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1. Forget about Texas A&M
There are two ways to win at a school like Texas. Either you hire a CEO type, someone who will glad-hand, politic, land whichever recruits he wants, figure out the system from there, and leave the micro details to his assistants. Basically, you could go the Mack Brown route.
For a school with so many resources, this can work just fine. And it did. In Brown's 16 years in Austin, Texas finished with at least nine wins 13 times, finished in the AP top 10 seven times, won 10 bowls, won the Big 12 South four times, won the Big 12 twice, and won the 2005 national title. Brown had issues with underachievement early, and after losing his way following a loss in the 2009 BCS Championship, he never totally recovered. But Texas still won so much more during the Brown era than it had in the 16 years previous.
If you don't find a CEO type that you like, the other approach is to hire a coach with a specific identity and hope that your recruiting base allows him to find the options he needs. By hiring former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, Texas signified it was going with this approach this time around.
Strong is a Toughness™ guy, a Discipline™ guy, a Family™ guy. Though he provided a strong recruiting upgrade at Louisville, his Cardinal recruiting classes (according to Rivals: 29th in 2011, 42nd in 2012, 52nd in 2013) would have been considered outright disasters in Austin. Meanwhile, Texas would have killed for Louisville's performance on the field in 2013. Louisville has been better than Texas in the F/+ rankings in two of the last four seasons (2010, 2013) and was basically even in a third (2012).
If Strong was able to produce a No. 12 F/+ ranking in 2013 and a 23-3 record in 2012-13 with top-50 recruiting classes, and if it's all but impossible not to finish with top-30 classes at Texas, then in theory, that's a recipe for top-10 results. (In theory.)
Strong proved in his last job that he doesn't need top-20 classes to craft a top-20 product. Now, every job's different, and the Texas job is in a climate all its own. For all we know, the extra pressures, obligations, expectations, etc., might prevent him from gaining traction with the Longhorns. But until he proves otherwise, we know he can identify the pieces he needs, and we know he can coach and develop that talent. He brings to the table everything Mack Brown didn't (for better and for worse), and now we get to find out if his approach will work on the 40 acres. It might not, but it might.
This is a long way of saying this: when it comes to Texas, just ignore Texas A&M for now.
Really, this goes for media as much as Texas fans at the moment. But it's something that needs to be said. Texas A&M is winning the recruiting game. Dominating it. The Aggies' SEC move perfectly coincided with the hire of Kevin Sumlin and the explosion of Johnny Manziel on the national scene.
A&M couldn't have scripted its move any better, and if Texas needs five- and high-four-star talent to thrive, that's a problem because the Aggies are taking all of it. Of the current top 30 Texas prospects via Rivals.com, 19 have currently committed to a school; eight have chosen A&M, and none have chosen Texas. Of Texas' 10 current commits, only three are four-star prospects.
This is a different experience for Texas fans. And by no means is this good news for the 'Horns. They're going after a lot of these kids and not landing them, after all. But if Strong ends up with the right prospects for his system, it won't matter. He's still going to land solid classes, and if he proves he can coach talent up in Texas like he did in Kentucky, he'll be fine. Recruiting rankings absolutely matter, but so does Strong's track record. And if he wins big, the recruits will come back to the burnt orange anyway.
2. Recruiting rankings expire
Recruiting rankings make it difficult to figure out what the future holds for Texas. They're also making it difficult to figure out the present.
Strong inherits a roster littered with more four-star recruits than Louisville will ever have at once. Recruiting rankings hint at potential, and Texas will always have plenty of that. Again, in theory, bringing in a coach who coaxed all sorts of potential out of his players at Papa John's Stadium makes a lot of sense.
But what kind of shelf life does potential have? At what point do recruiting rankings expire?
Strong inherits two five-star running backs who, even at their best, haven't yet looked like five-star running backs. He inherits a sizable batch of receivers, most of whom had per-target averages well below the norm in 2013. He inherits a two-deep full of four-star guys on a line that improved to above-average (and no more) in the line stats last fall. He inherits a blue-chip defensive line that could barely stop the run. He inherits a set of four- and five-star linebackers, and the only proven, healthy quantity in the bunch is a former three-star guy. He inherits a secondary littered with four-star prospects who, despite a great pass rush, couldn't craft a top-30 pass defense.
At what point does potential become wasted potential? The answer will determine Texas' fate in 2014, and I have no idea what the answer is.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 35|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||New Mexico State||122||56-7||W||38.6 - 22.6||W|
|7-Sep||at BYU||30||21-40||L||32.6 - 34.4||L|
|14-Sep||Ole Miss||28||23-44||L||21.3 - 34.0||L|
|21-Sep||Kansas State||24||31-21||W||33.7 - 19.8||W|
|3-Oct||at Iowa State||78||31-30||W||19.6 - 36.6||L||-0.3|
|12-Oct||vs. Oklahoma||20||36-20||W||29.9 - 17.6||W||-1.1|
|26-Oct||at TCU||44||30-7||W||32.0 - 18.4||W||2.0|
|2-Nov||Kansas||101||35-13||W||25.6 - 33.9||L||2.9|
|9-Nov||at West Virginia||76||47-40||W||20.9 - 27.0||L||-1.1|
|16-Nov||Oklahoma State||8||13-38||L||30.6 - 28.5||W||2.7|
|28-Nov||Texas Tech||43||41-16||W||32.3 - 19.5||W||2.8|
|7-Dec||at Baylor||7||10-30||L||14.4 - 19.6||L||-0.9|
|30-Dec||vs. Oregon||5||7-30||L||14.1 - 23.3||L||-1.1|
|Points Per Game||29.3||64||25.8||58|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.6||77||25.8||46|
3. A small bounce and a scapegoat
It ended up being a dead cat bounce of sorts for Brown at UT. Texas went 25-2 in 2008-09 and ranked third in F/+ in both seasons. But the Longhorns' plummet to 65th and 5-7 in 2010 was nearly unprecedented. Only two major conference teams have fallen further in a single year: 2008 Washington (50th to 117th) and 2006 Iowa State (31st to 99th).
Both of those programs dumped the coach in charge, which meant there was no track record, good or bad, for a coach trying to pick up the pieces when everything had so quickly fallen apart. In 2011, everything began to look positive. New, young assistants pushed the right buttons, especially defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who engineered improvement from 31st in Def. F/+ to sixth.
The offense took a huge step forward in 2012, but a thin, young defense faltered. And after a single bad performance early in 2013 (BYU's high-paced option offense shredded a confused, increasingly gassed Texas D), Brown dumped a scapegoated Diaz in favor of old hand Greg Robinson.
Robinson was able to steady the ship to a degree, at least to the extent that a defense with one bad performance is unsteady. The move reeked of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, but it didn't matter. An offense that was without both injured quarterback David Ash and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin (who had moved on to become the head coach at Arkansas State) just couldn't get rolling, so the quality of the defense didn't make a huge difference.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Opponent 29.5, Texas 29.2 (minus-0.3)
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Texas 28.6, Opponent 24.2 (plus-4.4)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 2 games): Opponent 21.5, Texas 14.3 (minus-7.2)
The Mack Brown Retirement Watch began in September and picked up serious steam, but the Longhorns managed to win six games in a row to fend off the vultures. They went out with a whimper, though, and the Brown era quietly ended.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.4%||89||Succ. Rt. +||100.2||62|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.5||41||Def. FP+||101.4||41|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.2||74||Redzone S&P+||96.3||78|
|Q1 Rk||82||1st Down Rk||81|
|Q2 Rk||27||2nd Down Rk||67|
|Q3 Rk||33||3rd Down Rk||26|
4. Two is less than one
More than any current recruiting results, one thing has me particularly concerned about Charlie Strong's first season in Austin: the offense. Strong, offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, and "Assistant Head Coach for Offense" Shawn Watson inherit plenty of interesting, potentially high-caliber pieces, but this spring we really didn't learn much about what they plan to do with them.
Part of this was because of circumstance. When presumptive starting quarterback David Ash went down with a foot injury, Texas was basically down to dual-threat sophomore Tyrone Swoopes (well, "dual-threat" suggests he can pass, and we're not sure about that just yet) and converted tight end Miles Onyegbule. If Ash is healthy (and that's been a pretty big if in his career), Texas could have a strong presence at quarterback. If he isn't, then it's conceivable that incoming freshman Jerrod Heard could get a look this summer.
Another part of my concern, however, has nothing to do with on-field personnel. Toughness™ isn't an offensive identity, and in his coaching hires, Strong did not necessarily seem to know what he was looking for. He brought Watson with him from Louisville, which made a lot of sense -- the Cardinals ranked 10th and 23rd in Off. F/+ in the last two years. Granted, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a lot to do with that, but Watson still struck a nice play-calling note. Louisville had a pass-first offense that distributed the ball well between three running backs and about five receivers, and while we don't know if Texas has any true difference makers on offense, they certainly have athletes. Spreading the ball around and minimizing predictability could be an asset.
So Watson was aboard, but not as the offensive coordinator. That job went to offensive line coach Joe Wickline, whom Strong plucked from Oklahoma State. Wickline got the O.C. title, and Strong said he'd be calling plays. But then Watson would be calling plays. And then Wickline would be calling some plays with Watson getting final say.
This could be nothing, but consider it a red flag. As they say with quarterbacks, if you have two play-callers or two offensive visions, you might have none. Perhaps the promise of play-calling and the coordinator title is what allowed Strong to draw Wickline from Stillwater? Regardless, this isn't optimal, at least not yet.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|David Ash||6'3, 227||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||53||87||760||7||2||60.9%||4||4.4%||8.1|
|Tyrone Swoopes||6'4, 241||So.||4 stars (5.8)||5||13||26||0||0||38.5%||2||13.3%||1.1|
|Miles Onyegbule||6'4, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jerrod Heard||6'2, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
5. The mystery that is David Ash
In terms of pure stats, when David Ash has been healthy enough to see the field, he's been able to do some damage. He averaged at least 8.0 yards per pass attempt and 5.0 yards per non-sack carry (with minimal sacks) in both 2012 and 2013. That's almost Bridgewater-esque.
But he has a bit of a weakness: he can't stay healthy. He injured his wrist in 2012, and while he only missed one game, it significantly limited his upside. In the three weeks following his injury, he completed just 53 percent of his passes with one touchdown and four picks. He got eaten up by TCU later in the year, as well. And in 2013, he only played three games because of the scary, lingering effects of head injuries. This spring, he fractured his foot.
These injuries aren't specifically related to each other, so it seems to be more a case of luck than the dreaded "injury-prone" tag, but ... he's been injury-prone. If Ash is healthy, Texas has itself a solid, underrated quarterback. After all, those per-attempt numbers include the awful games, which means the good games were tremendous -- 19-for-23 for 326 yards against Ole Miss in 2012, 25-for-31 for 364 against Iowa State in 2012, 20-for-28 for 343 against NMSU to start 2013. But until he stays healthy for an entire season, it's hard to assume it will happen. And the backup situation is rather terrifying.
Pretending for a moment that Ash is healthy and the play-calling is unified, pieces fall into place. Even if the Longhorns maintain Watson's pass-first identity, the running back situation is a likely plus -- Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray are no longer blue-chippers, but they're solid. Joe Bergeron is efficient, and Jalen Overstreet is explosive. And in the receiving corps, Texas has the efficient Jaxon Shipley (68 percent catch rate), the potentially explosive Marcus Johnson (15.9 yards per catch), dual-threat run-or-pass guy Daje Johnson (80 percent catch rate, 24 carries), and any number of fellow former blue-chippers looking for a fresh start. There are assets if the quarterback can get them the ball.
|Malcolm Brown||RB||6'0, 228||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||214||904||9||4.2||3.7||32.7%|
|Johnathan Gray||RB||5'11, 210||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||159||780||4||4.9||5.2||34.6%|
|Joe Bergeron||RB||6'1, 232||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||73||362||4||5.0||4.2||42.5%|
|David Ash||QB||6'3, 227||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||27||175||1||6.5||7.3||37.0%|
|Daje Johnson||WR||5'10, 180||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||24||140||1||5.8||4.9||50.0%|
|Jalen Overstreet||RB||6'2, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||20||102||2||5.1||6.9||35.0%|
|Tyrone Swoopes||QB||6'4, 241||So.||4 stars (5.8)||18||88||1||4.9||5.7||44.4%|
|Donald Catalon||RB||6'0, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jaxon Shipley||WR-H||6'1, 193||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||82||56||589||68.3%||20.2%||51.4%||7.2||-70||6.9||68.6|
|Kendall Sanders||WR-Z||6'0, 190||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||73||37||361||50.7%||18.0%||47.6%||4.9||-148||5.6||42.0|
|Marcus Johnson||WR-X||6'1, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||41||22||350||53.7%||10.1%||41.7%||8.5||57||8.4||40.7|
|Daje Johnson||WR-H||5'10, 180||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||30||24||178||80.0%||7.4%||72.4%||5.9||-84||6.1||20.7|
|Malcolm Brown||RB||6'0, 228||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||28||17||195||60.7%||6.9%||36.4%||7.0||-17||8.8||22.7|
|Johnathan Gray||RB||5'11, 210||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||20||15||61||75.0%||4.9%||55.6%||3.1||-108||3.1||7.1|
|Joe Bergeron||RB||6'1, 232||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||15||12||116||80.0%||3.7%||54.5%||7.7||-15||8.6||13.5|
|John Harris||WR-Z||6'3, 223||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||11||5||141||45.5%||2.7%||50.0%||12.8||68||15.9||16.4|
|Geoff Swaim||TE||6'4, 242||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||5||3||14||60.0%||1.2%||100.0%||2.8||-24||1.6||1.6|
|Greg Daniels||TE||6'5, 243||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||3||3||28||100.0%||0.7%||50.0%||9.3||-2||10.3||3.3|
|M.J. McFarland||TE||6'6, 243||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jacorey Warrick||WR||5'10, 174||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jake Oliver||WR||6'4, 216||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Montrel Meander||WR-X||6'3, 186||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Blake Whiteley||TE||6'5, 242||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Lorenzo Joe||WR||6'2, 192||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Armanti Foreman||WR||6'0, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Trey Hopkins||RT||42||2nd All-Big 12|
|Donald Hawkins||LT||24||2nd All-Big 12|
|Dominic Espinosa||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||39|
|Kennedy Estelle||RT||6'7, 285||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||8|
|Sedrick Flowers||LG||6'3, 317||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||1|
|Kent Perkins||RT||6'5, 325||So.||4 stars (6.0)||1|
|Desmond Harrison||LT||6'8, 318||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Taylor Doyle||RG||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Curtis Riser||LG||6'4, 327||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0|
|Camrhon Hughes||RT||6'7, 317||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Darius James||LT||6'5, 311||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Jake Raulerson||C||6'5, 279||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Rami Hammad||RG||6'5, 320||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Alex Anderson||LG||6'5, 316||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
6. The line was finally getting somewhere
Despite all the blue-chippers in the world, Texas' offensive line had underachieved for years. And to be sure, it wasn't amazing in 2013 either. But the Longhorns' line stats improved from 67th in Adj. Line Yards and 55th in Adj. Sack Rate to 35th and 41st, respectively, last year, and that was with total instability at the quarterback position. Experience was finally leading to results.
Of course, guys only have four years. Experience eventually becomes inexperience, and Wickline must now replace four players who had combined for 140 career starts up front. Wickline has one of the best reputations in the country -- he crafted outstanding lines at Oklahoma State for years. But OSU's line was below-standard for each of the past two seasons thanks to turnover and instability; we'll see if it's the same story here.
Three-year starting center Dominic Espinosa is back, and again, there are former four-stars galore. We'll see.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.0%||48||Succ. Rt. +||105.3||40|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.7||58||Off. FP+||99.5||68|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||37||Redzone S&P+||125.1||6|
|Q1 Rk||54||1st Down Rk||50|
|Q2 Rk||29||2nd Down Rk||12|
|Q3 Rk||22||3rd Down Rk||56|
7. A cupboard far from bare
Expectations are funny things. The disastrous defense that brought Manny Diaz to town ranked 31st in Def. F/+ in 2010. The disastrous defense that eventually got Diaz run out of town ranked 40th. This isn't awful. But when you recruit like Texas recruits, the bar will be awfully high, and a No. 48 ranking in Rushing S&P+ in particular isn't going to cut it.
Strong brought defensive coordinator Vance Bedford to town with him. Bedford was Mike Gundy's first D.C. at OSU before spending a year at Michigan, then joining up with Strong at Florida in 2008-09. It took Strong and Bedford a little while to get the pieces arranged in Louisville -- the Cardinals ranked 45th, 46th, and 48th in Def. F/+ in 2010-12. But everything came together in 2013, and Louisville had the No. 10 defense in the country.
Granted, three of last year's top six tacklers on the line are gone, as are two of the top three in the secondary. But injuries in recent years have created solid depth of experience, and it almost goes without saying that there are former blue-chippers at every level of the defense. On paper, Strong and Bedford will have plenty of options for making this a hell of a defense in under three years.
Fair or unfair, Texas built a reputation for softness in recent years. If the new staff can draw out some attitude, this should be a fun defense to watch.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cedric Reed||DE||6'6, 271||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||56.0||7.1%||16.5||10.0||0||4||5||0|
|Malcom Brown||NT||6'4, 320||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||13||47.0||5.9%||10.0||2.0||0||4||0||0|
|Desmond Jackson||DT||6'1, 301||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||27.0||3.4%||3.5||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Shiro Davis||BUCK||6'3, 258||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||11.0||1.4%||3.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Hassan Ridgeway||DT||6'4, 309||So.||4 stars (5.8)||12||10.0||1.3%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Bryce Cottrell||BUCK||6'3, 241||So.||3 stars (5.6)||11||3.5||0.4%||1.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Paul Boyette Jr.||DT||6'4, 292||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Caleb Bluiett||DE||6'3, 264||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Alex Norman||NT||6'4, 292||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Marcus Hutchins||DT||6'5,287||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Derick Roberson||DE||6'4, 235||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dalton Santos||MLB||6'3, 243||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||52.5||6.6%||8.0||0.0||0||4||0||0|
|Steve Edmond||MLB||6'3, 253||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||11||51.0||6.4%||1.5||1.0||2||5||0||0|
|Peter Jinkens||SLB||6'1, 230||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||39.5||5.0%||1.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jordan Hicks||WLB||6'2, 244||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||4||30.0||3.8%||2.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Demarco Cobbs (2012)||WLB||6'2, 225||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||11||24.5||3.0%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kendall Thompson||WLB||6'3, 222||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||12||16.5||2.1%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Timothy Cole||WLB||6'2, 232||So.||4 stars (5.8)||11||7.0||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tevin Jackson||LB||6'2, 243||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||7||3.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Deoundrei Davis||LB||6'3, 228||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Naashon Hughes||SLB||6'4, 231||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Andrew Beck||MLB||6'3, 233||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
8. Hicks is a bonus
Despite the loss of end Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas still returns a 10-sack guy in Cedric Reed and one of the nation's more disruptive tackles, Malcom Brown. Shiro Davis appears set to move into the BUCK position, and while there's turnover up front, there remain plenty of options.
The questions come mostly at the linebacker level, where Texas seems to have underachieved drastically in recent years. Injuries to Jordan Hicks and Demarco Cobbs limited Robinson's options last fall, and outside of Dalton Santos (against the run) and Steve Edmond (against the pass), there was minimal play-making presence.
If Hicks is healthy, he could form a hell of a tandem with Santos, Edmond, and whoever blossoms under the new staff. But after missing 16 games in the last two seasons, his presence has to be considered a bonus. It might be up to seniors Kendall Thompson and Demarco Cobbs or sophomore Tim Cole to make plays from the weakside position.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mykkele Thompson||SS||6'2, 183||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||53.5||6.8%||1||0.5||1||0||0||0|
|Quandre Diggs||CB||5'10, 204||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||13||44.0||5.6%||3||2.5||0||10||1||0|
|Duke Thomas||CB||5'11, 182||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||41.0||5.2%||2||1||3||5||0||0|
|Josh Turner||FS||6'0, 179||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||12||29.0||3.7%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sheroid Evans||CB||6'0, 188||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||5||12.5||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryson Echols||CB||5'10, 185||So.||4 stars (5.8)||13||8.0||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adrian Colbert||SS||6'2, 202||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||5.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Vaccaro||SS||5'10, 185||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Antwuan Davis||CB||5'11, 191||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Chevoski Collins||FS||5'11, 201||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Edwin Freeman||S||6'1, 215||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
9. A great secondary on paper
In three seasons, cornerback Quandre Diggs has amassed eight interceptions, 31 break-ups, nine tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Duke Thomas defensed eight passes and made two TFLs as the fifth DB last year. Senior safeties Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner have seen the field quite a bit through the years. Redshirt freshmen Antwuan Davis and Chevoski Collins bring athleticism and new blood to the table, as does incoming freshman Edwin Freeman. Experience only extends to the first string, but defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn, an import from Memphis' successful defensive staff, has plenty to work with here. The secondary might not get quite as much help from the pass rush as it has in recent years, but it should hold up. The run defense remains the biggest concern.
|Nick Rose||6'3, 197||Jr.||75||62.8||32||0||42.7%|
|Daje Johnson||KR||5'10, 180||Jr.||14||19.1||0|
|Kendall Sanders||KR||6'0, 190||Jr.||10||23.8||0|
|Daje Johnson||PR||5'10, 180||Jr.||16||10.8||1|
|Jaxon Shipley||PR||6'1, 193||Sr.||10||13.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||31|
|Field Goal Efficiency||12|
|Punt Return Efficiency||22|
|Kick Return Efficiency||69|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||77|
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|25-Oct||at Kansas State||41|
|1-Nov||at Texas Tech||46|
|15-Nov||at Oklahoma State||18|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||15.7% (22)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||18|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||4 / 5.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (6, 8)|
10. Up to 12 winnable games, up to 10 losable games
Between the question marks on offense (namely, the quarterback position and the strange play-calling arrangement), the shaky (for Texas) recruiting, and the simple fact that Texas hasn't been a top-20 team (in F/+) since 2009, there's plenty of reason to doubt the Longhorns in Strong's first year. And while part of me feels the urge to point out that Louisville improved from 96th overall to 42nd in Strong's first season, I know that a sample size of one isn't exactly robust enough to draw conclusions.
I do, however, know that Texas' schedule is loaded in the middle. If the Longhorns put a top-20 product on the field, then one has to note that of the four projected top-20 opponents on the schedule, only one of them plays host to the 'Horns. The other three either visit Austin or meet UT in Arlington/Dallas. So if Strong connects immediately (and Ash stays healthy), virtually every game on the slate is winnable.
Meanwhile, if the Strong era starts slowly -- if Ash can't stay healthy, if the staff struggles to create a unified offensive identity, if "toughness" and "Texas defense" don't immediately join together -- and Texas at least temporarily lingers in the No. 40-50 range, then almost every game on the schedule is losable. A season-opening dud against North Texas? Conceivable. Upset loss at Texas Tech or Kansas? Why not? (Well, more the former than the latter.) A late slump and home loss to TCU? It could happen.
Texas lacked a strong identity in recent years, and uncertainty in this regard sometimes ends up looking like softness or timidity on the field. Charlie Strong teams aren't soft and timid. But there's work to do in Austin, and the schedule could create a pretty gaudy record in either direction.