Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Why so glum?
For a typical team that improved from 5-7 and 67th in F/+ to 8-5 and 19th, we would look at consolidation of gains as a success. Win eight or nine games again, solidify a Top 25 ranking after drastic improvement, and you've done well. But this is Texas, of course. It is difficult to imagine that anything other than 10-plus wins and a run at the conference title will be viewed as a success.
That's how I defined success for the 2012 Texas Longhorns in last year's preview. Win eight or nine games again? Check. Solidify a top 25 F/+ ranking? Check. Failing to view that as a success? Big, big check.
Texas fans are not a very happy lot these days, saddled with a hopeful but persistent "When will Mack Brown retire?" distraction after every loss or less-than-impressive win. But if we ignore some of the pervasive context, if we put aside the program we're dealing with -- the richest program in the country, one with its own network and the easiest recruiting pitch this side of Tuscaloosa -- and simply take a sober look at the numbers, here's what we know: Texas cratered to an unfathomable degree in 2010, rebounded in 2011, and survived an impossible combination of youth and injuries to either hold steady (in the F/+ rankings) or improve (in the win column) in 2012. We also know that the Longhorns return their quarterback, top three running backs, top two receivers, top five offensive linemen, nine defensive starters, and last year's entire defensive second string.
Those who want Mack Brown gone are really still evaluating him for what happened three years ago, not what has happened since. And that's probably fair. The 2010 season was an incredible, perhaps unforgivable disaster for a program with Texas' resources. Brown himself admitted that he fell into a funk following the 2009 BCS title game loss, and it affected his coaching. So, too, did a coaching staff long past its sell-by date. He has changed assistants and cycled through a disappointing roster. He has not corrected every problem, and he may never do so. But the road back from 2010 has been a long one, and there is a very good chance that the rebuilding effort will bear serious fruit in 2013. (I mean, it kind of already has -- 17 wins in two years is far from awful -- but you know what I mean.)
When you fall apart as Texas did three years ago, there is no immediate pathway back to success, no matter how much you want it to exist, no matter how much money you give to the football program, and no matter how much your chief in-state competition in College Station surged last year. But Texas is knocking on the ruling class' door once again, and it has the experience and talent to do some serious, serious damage this fall.
Or, to put it another way, look at the chart below. After ranking first in F/+ in 2005, Texas fell to 21st and 18th in 2006-07, then peaked again (third in both 2008 and 2009) with the talent and experience coalesced. If you remove the 2010 outlier, you see a Texas team that ranked 21st and 24th in 2011-12, barely below the 2006-07 level and ready to peak again.
You've been warned.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 24|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Wyoming||37-17||W||28.0 - 24.2||W|
|8-Sep||New Mexico||45-0||W||29.0 - 13.9||W|
|15-Sep||at Ole Miss||66-31||W||56.1 - 27.6||W|
|29-Sep||at Oklahoma State||41-36||W||34.1 - 35.9||L|
|6-Oct||West Virginia||45-48||L||28.6 - 29.1||L|
|13-Oct||vs. Oklahoma||21-63||L||24.5 - 33.8||L|
|20-Oct||Baylor||56-50||W||36.3 - 30.0||W|
|27-Oct||at Kansas||21-17||W||22.7 - 20.1||W|
|3-Nov||at Texas Tech||31-22||W||43.1 - 23.4||W|
|10-Nov||Iowa State||33-7||W||44.5 - 27.4||W|
|22-Nov||TCU||13-20||L||27.3 - 24.7||W|
|1-Dec||at Kansas State||24-42||L||32.0 - 25.0||W|
|29-Dec||vs. Oregon State||31-27||W||28.7 - 18.4||W|
|Points Per Game||35.7||23||29.2||73|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.5||32||25.7||42|
2. The one guy who couldn't get hurt, got hurt
Three weeks into the season, Texas was looking like one of the best teams in the country. The Longhorns took their time easing past a bad Wyoming team in the season opener, but they handled New Mexico with relative ease, and they put a whipping on Ole Miss that would only look more impressive as the Rebels began to actually look like a decent team soon thereafter.
But in the second quarter against Ole Miss, Jordan Hicks, the anchor of the Texas linebacking corps, and the defense as a whole, went down with a hip injury. The effects were sudden and obvious.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Texas 37.7, Opponent 21.9 (plus-15.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Opponent 32.2, Texas 30.9 (minus-2.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 6 games): Texas 33.1, Opponent 23.2 (plus-9.9)
Aside from the Ole Miss outlier, Texas' offense rather consistently played at an above average level -- not great, not terrible. (It was terrible against Kansas and perhaps Oklahoma, but that's about it.)
But the defense went from almost a touchdown better than average to almost a touchdown worse. The Longhorns gave up an average of 49 points and 580 yards in the four games following Hicks' injury (and yes, these four games were all against good to great offenses), and even though it rebounded over the final six games, losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma defined the season, as did a tight, turnover-laden loss to TCU. Texas was mostly good, but a month-long defensive funk took the shine off of the season as a whole. (Month-long funks tend to do that.)
|Q1 Rk||29||1st Down Rk||27|
|Q2 Rk||28||2nd Down Rk||22|
|Q3 Rk||52||3rd Down Rk||21|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|David Ash||6'3, 223||Jr.||*** (5.7)||214||318||2,699||67.3%||19||8||10||3.0%||8.0|
|Case McCoy||6'2, 200||Sr.||*** (5.6)||54||76||722||71.1%||6||3||1||1.3%||9.4|
|Connor Brewer||6'2, 195||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Jalen Overstreet||6'2, 212||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Tyrone Swoopes||6'4, 245||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
3. Making your mistakes count
David Ash's stats make you do a double-take. A true sophomore in 2012, Ash completed more than two-thirds of his passes with a better than two-to-one TD-to-INT ratio, a healthy sack rate and decent running ability. To understand how impressive that is, just look at Colt McCoy's stats as a redshirt sophomore in 2007: 65 percent completion rate, 22-to-18 TDs to INTs, 5.5 percent sack rate, 7.0 yards per pass attempt. McCoy's rushing stats were better, but that's it.
Ash compares very, very well to McCoy, but we've been rather slow to warm to him -- we still aren't certain that he's better than Case McCoy, and we're assuming that a mobile quarterback like Jalen Overstreet or Tyrone Swoopes will have a role to play this year -- in part because his downside is still pretty low. In losses to Oklahoma and TCU, Ash completed just 23 of 50 passes for 217 yards, no touchdowns, and four picks. (He was injured for the KSU loss.) On the rare occasion that he looked bad, he looked awful. But again, McCoy had his moments, too. In 2007, for instance, McCoy went 19-for-39 with four picks in a loss to Kansas State.
In the end, Texas ranked 18th in Off. F/+ in 2012, just like it did with McCoy in 2007 before jumping to fourth in 2008 and ninth in 2009. Maybe another quarterback does steal some of Ash's snaps in 2013, but that could only be a good thing for Texas because Ash should be pretty damn good.
|Johnathan Gray||RB||5'11, 207||So.||***** (6.1)||149||698||4.7||4.1||3||+1.0|
|Joe Bergeron||RB||6'1, 240||Jr.||*** (5.7)||127||567||4.5||4.2||16||+0.0|
|Malcolm Brown||RB||6'0, 223||Jr.||***** (6.1)||61||324||5.3||5.2||4||+4.8|
|David Ash||QB||6'3, 223||Jr.||*** (5.7)||41||212||5.2||4.9||2||+1.7|
|Daje Johnson||WR-H||5'10, 184||So.||**** (5.8)||27||203||7.5||12.3||1||+6.2|
|Jaxon Shipley||WR-H||6'1, 192||Jr.||**** (5.9)||8||53||6.6||3.5||0||+1.1|
|Case McCoy||QB||6'2, 200||Sr.||*** (5.6)||7||26||3.7||3.3||0||-1.1|
4. A top-25 running game is still underachieving
The Texas running game is pretty clear proof of the burden of expectations. With a trio of super-young running backs (two true sophomores and a true freshman) and an offensive line that featured no seniors, Texas improved from 50th in Rushing S&P+ in 2011 to 23rd in 2012. Offensive co-coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite seemed to get a much stronger grasp of the personnel at hand, and with Ash's development bringing more quality to the passing game, the offense clicked at a much higher level.
That's good ... at least until you see the star ratings. Texas featured two five-star running backs who played like three-star grinders, and the offensive line featured one five-star starter and four four-stars but couldn't even rank in the top 60 in Adj. Line Yards. The line was strong in power situations but struggled to create opportunities for its young backs, and the backs may have been too young to take full advantage of the opportunities they had. The play-calling was solid, and the execution was good enough, but with these recruiting rankings, it's supposed to be great.
To the extent that youth was an issue in 2012, however, it won't be anymore. Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron, and Malcolm Brown all return, and the five starters on the line have combined for 124 career starts, one of the highest totals in the country. The line has been a constant disappointment (relative to recruiting rankings) in recent years, but experience abounds. If Texas had a top-25 run game last year, it should be at least top-15 to -20 this season.
|Mike Davis||WR-X||6'2, 193||Sr.||**** (6.0)||86||57||939||66.3%||10.9||22.9%||53.5%||11.3||130.4|
|Jaxon Shipley||WR-H||6'1, 192||Jr.||**** (5.9)||75||59||737||78.7%||9.8||20.0%||53.3%||9.8||102.4|
|Daje Johnson||WR-H||5'10, 184||So.||**** (5.8)||23||19||287||82.6%||12.5||6.1%||78.3%||13.5||39.9|
|Malcolm Brown||RB||6'0, 223||Jr.||***** (6.1)||19||15||112||78.9%||5.9||5.1%||52.6%||6.0||15.6|
|Johnathan Gray||RB||5'11, 207||So.||***** (6.1)||15||11||151||73.3%||10.1||4.0%||60.0%||10.0||21.0|
|M.J. McFarland||TE||6'6, 245||So.||**** (5.8)||15||8||125||53.3%||8.3||4.0%||46.7%||10.0||17.4|
|Joe Bergeron||RB||6'1, 240||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||9||84||75.0%||7.0||3.2%||58.3%||6.9||11.7|
|Bryant Jackson||WR-H||6'2, 199||Jr.||**** (5.8)||8||8||140||100.0%||17.5||2.1%||50.0%||17.8||19.4|
|Greg Daniels||TE||6'5, 258||Jr.||**** (5.8)||8||5||90||62.5%||11.3||2.1%||75.0%||10.0||12.5|
|Cayleb Jones||WR-Z||6'3, 200||So.||**** (6.0)||5||2||35||40.0%||7.0||1.3%||60.0%||7.0||4.9|
|Kendall Sanders||WR-X||6'0, 183||So.||**** (6.0)||4||2||15||50.0%||3.8||1.1%||100.0%||2.3||2.1|
|Marcus Johnson||WR-Z||6'1, 189||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Geoff Swaim||TE||6'4, 250||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jake Oliver||WR||6'4, 194||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Jacorey Warrick||WR||5'10, 168||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
5. More Daje, please
To be sure, Mike Davis had some stellar moments in 2012. Against Ole Miss, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Iowa State, he caught 22 of 27 passes for 550 yards (20.4 per target) and five touchdowns. That's ridiculously good. But in the other nine games, he caught 35 of 59 for 389 yards (6.6 per target) and two scores. He combined with Jaxon Shipley to form a decent one-two punch, but the receiving corps lacked consistency, and the scariest player for opposing defenses was, despite mediocre averages, almost always former track star Marquise Goodwin. But Daje Johnson, a true freshman in 2012, did quite a few Goodwin things and could be ready to do a lot more.
We shouldn't glean much from one game, but it bears mentioning that in his first game as a solo offensive coordinator (Bryan Harsin left to take the Arkansas State head coaching job), Major Applewhite utilized Goodwin to great success: four catches for 68 yards, one reverse for 64 yards, two touchdowns. Johnson appears to have a similar skill set, but if he provides a steady threat of explosiveness, and Applewhite utilizes him a bit more than Goodwin was during his career, this offense could hum.
|Trey Hopkins||LG||6'4, 300||Sr.||**** (5.9)||29 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big 12|
|Mason Walters||RG||6'6, 320||Sr.||***** (6.1)||38 career starts|
|Dominic Espinosa||C||6'4, 300||Jr.||**** (5.9)||26 career starts|
|Josh Cochran||RT||6'6, 299||Jr.||**** (5.8)||20 career starts|
|Donald Hawkins||LT||6'5, 310||Sr.||**** (5.8)||11 career starts|
|Luke Poehlmann||RT||5 career starts|
|Sedrick Flowers||LG||6'3, 313||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Garrett Porter||C||6'6, 315||Sr.||**** (6.0)|
|Garrett Greenlea||RT||6'7, 305||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Taylor Doyle||LG||6'5, 290||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Kennedy Estelle||LT||6'7, 300||So.||**** (5.9)|
|Curtis Riser||RG||6'4, 305||RSFr.||**** (5.9)|
|Camrhon Hughes||OT||6'7, 320||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Desmond Harrison||OL||6'8, 305||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Darius James||OL||6'5, 319||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Kent Perkins||OL||6'5, 300||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Q1 Rk||51||1st Down Rk||24|
|Q2 Rk||20||2nd Down Rk||25|
|Q3 Rk||57||3rd Down Rk||37|
6. So many big plays on the ground
Again, it bears mentioning that when Texas was at its weakest point -- when Hicks went down and Manny Diaz was forced to scramble for replacements -- the Longhorns also faced a ridiculous slate of offenses: Oklahoma State (12th in Off. F/+), West Virginia (15th), Oklahoma (sixth), and Baylor (third). Those offenses will exacerbate any weaknesses you've got, and Texas had quite a few of them.
But these teams found particular success on the ground, averaging 299 rushing yards per game against the 'Horns. A lot of those yards came in sudden bursts.
7. It wasn't just the linebackers
Texas ranked a terrible 81st in Rushing PPP+, but while our tendency is to pin that mostly on a shaky linebacking corps that got shakier without Hicks, that wasn't the only problem.
Look at the line stats below: Texas was 102nd in Opportunity Rate (the ability of the opposing offensive line to create opportunities for its runners) and 116th in Power Success Rate (exactly what it sounds like). Those numbers are unadjusted for opponent, but they are still awful. A young set of defensive tackles oscillated between making plays (Desmond Jackson, Ashton Dorsey, Malcom Brown, and Chris Whaley combined for 23 tackles for loss) and getting knocked over. Plus, Dorsey missed four games, and end Jackson Jeffcoat missed the last half of the season.
Shaky line play versus the run puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers, and Texas' linebackers did not respond well. UT started seven different players at the three LB positions, constantly shuffling to find the right mix. And while, again, the defense eventually rounded back into decent form, the October Apocalypse prevented the 'Horns from threatening for the conference title.
Jackson Jeffcoat. Mark D. Smith, US Presswire.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cedric Reed||BUCK||6'6, 250||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||34.0||4.1%||8||2.5||0||1||0||1|
|Jackson Jeffcoat||DE||6'5, 245||Sr.||***** (6.1)||6||23.5||2.9%||11||4||0||1||2||1|
|Desmond Jackson||DT||6'1, 300||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||23.0||2.8%||7||2||0||0||0||0|
|Reggie Wilson||BUCK||6'3, 259||Sr.||**** (6.0)||13||22.0||2.7%||3||2||0||0||0||0|
|Ashton Dorsey||DT||6'2, 295||Sr.||**** (5.9)||9||20.5||2.5%||10||0||0||1||0||0|
|Malcom Brown||NT||6'4, 315||So.||***** (6.1)||13||17.0||2.1%||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Whaley||NT||6'3, 292||Sr.||**** (5.9)||13||16.5||2.0%||4||0||0||2||0||1|
|Shiro Davis||DE||6'3, 236||So.||**** (5.8)||7||3.0||0.4%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Hasaan Ridgeway||DT||6'4, 300||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Paul Boyette, Jr.||DT||6'4, 295||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Bryce Cottrell||BUCK||6'3, 230||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Caleb Bluiett||DE||6'3, 250||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jake Raulerson||DE||6'5, 262||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Steve Edmond||MLB||6'3, 255||Jr.||**** (6.0)||13||77.0||9.4%||6||1||1||1||2||0|
|Kendall Thompson||WLB||6'3, 239||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||44.0||5.3%||8||2||0||1||0||0|
|Demarco Cobbs||SLB||6'2, 218||Sr.||**** (5.8)||11||24.5||3.0%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tevin Jackson||WLB||6'2, 233||Jr.||**** (6.0)||13||24.5||3.0%||6||3||0||1||0||0|
|Peter Jinkens||SLB||6'1, 213||So.||**** (5.8)||13||23.5||2.9%||3||1||1||0||0||0|
|Dalton Santos||MLB||6'3, 250||So.||*** (5.7)||13||20.5||2.5%||3||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Hicks||WLB||6'2, 235||Jr.||***** (6.1)||3||17.5||2.1%||3||0||0||1||0||0|
|Tim Cole||SLB||6'2, 225||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Aaron Benson||SLB||6'2, 233||Jr.||**** (5.8)|
|Deoundrei Davis||LB||6'3, 215||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Adrian Phillips||SS||5'11, 201||Sr.||**** (5.8)||13||53.5||6.5%||3||0||2||2||0||0|
|Quandre Diggs||CB||5'10, 200||Jr.||**** (5.9)||13||49.0||6.0%||4||1||4||7||0||0|
|Carrington Byndom||CB||6'0, 180||Sr.||**** (5.8)||13||47.0||5.7%||3||1||3||6||1||0|
|Mykkele Thompson||FS||6'2, 183||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||45.0||5.5%||1||0||0||1||1||1|
|Josh Turner||FS||6'0, 177||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||37.5||4.6%||2||1||2||2||0||1|
|Duke Thomas||CB||5'11, 175||So.||**** (5.8)||13||11.0||1.3%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Leroy Scott||CB||5'10, 193||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||5.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sheroid Evans||CB||6'0, 185||Jr.||**** (5.8)||9||4.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Vaccaro||SS||5'10, 180||So.||*** (5.5)||11||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryson Echols||CB||5'10, 180||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Adrian Colbert||SS||6'2, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Antwuan Davis||DB||6'0, 180||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
8. So many returnees
Kenny Vaccaro was a good enforcer at free safety, and Alex Okafor was absolutely incredible; he logged as many sacks as the rest of the defensive line combined and paved the way for Texas' amazing 10-sack performance versus Oregon State, one that bumped UT to No. 1 in Adj. Sack Rate. These two were tremendous players. They are also the only two defenders Texas must replace.
Literally everybody else of consequence returns on this defense, from sticky corners Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom, to the supposedly healthy Hicks and Jeffcoat, to strong safety Adrian Phillips. And all of last year's green linebackers and defensive tackles are, at the very least, experienced now.
Experience alone doesn't make for a good defense, but when you combine experience with a recent track record for success -- here's where Manny Diaz's defenses at Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Texas ranked in Def. F/+ from 2009-11: 33rd (MTSU), 20th (MSU), sixth (UT) -- it is a safe assumption that Texas' defense will improve, perhaps dramatically, in 2013.
|Nick Rose||6'3, 192||So.||82||60.4||30||36.6%|
|William Russ||6'4, 185||Jr.||2||64||0||0.0%|
|Anthony Fera||6'2, 220||Sr.||23-25||1-2||50.0%||1-2||50.0%|
|Daje Johnson||KR||5'10, 184||So.||4||20.8||0|
|Quandre Diggs||PR||5'10, 200||Jr.||13||8.2||0|
|Special Teams F/+||30|
|Field Goal Pct||107|
|Kick Returns Avg||38|
|Punt Returns Avg||63|
9. An Alex King-sized hole
Despite the issues in run defense, Texas was pretty good at the field position battle in 2012. The Longhorns ran the ball well themselves, but the player most essential to their success in field position was Alex King, an absolutely tremendous punter who bumped Texas into the top five for net punting. A pair of good kick returners are also gone, and it will probably be difficult for Texas to once again finish in the Special Teams F/+ top 30 like it has for three of the last four seasons.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|31-Aug||New Mexico State||123|
|3-Oct||at Iowa State||76|
|9-Nov||at West Virginia||41|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||11|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||11|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+5 / +0.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||19 (9, 10)|
10. Instant sports narratives! Just add water
I tend to rebel against the general "This is the year that [Random Historical Power] makes it all the way back!" narrative that we inevitably form from time to time. As a Missouri fan in the old Big 12 North, I used to make fun of this phenomenon all the time. "Okay, now Colorado and/or Nebraska are back! No? What about now? No? ...NOW!"
So when I tell you that Texas is going to be very good, and potentially elite in 2013, realize that I do so understanding the consequences. I also do so with numbers on my side. Teams that return 19 starters improve, often dramatically. Previously great units that were dinged hard by injuries tend to bounce back. Teams that recruit consistently well tend to see the pieces come together when the experience matches the potential. That's just how college football works.
Whether you choose to believe my proclamation or not, realize this: a team with Texas' 2012 offense and special teams and 2011 defense would have ranked seventh in the country in F/+ last year. The 'Horns are close. If the defense rebounds, as experience and recent history tell us it should, and if the offense continues to improve, as experience tells us it should, then Texas will quite likely be the best team in the Big 12.
The schedule does the 'Horns no favors and may preclude a conference title -- of the top four teams in the Big 12 not named Texas, only one comes to Austin -- but after two years of scuffling in the wake of the 2010 disaster, Texas has more pieces in place than it has since 2009. We can keep predicting Mack Brown's any-second-now downfall if we want, but there's a very good chance that Texas is very, very good in 2013.