b The Longhorn Mafia <$BlogRSDURL$>

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Texas Football: The 2007 Longhorns Season Preview 

2006 Record: 10-3 (Won Alamo Bowl)
2007 Preseason Rank: 4 (USA Today/Coaches Poll); 5 (Associated Press)

2006 In Review

Remember Texas' 1999 season? Lop off the ends -- the NC State's bizarre punt block-fest in the opener and the post-suspension-feuled "Dead Man Walking" routine in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas -- and Mack Brown's second (and, to-date, least successful) season eerily resembled what the Horns did last year.

Texas began both 1999 and 2006 basking in the proverbial glow of the prior season's glory -- Ricky Williams' record-breaking march to the Heisman Trophy and the school's first National Title in 35 years, respectively. They dropped decisive home games against high-profile foes (#13 Kansas State in 99, #1 Ohio State in 06), proceeded to steamroll the meat of their schedules, but yet they ultimately fell into a tailspin that resulted in consecutive losses to finish both seasons. The Longhorns also managed regular season wins against OU and Nebraska both times, but lost to Kansas State and Texas A&M both times, the latter of whom benefitted from facing emotionally deflated Texas teams.

1999 and 2006 both represented the kind of "could have been" seasons that fans dread. But there is one major difference between these two similar years: the Mack Brown era was still in its nascent stages in 1999, when nine wins, a division title, and a Top 15 ranking energized the Texas fanbase and served notice to the rest of the country that Texas football was once again on the rise. In 2006, fresh off college football's pinnacle, three losses and a minor bowl don't sit so well with fans that have grown accustomed to top five finishes, or with the players and coaches responsible for upholding the mantra, "the pride and winning tradition of the Texas Longhorns will not be entrusted to the timid or the weak."

2007 in a Nutshell

Texas expects to win. Texas has always expected to win, even during the dark years of the late 80's and early 90's, when 6-5 was damn near satisfactory. And with the ADT Trophy now collecting its second year of cobwebs, Texas wants to taste that level of success again. Is it a realistic expectation? The preseason rankings seem to suggest so. But as the Horns learned a year ago, when they started at No. 2 for the second consecutive season, those rankings don't always bear resemblance to reality.

The unfortunate reality of 2007 is that while Texas has no doubt improved from a season ago, multiple roadblocks loom for the Horns on their way to a potential Big 12 title and BCS berth. In fact it's not wholly unrealistic to think that Texas has about the same likelihood of ending up in San Antonio for another Alamo Bowl as they do for the Big 12 Championship game.

Perhaps I'm merely looking at a half-empty glass, but when Mack Brown calls this the youngest team he's ever coached, part of me grows somewhat uneasy. Youth is not necessarily a bad thing, and an influx of fresh talent helps to reinvigorate a team, especially one that mailed it in down the stretch a season earlier. But if 2004 and 2005 proved anything (besides Vince Young's super-human ability), it's that leadership means everything in college football. You cannot win without it. Who will truly lead the Horns in 2007? If Colt McCoy (or Limas Sweed, Jamaal Charles or someone else) steps in to fill that void, it will go a lot way to assuage the anxiety that I share with many of my reality-grounded Longhorn brethren.

For more on the 2007 Longhorns, check out the season preview Matt and I penned for the campus publication, Study Breaks. It's at least mildly funny, and much less stuffy and boring than what you'll find just about anywhere else. Plus it's got a cool, glossy layout, complete with lots of good photos. Just in case you're too lazy to click on the link, here's a snippet of what you'll find in Study Breaks.

Texas Football 2007: A Week-by-Week Glance

Sept. 1 vs. Arkansas State (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – 6 pm-FSN PPV

The Horns take a break from the season opening rotation of North Texas and Louisiana Lafayette to welcome Arkansas State to town. As in 2006, questions abound for Texas: Can the secondary rebound from a sub-par season? How will Jamaal Charles handle the full load at tailback behind a rebuilt offensive line? Will their opponent – the soon-to-be-no-longer Indians – even have a mascot?

Sept. 8 vs. TCU (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – 6pm-FSN

TCU may be a step down from Ohio State as marquee out-of-conference opponents go, but the Frogs harbor BCS hopes, just like Texas. Look for the Longhorns to rely on Colt McCoy and his talented array of targets to overcome a defense that returns nine starters from a unit that ranked second nationally against the run.

Sept. 15 at Central Florida (Bright House Networks Stadium; Orlando, FL) – 2:30 pm-ESPN2

This might not be just another Mickey Mouse opponent (sorry); Central Florida will want to make the most of the first game in their brand new, 45,000-seat stadium. But unless Mack Brown has contracted John Mackovic’s tendency to lose road games against undermanned opponents, Bright House Networks Stadium is unlikely to be a Magic Kingdom for UCF (sorry, again).

Sept. 22 vs. Rice (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – 6 pm-FSN

If Rice still had Todd Graham at the helm, with Longhorn legend Major Applewhite calling the plays, perhaps they would have a chance to make a game out of this. But they don’t. And they won’t.

Sept. 29 vs. Kansas State (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – TBA-TBA

Longhorn fans no doubt remember the upset in Manhattan last year that ended Texas’ dreams of a repeat. They should also remember that Texas has managed only two three-point wins in their five Big 12 meetings with K-State. As long as Colt McCoy doesn’t try to run any sneaks on 4th-and-goal, Texas should get back to .500.

Oct. 6 vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl; Dallas, TX) – TBA-TBA

What more can you say about this game? Well one thing you can’t say anymore is that Bob Stoops owns Mack Brown, as Brown’s squad attempts to win a third straight Texas-OU clash. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: this game’s winner should find their way to San Antonio for the conference championship game (barring late season meltdowns – see: 2001, 2006)

Oct. 13 at Iowa State (Jack Trice Stadium; Ames, IA) – TBA-TBA

Remember two years ago when Iowa State was the trendy pick to win the Big 12 North? No? I guess the glory days of Cyclone football seem like ages ago. New coach Gene Chizik should have his defense fired up to stop his former team. That means Texas may only score 40 on a squad most believe will wind up in the division cellar.

Oct. 20 at Baylor (Floyd Casey Stadium; Waco, TX) – TBA-TBA

If it tells you anything about Baylor, they lost their best player from the past few years to graduation in ’06 – punter Daniel Sepulveda. Since last beating the Horns in 1997, Baylor has scored ten points against Texas at home and has been shut out three times (including the last two).

Oct. 27 vs. Nebraska (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – TBA-TBA

But for a well-placed Aaron Ross helmet, Nebraska would have finally managed a regular season conference win against Texas in 2006 (it’s almost unfathomable to believe they have failed in all five attempts). It’s bound to happen eventually, right? At least if Texas requires late-game heroics this time, it won’t have to come in the middle of a blizzard.

Nov. 3 at Oklahoma State (Boone Pickens Stadium; Stillwater, OK) – TBA-TBA

Two seasons ago Okie State had the eventual national champs on the ropes at halftime, but were unable to deliver the knockout punch. With a talented offense – QB Bobby Reid ranked 16th nationally in pass efficiency as a sophomore on a unit that ranked 16th in total offense – and Les Miles thousands of miles away, the Cowboys could pull a home surprise. Or not.

Nov. 10 vs. Texas Tech (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – TBA-TBA

Tech hasn’t won in Austin since 1997, though they came very close in 2003. They also came close a year ago in Lubbock, when they jumped ahead 21-0 before the Horns roared back. Any Mike Leach offense is going to be dangerous, and the outcome here will largely depend on how well young DBs like Chykie Brown and Deon Beasley mature during the first ten games. History is on the Horns’ side in this one.

Nov. 23 at Texas A&M (Kyle Field; College Station, TX) – 2:30pm-ABC

Common sense says that Aggieland will be extra electric when Texas A&M takes the field, as the Ags have not won consecutive games over Texas since 1993-94. But with a schedule that includes likely losses to Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Nebraska (and don’t chalk up a road win over Mizzou just yet), A&M seems poised to return to mediocrity this season. Aggie football – it’s Fran-tastic!
What to Expect in 2007?

Of course I'm referring to my weekly game preview. I'll continue to take an irreverant look at the upcoming games, showcasing both my own hit-and-miss wit and Matt's much more coherent The Week That Will Be. I may or may not continue looking into my crystall (foot)ball for the Greg Brown Memorial Pregame Premonition, but I'll certainly continue looking high and low across the Interweb for Rational/Deluded Thoughts from an Opposing Message Board. You'll also have to endure more of my Personal Anecdotes Involving This Week's Opponent, but hopefully I won't be the only one reminiscing. I've invited the great Rodrick Walker to share some stories from his playing days.

For those that started watching Texas Football last fall, "Sir Rod" was one of a bevy of talented backs in the Texas attack from 1990-94. He's pictured here "shakin' they ass up" against Rice

"See that calm expression on my face? Just like Carl Lewis was when he broke records in track. Just like Earl Cambell when he burst out of his jersey. Just like Ali when he 'down goed Frazier!' Just like... Rodrick Walker when he... shook they ass up!"
I've been fortunate enough to hear a number of stories from the old days, including this one, regrading the closing moments of the 1990 win against Texas A&M. Coach David McWilliams called timeout with seconds remaining, before instructing Peter Gardere to take a knee inside the A&M 2-yard line.

"THE KNEE. That was sweet. When McWilliams told him to kneel down, I looked at Peter and said, "dive over the top!” He goes, ”hell no, I’m not getting in trouble for you.” I told him, ‘it’s not for me…do it for the team!” He was scared, Drew."
Good stuff!

Look for In the Huddle with "Sir Rod" (and Friends?) all season long.

And look for my Arkansas State preview... Wednesday?

I'll close with what you've probably been waiting for...

The Best Preseason Texas Video I Could Find on Youtube

Hook'Em Horns!


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