Head coach Mack Brown returns for his 16th season with a veteran team playing for redemption and the first earnest shot at a BCS Bowl Game in three years. The program has been in relative crisis since losing that 2010 championship game to Alabama, with the ensuing season's disturbing 5-7 implosion signifying Brown's only losing campaign in Austin.
Small upticks in 2011 and 2012 restored some of the longstanding program's lost vigor; the latter hinting at a return to prominence that should hopefully extend through the next Olympiad. 2013 figures to be a telling odyssey that will either substantially fortify or significantly damage Brown's job security, and he needs a resurgence desperately. Fortunately for him, Texas football returns 19 starters from last year's squad, which went 9-4.
Offensively, the Longhorns bring back plenty of weapons to wear out Big 12 defenses, with a trio of running backs (sophomore Johnathan Gray and juniors Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown) and 2012's top two receivers – junior Jaxon Shipley and senior Mike Davis – all fighting for handouts and Hail Marys from junior QB David Ash, the Houston native who finished last season with 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns thrown.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's unit remains the Longhorn's chief area of concern this season, particularly in the open field, where the art of tackling took second seat to letting opponents run wild. The Longhorns finished 2012 ranked 88th in rush defense – what's worse, they drove ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to classify the unit as "mystifying" – surrendering a staggering 29.2 points per game, a full touchdown worse than their 2011 average.
Fortunately for Diaz, the defensive reclamation project begins in earnest this Saturday against an assembly of anthropomorphic tackling dummies named the New Mexico State Aggies, a Western Athletic Conference doormat that went 1-11 last year and appears destined for another season spent on the bottom.
Next week yields a showdown against Brigham Young before mid-September matchups against Ole Miss and Kansas State. That's when Mack Brown's second quest for kingship returns in earnest. Until then, we're left to wonder: Is there anybody on this team who wants to handle any tackling?
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