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July 28, 2011

Top 120 countdown
No. 22 Texas
Coach: Mack Brown (133-34 in 13 seasons at Texas; 213-103-1 in 26 seasons overall) | Staff
Last season: 5-7, 2-6 (6th in Big 12 South).
Returning starters (At least seven starts last year): Offense (5): QB Garrett Gilbert, C David Snow, G Mason Walters, TB Foswhitt Whittaker. Defense (7): LB Emmanuel Acho, FS Blake Gideon, T Alex Okafor (moving to E), T Kheeston Randall, LB Keenan Robinson, SS Christian Scott. Special teams (1): K/P Justin Tucker.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW: New coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired away from Boise State to overhaul a unit that last season struggled to run, was inconsistent in passing, had a maligned line and was among the nation's worst in committing turnovers. Obviously, he faces a big job. On the plus side, the Longhorns have a rising star at receiver and a heralded tailback recruit coming in. But the competition remains open at quarterback.

AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: Can the Longhorns get their running game going? This time last year, the talk out of Austin what that the Longhorns would put more emphasis on the running game. It really didn't seem that way once the season started. The arrival of true freshman Malcolm Brown could make a difference, but as the saying goes, a running back is only as good as his offensive line. Texas' line struggled in run blocking last season and must significantly improve
THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO: All the new assistants on Mack Brown's staff make positive impact. QB Garrett Gilbert makes dramatic improvement, which isn't uncommon for junior quarterback. The line makes progress in run blocking and Brown turns out to be as good as expected. Defensively, T Kheeston Randall has a strong year and another effective tackle emerges. The Longhorns get off to a quick start, gain confidence and develop into legitimate contenders for the Big 12 championship
THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The line continues to struggle in run blocking, so the ground game doesn't improve significantly. Gilbert remains mistake-prone, which leads to calls for a quarterback change. Holes persist in the defensive line. As a result, Texas struggles and again is in jeopardy of failing to qualify for a bowl game.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Turnovers definitely had a major impact on Texas' season in 2010. The Longhorns were tied with lowly New Mexico in turnover margin at 116th in the nation. Texas committed too many (30) and forced far too few (18). In fact, its seven losses Texas committed 24 turnovers while forcing just nine. No doubt, the Longhorns have other problems, but reversing the turnover ratio may be most vital to rebounding from last season's debacle.
BACKFIELD: Incumbent QB Garrett Gilbert faces challenges from sophomore Case McCoy and redshirt freshman Connor Wood for the starting job. Gilbert passed for more than 2,700 yards in '10, but threw 17 interceptions. The running game has had almost as many issues. Texas hasn't had a significant running threat since Jamaal Charles left in 2007. There is a bevy of returning backs, but they've been mediocre. Last season's leading rusher, Cody Johnson, gained 592 yards. That could change with arrival of heralded freshman Malcolm Brown, the nation's top-rated running back prospect.

RECEIVERS: Sophomore Mike Davis had an impressive debut season with 47 catches for 478 yards. He appears destined for a big career. Senior Malcolm Williams has big-play ability, but too many drops. Speedy Marquise Goodwin has opted to sit out a redshirt year to pursue track and field opportunities. The roster also includes are several talented young receivers - Darius White, DeSean Hales, Jaxon Shipley and Chris Jones - who must turn promise into production.

LINE: As always, Texas' linemen are massive, yet couldn't get a push in the running game last season. The Longhorns haven't had an offensive linemen drafted by an NFL team in three years. That further shows the problems they've had up front. Perhaps new line coach Stacy Searels, who arrives from Georgia, can make a difference. C David Snow and G Mason Walters are returning starters, and the Longhorns also are counting on sophomores Trey Hopkins and Paden Kelley and senior Tray Allen, who thus far has been an underachiever.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW: Statistically, the Texas defense was strong as usual in 2010. The Longhorns were sixth in the nation in total defense, but gave up too many big plays and forced few turnovers. New coordinator Manny Diaz arrives from Mississippi State and takes over a unit that hasn't played up to its potential, particularly up front.

LINE: Diaz said during the spring that the Longhorns don't have anybody up front that opponents fear. That may change. Junior Alex Okafor is moving back to end (his natural position) after shifting inside to tackle last season. He and sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat provide a potentially powerful pass rush off the edge. The interior line remains a concern. T Kheeston Randall is big and talented, but his intensity has been an issue. Meanwhile, the tackle spot next to him has been an even bigger problem. Fingers are crossed that sophomores Ashton Dorsey or Calvin Howell or redshirt freshman Taylor Bible (or someone) can develop into an effective starter there.

LINEBACKERS: Although there was a tendency to overrun plays at times last season (particularly from the middle linebacker spot), this could be the Longhorns' greatest strength. Seniors Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho have all-conference credentials. Sophomore Jordan Hicks, one of the nation's most highly coveted prospects in 2010, should be ready to make a significant contribution, too.

SECONDARY: Blake Gideon is entering his fourth season as a starting safety. He has a great feel for the game and knowledge of playing the position. The other safety spot could get interesting. Christian Scott is a returning starter, but junior Kenny Vaccaro could be in for a breakout season. But he's such a good athlete he could be moved to corner, where the Longhorns will have two new starters. Among the other candidates at corner are Carrington Byndom, A.J. White and Adrian Phillips.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Longhorns are set with senior Justin Tucker handling the kicking and punting duties. He hit 23-of-27 field-goal attempts last season, including a 51-yarder. He also averaged 41.2 yards on punts. D.J. Monroe is a threat on kickoff returns. Major improvement is needed in punt coverage.

THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 6th
Buzz: Mack Brown overhauled his staff in the offseason and the Longhorns seem to have a different approach to recruiting with the class of 2012. Texas already has 17 commitments but the staff seems to have hit the brakes a bit, choosing to wait on top prospects instead of moving on quickly to the next players on the board. A roster with some questionable early takes in their respective recruiting cycles likely led to the change, but an even more interesting development is the staff's approach to out-of-state targets. The Longhorns have thrown their irons in the fire with several of the top recruits in the country, something they did not do in years past, and it could pay off with a commitment or two. - BRIAN PERRONI

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Malcolm Brown is the Longhorns' most celebrated running back recruit since Cedric Benson. Brown has great power and speed and used those attributes to rush for 6,663 yards in his high school career. He could give an immediate boost to the running game, which has been lackluster for the past three seasons.

SCHEDULE

The Longhorns will get a good gauge of whether they've improved early with September games against BYU and UCLA, which trounced them 34-12 in Austin last season. The real test will come in mid-October, with back-to-back games vs. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Longhorns close with a home game against frequent nemesis Kansas State and road trips to Texas A&M and Baylor. All three beat Texas in 2010.

OUTLOOK

Coach Mack Brown complained that some players felt entitled during last season's 5-7 disaster. That shouldn't be an issue any longer. Texas figures to bounce back strong from that showing. The question is whether the Longhorns can be merely respectable or championship contenders in the Big 12. The quest to jump-start the running game and upgrade quarterback play will determine how good the Longhorns can be.

OFFENSE
QB Garrett Gilbert (6-4/218, Jr.)
Connor Wood (6-4/220, R-Fr.)
TB Malcolm Brown (6-0/215, Fr.)
Foswhitt Whittaker (5-10/198, Sr.)
WR Mike Davis (6-1/186, Soph.)
Darius White (6-3/200, Soph.)
WR DeSean Hales (5-11/175, Jr.)
Chris Jones (6-0/160, R-Fr.)
WR Malcolm Williams (6-3/228, Sr.)
John Harris (6-3/206, R-Fr.)
TE Barrett Matthews (6-2/235, Jr.)
Dominique Jones (6-3/240, Soph.)
LT Paden Kelley (6-7/305, Soph.)
Luke Poehlmann (6-7/285, Jr.)
LG Tray Allen (6-4/310, Sr.)
Thomas Ashcraft (6-5/310, Soph.)
C David Snow (6-4/295, Sr.)
Dominic Espinosa (6-4/295, R-Fr.)
RG Mason Walters (6-6/305, Soph.)
Garrett Porter (6-6/306, Soph.)
RT Trey Hopkins (6-4/290, Soph.)
Tray Allen (6-4/310, Sr.)
P Justin Tucker (6-1/185, Sr.)
KR D.J. Monroe (5-9/175, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Jackson Jeffcoat (6-5/253, Soph.)
Reggie Wilson (6-3/252, Soph.)
T Ashton Dorsey (6-2/295, Soph.)
Calvin Howell (6-4/290, Soph.)
T Kheeston Randall (6-5/295, Sr.)
Greg Daniels (6-5/270, R-Fr.)
E Alex Okafor (6-5/260, Jr.)
Dravannti Johnson (6-2/235, Jr.)
OLB Jordan Hicks (6-2/228, Soph.)
DeMarco Cobbs (6-2/210, Soph.)
MLB Emmanuel Acho (6-2/240, Sr.)
Aaron Benson (6-2/230, R-Fr.)
OLB Keenan Robinson (6-3/235, Sr.)
Tevin Jackson (6-2/230, Fr.)
CB Carrington Byndom (6-0/175, Soph.)
A.J. White (6-0/175, Soph.)
CB Adrian Phillips (5-11/199, Soph.)
Quandre Diggs (5-10/192, Fr.)
FS Blake Gideon (6-1/205, Sr.)
Nolan Brewster (6-2/205, Jr.)
SS Kenny Vaccaro (6-1/214, Jr.)
Christian Scott (6-1/217, Sr.)
K Justin Tucker (6-1/185, Sr.)
PR Carrington Byndom (6-0/175, Soph.)

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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