Recent disappointments behind them, Longhorns poised to take shot at national title


Elisabeth Dillon

Longhorns head coach Mack Brown adresses reporters at Big 12 Media Days last month. While acknowledging that Texas' 22-16 mark over the last three seasons was unacceptable, he expressed optimism about the Longhorns' improvement and his team's goal of running the table this year—a goal he said it had last season.

Christian Corona

The Longhorns’ last two mottos have been “Brick by Brick” and “R.I.S.E.”, both signifying a rebuilding process that began after a disugstingly disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2010.

That process is over. 

Texas has won 17 games, two of them in middle-tier bowl games, in the last two years but has yet to fully distance itself from the
5-7 debacle.

But this year could be the year. The year the Longhorns cast aside inexplicable deficiencies in tackling. The year they consistently establish an effective running attack. The year they capitalize on a weak Big 12 – and win a national championship.

“Nine’s not enough at Texas,” Brown said, referring to the Longhorns’ 9-4 record in 2012. “Other teams win nine and they’re pumped. They’re giving the coaches raises and having parades. That doesn’t happen at Texas. We’re the reason it happens. We created it. I understand that. I like it… Let’s win them all.”

For the first time in the conference’s history, no Big 12 team was among the top 10 teams in preseason polls. 

The Longhorns checked in at No. 15 in the coaches’ poll, one spot behind Big 12 presesaon favorite Oklahoma State, who comes to Austin this year, along with Kansas State and Ole Miss.

Their only true road test comes in late October against TCU, when Texas will be coming off a bye week. 

Gone are feared gunslingers Landry Jones, Nick Florence, Geno Smith and Seth Doege – four of the nation’s top five passers last year. And that illustrious list doesn’t even include Heisman finalist Collin Klein, who is also gone. 

Not only will its competition be worse but Texas is much better now than this time last year. The Longhorns’ 19 returning starters are tops in the nation and a defense that gave up more yards in school history will get a much-needed boost from the return of Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks. 

“There’s a different swagger and a different confidence than there’s been the last couple of years,” Brown said. “And there should be.”

More importantly, Texas brings experience and stability to the quarterback position for the first time since Colt McCoy was behind center. David Ash has been inconsistent over the past two years, but the junior has blossomed from a wide-eyed fourth-stringer to a bona fide starter.

“As a freshman, 30 percent of the time you don’t really know what you’re doing,” Ash said. “As a sophomore, it’s like 15 percent. As you get older and older that time you don’t know what you’re doing goes down.”

The Longhorns are improving upon a team that was a few plays away from going 11-2 last season. A few yards here or there in narrow home losses to West Virginia and TCU and Texas would’ve had double-digit wins before its Alamo Bowl triumph over Oregon State. 

“Coach Royal said you gotta be good and you’ve gotta be lucky,” Brown said. “We haven’t been lucky the last few years. We haven’t had much luck. I’m ready to have some thrown our way.”

McCoy broke records en route to leading Texas to its national title game appearance in 2009. Ash is solid but he’s no McCoy. Fortunately for him, though, he’ll have a much better supporting cast than McCoy did. 

Tre Newton was the leading rusher on that 2009 squad, running for just 552 yards while McCoy accounted for nearly two-thirds of the team’s total offense. This year’s Longhorns have two tailbacks better than Netwon in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, arguably three if you include Joe Bergeron. 

With Texas’ newfound dedication to an up-tempo approach on offense, that should mean more touches to go around for everybody. Brown is even counting on Ash himself to make some plays in the ground game. 

“We really think he needs to make plays with his feet five or six times a game,” Brown said. “The best we’ve ever been is when Vince [Young] or Colt on a 3rd-and-4 pulls it down and runs it or he pulls it down toward the line of scrimmage, they all come toward him like David flipping it over his head in the Alamo Bowl.”

Everything has aligned itself for Texas to capture not just a Big 12 championship but a national championship. The conference is weaker while the Longhorns are stronger. They finally have a seasoned starter under center and the defense can only improve on last year’s performance. 

It’s time for Texas to contend for—and win—a national title.