'Hornucopia': Hello, New Season

2012 Texas Longhorns football preview

Seinfeld went on to become the most commercially successful TV show ever, but it had a rocky start and needed a great second season to stay on the air. Longhorn fans pray for QB David Ash to have a similar sophomore turnaround, if there’s any hope for the Horns to become the masters of a domain, the Big 12, that has seen some shrinkage.

If the kid from Belton gets it together, then we can say to Case McCoy (all together): “No snaps for you!” Last year true freshman Ash should’ve been learning how Bevo Bucks work, not Coach Bryan Harsin’s playbook from front to back. After the mercy killing of Garrett Gilbert’s tenure at UT, Ash was thrown into the fray and showed a lot of character, even as his lips moved while reading defenses. He had a game-face stare that, unfortunately, stared too often at the intended receiver and for the season he threw twice as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns. It didn’t help that the four best offensive players – Jaxon Shipley, Malcolm Brown, Fozzy Whittaker, and Joe Bergeron – spent games on the sidelines in crutches.

If not for a last-second victory over the Aggies, engineered by Case McCoy, the “Brick by Brick” season would’ve hit a wall after the losses to Missouri and Kansas State. The Horns just couldn’t move the ball.

When your weakest link is at the most important position in all of team sports, it’s a little like competing in the Daytona 500 with a crew picked up at Jiffy Lube.

In his first full game as a starter, at home against Oklahoma State, Ash threw 40 passes and ran 15 times, all for 160 yards of offense. With the three-headed monster of Brown, Bergeron, and Johnathan Gray behind him, Ash better not be throwing or running as much this year. HAND IT OFF! The best third-and-long call will be Gray, the most highly touted Texas high school running back since Adrian Peterson, in the Whildcat (so spelled for the rare "h" in Johnathan) formation.

I propose Harsin and running back coach Major Applewhite devise some ground schemes with all three RBs in the backfield and Ash at the point. Call it “Wishbone Ash.”

Looking at the starting lineup for Saturday’s season opener against four-touchdown underdog Wyoming, one of the strongest areas of the team, for the first time in years, could be the offensive line. From center Dominic Espinosa to guards Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins to tackles Donald Hawkins and Josh Cochran, you got some experienced beasts there. The big addition is junior Hawkins, a Mississippi native plucked from – ew! – junior college. Coach Brown would rather be seen coming out of the Yellow Rose than a JUCO, but he got off his high horse for the hosses “Delta” Don Hawkins and DT Brandon Moore. There was an “immediate need” to fill: grown men in the trenches, not five-star fat boys.

Orangeheads the world over also had an immediate need filled Friday, when AT&T announced it had added the Longhorn Network to their channels. Before that deal, only 2% of the Austin area, those served by Grande Communications and Auto Body Repair, had access to LHN, whose logo of a tree falling in the forest now needs to be changed.

Back to the team. As a fan, it’s better to have a great defense than a great offense, don’t you agree? That feeling of knowing the other team just can’t score on us is the only thing better than Ash hitting Marquis Goodwin in full stride down the sidelines. But it’s not so great cheering for D# in a crowd full of strangers. I absolutely hate highlights of vicious blindside hits, but there are some people who react like violence is the best thing about football. And they’ll all be drunk on Coors Light and smuggled Jim Beam on Saturday night.

The breakout star of the defense this year looks to be junior Jordan Hicks, the nation’s top-rated high school LB, who finally started to play to his po' in the Holiday Bo'. The Horns haven’t had a truly great linebacker since Derrick Johnson took his tomahawk talents to Kansas City in 2005, but Hicks has the speed and just needs to tack on tenacity so we can call him “Hitman Hicks.”

One Mississippi, two Mississippi. On the D-line, anchored by potential first team All American DE’s Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, the Horns are starting another community college transfer from the state that gave us the blues and Oprah Winfrey. Brandon Moore will start at DT Saturday, alongside former RB Chris Whaley. Freshman DT Malcolm Brown (no relation to No. 28) is listed as third team on the depth chart, possibly because D-coord “Mad Manny” Diaz hates pop culture references. (Malcolm in the Middle be damned!)

Duane Akina’s NFL internship program boasts a defensive backfield, led by Thorpe Award hopeful Kenny Vaccaro, that’s without a weakness. "Akina matata" means no worries..

The high hopes have been adjusted for deflation after the Texas Longhorns followed an appearance in the 2009 national title game with two seasons of a combined 13-12. (That’s $800,000 per victory for Head Coach Mack Brown.) At this point, we’ll be delighted with a once-automatic 10-win season and staying within two touchdowns of Oklahoma.

But if Ash plays like Colt McCoy instead of just a little better than Case, the 2012 Horns could surprise some folks.

Longhorn fans should also show some improvement in ’12, with that sense of entitlement fading like Vince Young’s pro football career. Hold off on the boos and try to remember that, while coaches make millions, college football players get paid in homework.

But they give us football, which gives us purpose for a few hours every week for a few months. Is there a better time of the year?

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