The case for

The Longhorns at last look like the kind of talent-laden team Mack Brown once trotted out annually. Nineteen starters return from last year's 9--4 squad, which struggled mightily on defense before generating 10 sacks in a 31--27 Alamo Bowl win over No. 13 Oregon State. Standout defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and outside linebacker Jordan Hicks, who both missed most of 2012 with injuries, are back as well. David Ash, overwhelmed as a true freshman in 2011, is now the Big 12's most experienced quarterback (18 starts), and receiver Mike Davis leads a proven group of skill players. The Longhorns began installing a hurry-up offense during bowl practices and amped it up in the spring. The new scheme is a nice fit for Ash, a 67.3% passer last season. "We're not trying to throw the ball 65, 70 times a game," says offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, "but we are going to throw it more."

The case against

The defense is counting on the development of several players (linebackers Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkins, safety Mykkele Thompson) who have started games in the past. And while Ash came up big in several road wins last year, he has struggled with consistency and was benched twice.

Coach Speak

MACK BROWN

SI

How's your confidence level compared with last year's, when you were coming off a 5--7 season?

MB

Two years ago we stunk on offense and were good on defense. Last year we stunk on defense but were pretty good on offense. This year we're going to be older, we've got depth, the quarterback's older. I finally think that all comes together and we're a lot better.

SI

You've lacked experience and depth the last few years. But shouldn't Texas always be Texas?

MB

If you go back, that happened at Oklahoma, USC, Ohio State, Michigan. For a coach who's at a place for 15 years, it usually happens. You look up and all of a sudden nothing's working, you've lost your swagger. The expectations that are out there, we created. They weren't here when I got here. So I'm proud of those.... It's not like every minute of my day isn't spent trying to get us back and get better. I remember '98.

SI

Are you aware of the "Mack Brown recruited Johnny Manziel as a safety" meme?

MB

We offered David Ash that year, and we're proud of where he is and where he's headed.

Player to Watch

Look for the 5'10", 180-pound sophomoreDaje Johnson,who clocked a 4.34 40 at a high school combine, to motion in and out of the backfield and break for daylight on speed sweeps and swing passes. He may also return kickoffs. Announcers: It's duh-JAY.

PHOTOFRED BROOKS/ICON SMI (JEFFCOAT)Jackson Jeffcoat PHOTODARREN CARROLL FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BROWN) CHART
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)