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Prelude to a Season: #2

2.) Texas Longhorns

TexasWhat You Need to Know
It’s fairly common for college football fans to gripe loudly about the BCS. Having a physical emotional game’s champion essentially determined by a computer leaves some fans feeling a bit unfulfilled. The difference between these curmudgeonly aficionados and the Texas Longhorns is that Texas certainly has a legitimate beef with the high tech problem known as the Bowl Championship Series.

Texas was the poster child in 2008 for major league slights. The Longhorns finished their year 11-1, 7-1 in the Big 12, and watched as Oklahoma, not them, and a team they defeated, moved on to the Big 12 Championship game and the national championship while Texas faced Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. To Texas’ credit, and especially head coach Mack Brown, what could have easily turned into a legitimate gripe or reason for outspoken players and staff, the Longhorns took it all in stride. Brown led the charge with understanding and responsibility and a quiet optimism about 2009. Perhaps that’s because Brown knew exactly what was coming back to Austin.

As 2009 dawns, Brown and the Longhorns are in prime position to get some revenge on the BCS by bringing their championship trophy back to Austin at the conclusion of the season. A challenging conference schedule awaits, but when you return 16 starters from a team that was one play away from an undefeated season, conference championship berth, and probably national title berth there’s certainly reason to look forward rather than back.

Offensively, the Longhorns bring back 9 from a unit that was not only impressive, but remarkably consistent all season long. Texas averaged 42.4 points and 476 yards per game and hung over 50 4 times last year. That’s impressive even in the defense challenged Big 12. The Longhorns are led by senior QB Colt McCoy, who is mentioned alongside Tim Tebow of Florida and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma as one of the best in college. McCoy is the only one of those three without a Heisman Trophy, but 2009 may very well be his year to get his. The lone starting losses for the Longhorns are WR Quan Cosby and RG Cedric Dockery, but are one of the most dominating lines in all of football. Led by juniors and seniors, including 1st Team Big 12 LT Adam Ulatoski and 2nd Team Big 12 C Chris Hall, the unit not only protects McCoy but opens up lanes for the rushing game to succeed, which will make for an improved rushing attack for the Longhorns in 2009.

Defensively, the Longhorns return 7 starters from a unit that allowed 18.8 points and 343 yards per game. The trouble with the Texas defense last season was not their performance, it was their inconsistency. 8 times last season they held a team under 100 yards on the ground, once holding A&M to -24. That’s coupled with three games over 200 on the ground. The defense also created pressure up front, sacking the QB 47 times last season. That is skewed of course by the pass heavy approach in the Big 12, but still an impressive statistical accomplishment. The Longhorns return their top 5 tacklers from 2008, and look to senior LB Sergio Kindle for another impressive 2009 to bolster their defensive prowess. The losses are heavy, as their 4 gone are three from the defensive line all taken in the NFL Draft (Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller, and Henry Melton) and CB Ryan Palmer, a 2nd Team Big 12 selection last season. Up front, the new to the starting line up personnel will need to make their presence known early, often, and loudly, while the secondary led by the safety crew of Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon will need to consistently interrupt the passing attack of the opponent.

The schedule for the Longhorns is hardly challenging out of conference, a fact which may bite the Longhorns should 2009 recreate 2008 and the turn to the BCS to determine the representative to the Big 12 title in the case of a tie. Games against ULM, Wyoming, UTEP, and UCF are hardly noteworthy or point gaining in the computer formulas. In conference, the Longhorns have the disadvantage of only 3 true home games, as they battle 4 road contests and the neutral site game against Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout.

Returning experienced starters, a favorable schedule, a great coach, and a high preseason ranking all add up to a special year in the making in Austin, TX. The defensive front raises some questions about the Longhorns ability to keep others in check, but with the skill players coming back on offense, they can simply outscore whomever they need to. 2008 may always stick in the craw of Texas faithful, but 2009 stands a great chance of making up or that and then some.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Colt McCoy: 332-433, 3859 yds, 34 TDs, 8 INTs, 136 att, 561 yds, 11 TDs
WR Jordan Shipley: 89 rec, 1060 yds, 11 TDs
LB Sergio Kindle: 46 tkls, 10 sacks, 12.5 TFL

Game to Watch
Texas, much like Oklahoma, is pinning the hopes and dreams of 2009 on the Red River Shootout on October 17th. Two weeks later on Halloween weekend, the Longhorns travel to Stillwater, OK to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. A win in both is a sure fire trip to the Big 12 title game, where a win propels the Longhorns to the BCS title game.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the new to the starting line up defensive players step up to the challenge. If the Longhorns can mitigate the loss of Orakpo, Miller, and Melton, then they just might have the missing pieces to make a run at the title. It’s ironic that a league known predominantly for offensive attacks may be won by the team with the most impressive defense.

Season Outlook
For the Longhorns, their season will come down to one game. 60 minutes on October 17th determine their standing within the college football landscape and their ability to control their own destiny in terms of the Big 12. Expect a contest that is truly worthy of the superlatives it will receive both before and after, and expect a close and exciting Longhorn win. The Longhorns make up half of our national title picture, as they finish the regular season 12-0, win the Big 12 title, and try their best to right the wrongs from 2008.

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