It may only be July, but it’s never too early to talk college football. Get your daily fix with our countdown of the preseason Top 25, the consensus picks of the American-Statesman sports staff:
No. 15 TEXAS
The Longhorns will contend if … the offensive line protects David Ash, and if the junior quarterback lives up to his potential. Also, the defense must rebound dramatically from last year’s pratfall.
Coach: Mack Brown (16th year, 150-43)
2012 record: 9-4 overall, 5-4 Big 12
2012 bowl: Beat Oregon State 31-27 in the Alamo Bowl.
Returning starters: 10 offense, 9 defense
Circle Oct. 12 on the calendar: You might as well circle it, because every other Texas fan has. It’s the date of the 108th renewal of the Red River Rivalry with Oklahoma, which OU has owned lately. It’s not just that the Sooners have won the past three games, it’s that they have rolled in the past two by scores of 63-21 and 55-17. Combine those with losses of 63-14 and 65-13 earlier in Mack Brown’s tenure, and it’s easy to understand why Brown and the Horns will be on an even hotter seat than usual when they face their rivals in Dallas.
Towing the line: It’s been brought up more than the Longhorns care to acknowledge that the last time they had an offensive lineman deemed draft-worthy by the NFL was in 2008, when Tony Hills was picked by Pittsburgh in the fourth round. Texas has a lot of experience up front, with three senior starters in Mason Walters, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins and returning junior starters Dominic Espinosa and Josh Cochran. Transfer Desmond Harrison also could be a star. There’s enough depth that Brown thinks a solid two-deep is possible.
Ash’s experience: Lack of experience can’t be used as an excuse any longer for Ash, because he has more of it than any other projected starting quarterback in the Big 12. In fact, Ash’s 18 career starts are almost half the combined number of starts for all the other possible starters in the league (40, 17 of them by TCU’s Casey Pachall). “He is becoming a confident leader,” Mack Brown said in June. “He’s definitely in a different place than he was.”
Being defensive: Coordinator Manny Diaz’s unit simply must improve after allowing a school-record 413.1 yards per game last season, and that might appear iffy since its two best players, safety Kenny Vaccaro and end Alex Okafor, are in the NFL. But Texas welcomes back 18 players who combined for 112 starts last year, so inexperience shouldn’t be a detriment. One huge key is keeping linebacker Jordan Hicks and end Jackson Jeffcoat healthy, which has been easier said than done.
Getting their kicks: Placekicking was an unwelcome adventure last year, when a groin injury suffered by Penn State transfer Anthony Fera left the job primarily to true freshman Nick Jordan. Jordan grew more reliable as the season went on. Nick Rose, whose stronger leg put him on kickoff duty, also might get a look. Fera will get a shot at punting duties this fall, along with Will Russ, after the departure of first-team All-Big 12 punter Alex King.
Did you know?:
- Eight different Longhorns had offensive plays of 40 yards or longer last season, topped by Daje Johnson’s 84-yard run against Baylor.
- Texas tied for third nationally last year with seven blocked kicks, and its three blocked punts led the Big 12.
- Senior backup quarterback Case McCoy is on a 10-week mission trip to Peru, but Mack Brown thinks his experience will lessen the impact of his absence over the summer.
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
2012: 9-4, W Alamo Bowl
2011: 8-5, W Holiday Bowl
2010: 5-7, no bowl
2009: 13-1, L BCS Championship
2008: 12-1, W Fiesta Bowl
Total: 47-18, 3-1 in bowls
Passing: David Ash, 214-318-2,699 yards, 19/8
Rushing: Johnathan Gray, 149-701-3 TDs
Receiving: Jaxon Shipley, 59-737-6 TDs
Tackles: LB Steve Edmond, 103
Sacks: DE Jackson Jeffcoat, 4
RETURNING ALL-BIG 12
OL: Trey Hopkins (2nd team)
CENTRAL TEXAS PIPELINE
QB David Ash (Belton)
OG Taylor Doyle (Lake Travis)
OC Dominic Espinosa (Cedar Park)
RB Daje Johnson (Hendrickson)
WR Cayleb Jones (Austin High)
Aug, 31;New Mexico State
Sept. 7;at BYU
Sept. 21;Kansas State*
Oct. 3;at Iowa State*
Oct. 26;at TCU*
Nov. 9;at West Virginia*
Nov. 16;Oklahoma State*
Nov. 28;Texas Tech*
Dec. 7;at Baylor*
* Big 12 game
TOP 25, BY CONFERENCES
(So far …)
6: Big 12 (No. 15 Texas, No. 16 Oklahoma, No. 17 TCU, No. 18 Oklahoma State, No. 20 Baylor, No. 23 Kansas State)
3: Big Ten (No. 22 Nebraska, No. 24 Wisconsin, No. 25 Northwestern)
1: Pac-12 (No. 21 UCLA); Mountain West (No. 19 Boise State)
OUR TOP 25 (SO FAR)
No. 25 Northwestern
No. 24 Wisconsin
No. 23 Kansas State
No. 22 Nebraska
No. 21 UCLA
No. 20 Baylor
No. 19 Boise State
No. 18 Oklahoma State
No. 17 TCU
No. 16 Oklahoma
No. 15 Texas
No. 14: Coming Monday. Want a hint? Burt Reynolds played running back for this school. So did Mack Brown.