makes some
changes in its offensive approach. Expect more of a power rushing attack, with
Gilbert asked more to manage the game rather than be the sole person
responsible for winning it.