2012 Longhorn football preview
It's Game Week. A new football season brings with it the birth of new hope and high expectations. None higher than at The University of Texas. After two years in mediocre purgatory, the Longhorn faithful are ready for a breakout season. Texas will enter the game Saturday as the No. 15 ranked team in the country.
Obviously someone's been reading press clippings because with no clear quarterback and a set of running backs that are barely shaving, this team hardly looks like world beaters. But at Texas, there is always defense and this year, the defense is taking on the look and feel of something special. We'll talk more about offense and defense later in the week. today we are talking about what the 2012 season will look like.
And a special season it is. The Big 12 transformation means new rivalries begin (or get renewed) and old rivalries die.
There is of course no Texas A&M on the schedule, the Aggies will be fighting for their lives in the SEC this season. There is also no Missouri and no one really cares about that. TCU is back after a 20-plus year hiatus following the breakup of the Southwest Conference, and West Virginia comes in as the new bully on the block, ready to make a bid for the Big 12 championship.
"I think the league is better," said Head Coach Mack Brown. "You don't even count the two coming in. I think the league is better than it's ever been, which makes it tougher on everybody. I mean, everybody right now in the league has a chance to win." The pundits seem to agree with Brown, six teams in the Big 12 are ranked in the Associated Press top 25 going into the season.
The season starts as all seasons do, with a couple of — shall we say — winnable games against, let's be charitable, teams working hard to build strong football programs. This year your odds of actually seeing the first two games depend upon how far you want to drive. The games will air exclusively on the Longhorn Network, which is available to almost no one in Central Texas.
Sept. 1 vs. Wyoming Cowboys
I like playing the University of Wyoming. First, I like the whole Cowboys vs. Longhorns western theme. Yes, I know, Oklahoma State is also the Cowboys, but their mascot is a big-headed, goofy cartoon character called Pistol Pete while in Wyoming the mascot is Cowboy Joe, a real cowboy, and their logo is a cowboy on a bucking bronco. That's cool, Pistol Pete is just goofy.
Second, I like that Texas tends to beat them like a drum. Last season was a bit of a breakout for Wyoming. The Cowboys went 8-5 and played in the New Mexico Bowl (they lost to Toledo). It was their best season in 14 years. They have a hot shot quarterback returning and they are confident, generally a dangerous combination. Still, they will lose to Texas. More on this game coming later in the week.
Sept. 8 vs. New Mexico Lobos
The University of New Mexico won only one football game last year — one. They have a pretty cool nickname, the Lobos (that's a wolf), but well, that's all they've got. Texas goes 2-0.
Sept. 15 at Mississippi Rebels in Oxford, Mississippi
This game is just a bit scary. Ole Miss is not a good football team. They won two games last season; yes that's better than New Mexico and Texas should win this one handily. Still, this game is in Oxford, Mississippi, and hosts what is widely known as the greatest tailgate party in the world. If the young Horns get at all distracted, they could lose.
This game will say a lot about how well prepared Head Coach Mack Brown has his team. A tight disciplined Texas football team will win big and be a good indicator of the season to come, while a sloppy, distracted team would indicate a lack of maturity for the young team and a long season ahead. Texas should be 3-0.
Sept. 29 at Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater, Oklahoma
The Oklahoma State game begins a Murderer's Row of a schedule for the Longhorns. #19 ranked Oklahoma State finished the 2011 season 12-1, defeating Stanford and their Heisman trophy winning, #1 drafted quarterback, Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl. Had it not been for one stupid, unimaginable loss to Iowa State last year, the Cowboys would have been playing in the National Championship.
Texas stays on the road for this one and OSU owns the last two games these two have played. This is a tall order, but OSU lost their best playmakers to the NFL after last season and this game should be the first real test for both of these teams after padding their early season with inferior opponents. Victory would lead Longhorn Nation away from the idea that this is yet another rebuilding year. A win would have Longhorn Nation dreaming big.
Oct. 6 vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
If Texas comes into this game 4-0, lookout. The Horns will be brimming with confidence after winning two games on the road against at least one very tough opponent. West Virginia starts the season ranked No. 11 in the country after finishing a 10-3 season by dismantling Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.
This will be a titanic battle of the bests. West Virginia may own the best offense in the Big 12 and the best quarterback in Geno Smith, while Texas likely owns the best defense. Outside of the tradition that holds up the OU and TCU games, this may be the best football game on the schedule.
October 13 vs. Oklahoma Sooners in Dallas
It's Texas vs. OU in the Cotton Bowl during the State Fair. With A&M's departure, there is now no rivalry even close to the history that this game carries. If Texas is undefeated — and they very well could be with one season-defining win at home against the Mountaineers — this game that today looks a bit lopsided in favor of No. 4 ranked Oklahoma suddenly becomes outstanding.
OU has been tabbed as the favorite to win the Big 12 (personally I think there are too many holes to plug on defense; I like West Virginia) and compete for the National Championship, but a young, fast, confident team like Texas playing at its highest level with a smothering defense? Well anything is possible then.
The week before this game is the harbinger of things to come. Texas vs. West Virginia in Austin and OU vs. Texas Tech in Lubbock. If the Sooners start looking ahead, the Red Raiders can beat them. OU rarely plays well in Lubbock, and Tech posted its biggest win of the season last year while playing at OU. In other words, a Texas team with win against West Virginia playing an OU team coming off a loss to Texas Tech and the entire tide of this game changes.
Texas will lose at least one of these last three games. The Horns are not good enough, not experienced enough to survive OSU on the road, WVU's offense and OU in Dallas. Still, the impossible can happen should the gods of football line things up just right. Hey, a guy can dream right?
So much can change over the course of an entire season, let's see if the Texas Longhorns are playing out a string or fighting for a championship, either is possible.
Oct. 20 vs. Baylor Bears
Last season Texas gave Baylor the gift of the Heisman trophy. Robert Griffin III picked Texas apart and Heisman voters were swayed. RGIII is in the pros now and Texas takes Baylor to the woodshed in Austin.
Baylor may have a fine quarterback in Nick Florence but Texas defense will simply overwhelm him, and by this time in the season, the Texas running game should be clicking.
Oct. 27 at Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kansas
Kansas is not good — at all. They went 2-10 last season winning only their first two games against McNeese State and Northern Illinois. So they hired a new coach, Charlie Weiss, who was run out of Notre Dame a couple years ago. They are so not good that the lead story on their football website is about all the Kansas players in the NFL. That's right, all the players not playing for Kansas anymore. Ugh. Still this is a road game... whatever.
Nov. 3 at Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock
Texas should enter this game no worse than 6-2 and looking at a shot at the Big 12 Championship if West Virginia and Oklahoma falter against lesser teams. This Texas Tech game in Lubbock looms large. Tech will be fighting for redemption this year after winning only five games in 2011, and nothing brings redemption like beating Texas at home. Texas cannot lose this game and maintain any momentum through the end of the season.
Nov. 10 vs. Iowa State Cyclones
The Cyclones come to Austin two years after nailing the coffin shut on the Longhorns' 2010 5-7 awfulness. Texas loss to Iowa State that year embarrassed the team and the coaches. The 2010 game was the beginning of the end for more than half the Texas coaching staff. Texas redeemed themselves in Ames last season and they will be ready to set the record straight in Austin this season. Iowa State ended 2011 6-6, the future does not look much brighter for them now.
Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving Day) vs. TCU Horned Frogs
If West Virginia is the best game scheduled this season, TCU may be the most fun. Like Texas, the Horned Frogs come in with a very young inexperienced team. Head Coach Gary Patterson calls this team the youngest "bunch of knuckleheads" he's ever coached. Don't take that too seriously. Patterson is one of the best coaches in the country and he leads a team that ended last season at 11-2 and has played in two BCS bowls over the last three years. He knows how to "coach 'em up" and he will have the No. 20 ranked Frogs ready to start a new Thanksgiving Day rivalry against Texas.
Texas and TCU played each other for the first time in 1897, this will be their 82nd meeting and a rivalry is reborn.
Dec. 1 at Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan, Kansas
Why does Texas play so poorly against K-State? The Wildcats always give the Horns a tough time especially in Manhattan, Kansas, and this year they play in the dead of winter. After going 10-3 last season, K-State enters 2012 ranked No. 22 with high hopes and a dynamic offense that will challenge all comers. So much can change over the course of an entire season, let's see if the Texas Longhorns are playing out a string or fighting for a championship, either is possible.
Tomorrow we look at the Texas offense. David Ash will start the first game at quarterback, but this year, does it really matter who is taking the snaps? I don't think so.