Top 25 Team Previews
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Texas Longhorns
2009 Record: 13-1 (7-0 in Big 12)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Sam Acho :: James D. Smith/Icon SMI
at Rice (Reliant Stadium)
at Texas Tech
at Kansas State
Texas A&M (Dallas, Texas)
at Oklahoma State
at Texas A&M
vs. Alabama (BCS Championship)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sam Acho, DE/DT: Led the team in 2009 with 10 sacks while also forcing two fumbles and recovering a team-best four fumbles.
Kheeston Randall, DT: Proved himself on the nation's top-ranked run defense in 2009 (72.4 ypg) and also notched nine quarterback pressures and a forced fumble.
Aaron Williams, CB: The lockdown corner has been playing the nickel because he's fast enough to cover the slot and strong enough to provide run support.
Garrett Gilbert, QB: The five-star recruit from Austin has a bigger arm than Colt McCoy, but is facing a ton of expectations.
Tre' Newton, RB: Emerged as the go-to guy late last year because he can run (4.8 yards per carry), catch and pick up the blitz.
Colt McCoy, QB: His 45 wins as a starter and 76.7-percent completion rate in 2008 are NCAA records.
Jordan Shipley, WR: Set single-season records for receptions (116) and yards (1,485) last season while also making huge plays on special teams.
Lamarr Houston, DT: The driving force behind Texas' top-ranked rushing defense in 2009 also recorded eight sacks.
Sergio Kindle, DE/OLB: Led the team with 36 QB pressures in 2009 and recorded 2.5 sacks in the BCS Championship Game.
Earl Thomas, S: Left for the NFL after posting eight interceptions in 2009.
30: Number of consecutive games Garrett Gilbert has won as a starting quarterback, dating back to consecutive state title seasons at Lake Travis (Texas) High.
Mack Brown will go old-school with his offense in 2010, replacing the shotgun, zone-read, spread attack that helped Texas win a national title with Vince Young in 2005 with a power-running game and play-action passing with the quarterback under center.
Brown didn't like the way Texas ran the ball last season, when the 'Horns averaged just 4.0 yards per carry, their lowest since 2002. But he also wants to help take pressure off sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who replaces four-year starter Colt McCoy.
"Our offense was built to have Colt beat teams with his arm because he was so accurate," Brown said. "We're not saying Garrett can't carry out the same offense. But we want to go back to being more balanced."
On an offense seeking to replace the quarterback, top receiver (Jordan Shipley) and three fifth-year seniors on the line, Gilbert is no longer a major question mark. He bounced back from the shock of having to relieve an injured McCoy just five plays into the BCS national title game against Alabama with an impressive spring and will be aided this season by a stable of running backs led by sophomore Tre' Newton, a receiving corps led by junior Malcolm Williams and four seniors on the offensive line.
The nation's No. 1-ranked rushing defense in 2009 has some key holes to fill, including DT Lamarr Houston, DE Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy (the team's leading tackler the past two season) and ball-hawking S Earl Thomas (8 INTs last season).
But coordinator Will Muschamp is confident he has the players to fill those key roles, starting with DE Sam Acho (10 sacks last season), DT Kheeston Randall, LBs Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho and S Blake Gideon, who had six interceptions last season.
"Our expectations will never change at Texas," Muschamp said.
Jr. Justin Tucker, who has never attempted a field goal in college, must replace Hunter Lawrence, who was 6-of-6 on field goals in victories over Oklahoma the past two years and booted the game-winner from 46 yards in the Big 12 title game. John Gold has been a solid punter, and Texas has big-play men in the return game led by Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe, who both had kick returns for touchdowns last season, and punt returner Aaron Williams.
The defenses under Muschamp have been championship caliber, and with a secondary containing three NFL-caliber players, this year should be no different.
But Gilbert and Texas' new-look offense will need to find a comfort zone quickly, because Texas faces a tough four-game stretch starting Sept. 18 (at Texas Tech, UCLA, Oklahoma in Dallas, at Nebraska).
If Texas can survive that run unblemished, the Longhorns will again be the favorite to win the Big 12 title and could possibly make a return trip to the BCS national championship game.