Thursday, September 3, 2009

CFI Countdown: #3 Texas Longhorns

2008 Record: 12-1 (Big 12: 7-1)
Bowl Game: Won Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio St. 24-21
Location: Austin, Texas
Stadium: Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (94,113)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Overall: 201-100-1 (26th season)
@ Texas: 115-26 (12th season)
Link to UT Football Page

No team enters 2009 more motivated to prove they deserve a spot in the BCS Championship game than the Longhorns. Right or wrong, Texas felt slighted by the system…that the BCS and the Big XII let them down. It won’t be difficult for Mack Brown to paint an “us against the world” picture to his players. But even more important than motivation is the fact that on the field, with seven starters back on both sides of the ball, Texas is that good.

When the Longhorns Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Greg Davis (12th season)
Scheme: Spread Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: WR Quan Cosby, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, TE Blaine Irby (Injured), OG Cedric Dockery

With Colt McCoy back to run the zone read, there is little doubt that the ‘Horns will have one of the top offenses in the nation. Never have we seen a quarterback make better decisions or be more accurate than McCoy was as a junior. He also added the ability to be a force as a runner in 2008, leading Texas in rushing—a feat Brown hopes he doesn’t repeat. He also possesses all the intangibles teams look for in championship quarterbacks, starting with his leadership skills. McCoy received a big boost when his favorite target, buddy and security blanket Jordan Shipley, was granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA. Shipley runs crisp routes, has reliable hands, and can make things happen after the catch. However, Texas needs some other playmakers to step up other than Shipley if they are to achieve their goals for the 2009 season. At receiver, everyone is waiting for sophomore Malcolm Williams to turn into a superstar. He has the size and speed to do it all, but must prove he can be a consistent performer. Another potential weapon is former quarterback John Chiles, who expects to see most of his time at wide out. Don’t expect much production from the tight end position—not only is projected starter Blaine Irby out for the year, he is one of four tight ends that will miss the 2009 season. In the backfield, Texas struggled to find a primary ball carrier in 2008. First up in 2009 is junior Vondrell McGee, who has a nice combo of size and speed. Sophomore Fozzy Whitaker can be explosive, but must stay healthy, while fellow soph Cody Johnson is a 250-pound wrecking ball and a force near the goal line. One cause for optimism is the fact that four of five starters return along the offensive line—a unit that can pass and run block—led by left tackle Adam Ulatoski and center Chris Hall.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) QB Colt McCoy (SR), 2) WR Jordan Shipley (SR), 3) WR Malcolm Williams (SO)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Will Muschamp (2nd season)
Scheme: 4-3 (Some 3-4)
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: DE Brian Orakpo, DT Roy Miller, DT Aaron Lewis, DE Henry Melton, CB Ryan Palmer

The first order of business is replacing the pass-rushing and impact ability of NFL first-round pick Brian Orakpo, and everyone knows who Texas expects to step into that role—senior Sergio Kindle. Until last season, Kindle had been more enigma than star, but he started making plays late in the season. This season he will be shifting from linebacker to defensive end where he is expected to harass Big 12 quarterbacks all season long. Lamaar Houston is quick for a defensive tackle, while sophomore tackle Kheeston Randall and red-shirt freshman end Alex Okafor are a pair with bright futures. Even though Kindle moves from linebacker the ‘Horns still have experience at the position, as seniors Jared Norton (MIKE) and Roddrick Muckelroy (WILL) will hold down the second level of defense. Muckelroy could have a big season using his speed to cover ground and get into the backfield. The secondary is deep and talented. Sophomore Aaron Williams, juniors Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown, as well as senior Deon Beasley give them a quartet of quality corners. Chykie Brown and Williams should be All-Big 12 performers, as should sophomore left safety Earl Thomas, who couldn’t have been more impressive as a true freshman last season. Thomas has excellent range and can even play some nickel in coverage. Also starting as a rookie in 2008 was Blake Gideon, who is competing with a third sophomore, Christian Scott, at right safety.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) LB/DE Sergio Kindle (SR), 2) SS Earl Thomas (SO), 3) CB Chykie Brown (JR)

The Schedule

The Longhorns have basically a two-game schedule—versus Oklahoma in Dallas in the Red River Rivalry and a trip to Stillwater to take on the upstart Oklahoma St. Cowboys—potentially this year’s Texas Tech. Those are the only ranked teams on the docket, although they have to make road trips to Missouri, Baylor, and in-state rival Texas A&M. The out of conference schedule won’t do wonders for the Longhorns’ strength of schedule as they take on UL-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida—not exactly a challenging quartet.

Pivotal Point

There are two—on offense it’s the skill players, on defense it’s the front line. In 2008 their leading rusher among the running backs was McGee who “rumbled” for 376 yards, which is simply not going to cut it in 2009. Someone must emerge from the pack. At receiver, gone is Quan Cosby who along with Shipley made almost every big catch for the ‘Horns last season. Defensively, not only must Orakpo be replaced, but defensive end Henry Melton and tackles Roy Miller and Aaron Lewis have departed as well. Can they be as stout against the run this season? There’s only one way to find out.

CFI Final Analysis

Texas is destined to have another great season and make their second straight BCS Bowl game for the first time since a guy named Vince Young ran the offense in Austin. The difference is this group may not win the national title…heck, they could even fall short of a conference title, which is life in the Big XII. At number three they are in the mix and if they are able to take the Red River Shootout (again) without any other slip ups, it could be the ‘Horns who find themselves playing for the BCS Championship with Oklahoma watching at home.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
#8 Georgia Bulldogs
#7 USC Trojans
#6 LSU Tigers

#5 Ohio St. Buckeyes
#4 Alabama Crimson Tide

Photos Courtesy of the University of Texas Athletics