NORMAN — Oklahoma routed Texas for the second consecutive season — and the fourth time in the Bob Stoops vs. Mack Brown era — last year, 63-21.
The early October showdown between the Sooners and Longhorns will once again be an important game in the Big 12 Conference season.
Continuing my blog series with a beat writer from each of OU’s 2013 opponents, Mike Finger from the San Antonio Express-News was kind enough to answer a few questions about Texas.
You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeFinger.
1. With Texas returning so much experience, would you say these are the highest preseason expectations the Longhorns have faced since Colt McCoy’s last season?
People forget Texas was ranked in the Top 10 during the 2010 preseason, when Will Muschamp was being asked if he had his best defense ever and Garrett Gilbert was The Kid Who Almost Beat Alabama. That lasted until about halftime of the UCLA debacle, and we all remember the meltdown that followed.
If anything, the past three years have created a sense of pessimism within the fan base in which the expectations of this year’s team might actually be too low. I’ve heard from several scouts and national media types who look at the Longhorns’ roster and see a team with as much talent as anyone in the Big 12. At least one Las Vegas sportsbook has UT favored in 11 games (and a pick ‘em against Oklahoma). And yet there are plenty of Longhorns fans wondering how they can possibly beat BYU.
I’m sure hopes will rise as the season gets closer. But in July 2010, a 10-3 record would’ve been seen as a huge disappointment. Now, it might be parade-worthy.
2. David Ash has shown flashes of his potential. Is this the year he finally puts it all together?
It’s kind of odd that a quarterback who ranked in the Top 25 nationally in pass efficiency as a sophomore still needs to “put it all together,” but that’s the perception of a guy who was quite good in nine games and astonishingly terrible in the other four.
Watch the tape of the game-winning drive at Oklahoma State (not counting the fumble, Pokes fans). Watch the Ole Miss game, the Texas Tech game, the second half of the Alamo Bowl. Ash clearly can be more than just a bus driver. He simply needs to avoid those days when he runs the whole thing off the side of the road.
This is the first offseason in which he’s been the clear-cut, unquestioned leader of the offense, and that should help. We’ll just have to wait until we see him at the Cotton Bowl in October to be sure of how much.
3. Would you say Mack Brown’s seat is hot? If so, will anything short of a conference championship in 2013 cool it off?
Many, many fans would like it to be, but Brown still has the backing of the president, the athletic director, and, most importantly, UT’s biggest donors. That probably would change if the Longhorns go 8-5 or 7-6.
But if they win 9 or 10 games? Even without a conference title in a down year for the Big 12, I’m not sure that would be bad enough to get him fired.
4. Brown’s Texas teams have been on the wrong end of four Red River Rivalry blowouts. In your opinion, how much weight do you give those Cotton Bowl failures when evaluating his overall tenure as head coach?
If he doesn’t get things turned around, his failures against OU will without a doubt have been his undoing. Each of those blowouts damaged the program, and each of them was inexcusable.
That’s why even though I hear a lot of talk about the importance of the games against BYU and Ole Miss and TCU, it’s obvious it’s still all about beating the Sooners. If he doesn’t do it this year, I don’t see how he ever recovers.
5. Where do you think Texas’ greatest strengths are as a team, and where do you see potential weaknesses?
The offensive line has been bad for so long — it even stunk plenty of times during a 12-1 2009 season — that I’m reluctant to mention it as a strength. But the Longhorns look like they finally have some quality depth there.
As mentioned above, Ash has a chance to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league. The receiver duo of Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis could be great. At running back, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray have sort of underperformed so far, but I wouldn’t be stunned to see a breakout year from any of them.
The Longhorns gave up more yards than any team in school history last year, so that’s clearly where we find the potential weaknesses. Still, they should be fine on the edges, where Jackson Jeffcoat leads a solid group of ends and Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom have the corners covered. The questions are at linebacker and safety, where coordinator Manny Diaz has plenty of tantalizing options, but not many proven ones.