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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Texas Longhorns

2009 Record: 13-1 (8-0 in Big 12)
2009 Bowl: BCS Championship Game (lost to Alabama 37-21)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #2
Head Coach: Mack Brown (128-27 at Texas, 214-101-1 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: at Rice (9/4), Wyoming (9/11), UCLA (9/25), Florida Atlantic (11/20)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 39.3 points per game (1st in Big 12, 3rd in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 147 (5th in Big 12)
Passing Yards/Game: 273 (6th in Big 12)
Total Yards/Game: 421 (5th in Big 12) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 16.7 points per game (3rd in Big 12, 12th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 72 (1st in Big 12, 1st in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 179 (2nd in Big 12, 19th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 251 (1st in Big 12, 3rd in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.64 per game (1st in Big 12, 15th in Nation)
Penalties: 58 yards per game (4th in Big 12)

Returning Starters
Offense: 5
Defense: 7
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Garrett Gilbert, Soph (30 of 66 for 310 yds, 2 TD, 4 INT)
Rushing: RB Tre' Newton, Soph (116 carries for 577 yds, 6 TD, 4.8 ypc, 39 ypg)
Receiving: WR James Kirkendall, Sr (48 rec, 461 yds, 6 TD, 3.4 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Malcolm Williams, Jr (39 rec, 550 yds, 2 TD, 2.8 rec/game, 14.1 ypc)
Tackles: LB Keenan Robinson, Jr (74)
Sacks: DT Sam Acho, Sr (10)
Interceptions: FS Blake Gideon, Jr (6)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #8
Lindy's: #4
Mark Schlabach: #5
Rivals: #8
Scout: #3
Sporting News:  #9
Sports Illustrated: #4

2010 Pre-Season Big 12 South Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2
Phil Steele: #2

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Cotton Bowl (vs. Arkansas)
Phil Steele: Cotton Bowl (vs. Arkansas)

Since taking over at Texas Mack Brown has led the Longhorns to a bowl game every year and has won at least 10 games in each of the past 9 years. Brown has never finished lower than 2nd in the Big 12 South. Last year Texas had close calls against Oklahoma and Nebraska but went into the National Championship game against Alabama unbeaten. This year the Longhorns must replace long-time QB and holder of many Texas records Colt McCoy. Defensively, the Longhorns should be the best in the Big 12. Most of the questions will come with the offense. We caught up with Wescott Eberts, an Editor and Recruiting Coverage Coordinator for SB Nation's Burnt Orange Nation, to get caught up on the 2010 Texas Longhorns.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

The biggest strengths will both be on the defensive side of the ball -- at defensive end and in the secondary. At defensive end, senior Sam Acho and Eddie Jones will lead the way. Acho led the team in sacks last year with 10 and consistently created and recovered fumbles -- he's primed for a big-time senior season. Jones may not start, but will play a large role defensively as the third defensive end in the rotation. A former five-star recruit, Jones suffered through numerous injuries during his first several seasons and was healthy last season for the first time in his career -- he's a testament to hard work and perseverance.

Sophomore Alex Okafor was a five-star recruit in the 2009 class and should play a bigger role in 2010 with the departure of Sergio Kindle. An incredible physical specimen, Okafor has all the tools to become a dominant force along the line of scrimmage. The Longhorns also have several talented defensive ends who will be freshmen in the fall, including five-star recruit Jackson Jeffcoat, ESPNU's second-rated player nationally and a remarkable technician for someone his age. Reggie Wilson just barely missed his fifth star by Rivals and has better athleticism than Jeffcoat, but lags behind slightly in technique. Both could have an impact on pass-rushing downs.

The secondary is the greatest strength of the team and the defensive unit, which should rank among the best in the country again this season. Junior nickel corner Aaron Williams didn't make a lot of pre-season All-American teams, but is considered a potential top-10 pick next April if he decides to forgo his senior season of eligibility. A form tackler with the strength to fight off blockers and the speed to blanket slot receivers, Williams is everything that Will Muschamp could want from a cornerback.

The other two cornerbacks will probably also play on Sundays. Senior Curtis Brown was another five-star recruit several years and has struggled at times being physical enough as a tackler, but has elite speed and made the game-changing play against Oklahoma State last year, jumping a route and taking the interception to the house. He's known as "Cat" to his teammates because of his incredible balance.

Another senior, Chykie Brown has NFL potential, but has to cut down on his mental mistakes in his final season in Austin. Junior Blake Gideon is the steadying influence in the secondary and although he struggles taking good angles and with his lateral quickness, he finished plays much better last year by pulling down six interceptions. At the other safety position, junior Christian Scott should start after spending last season on the sidelines because he was academically ineligible. He has all the tools at 6-1, 215 pounds, but needs reign in his aggressiveness to avoid falling for play-action fakes. Sophomore Kenny Vaccaro is another hard hitter at safety who needs to work on his discipline, but has the ability to erase mistakes by erasing opponents from the contest with his vicious strikes.

As far as weaknesses, both of the starting tackles are relatively unproven -- senior Kyle Hix moved from right tackle to left tackle and the new right tackle, senior Britt Mitchell, is a converted tight end (some time ago now though) and hasn't started yet in his career. Texas will also replace the starting center and left guard. Overall, the offensive line needs to improve in their physicality at the point of attack, while also weening themselves of the consistent mental mistakes and trying to avoid in 2010 the whippings by gap-penetrating defensive tackles meted out by Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, and Marcel Dareus in 2009. Basically, they need to get nasty and develop some pride.

Depth at defensive tackle is also a concern for the third year in the row. Over the last two years, the coaching staff has spun down two defensive ends to defensive tackle -- Aaron Lewis and Lamarr Houston. The third player in that line will be Sam Acho this season. The coaches seem serious about playing the standout senior inside on pass-rushing downs, but make no mistake -- the move was motivated in large part by a desire to light a fire under players like redshirt freshmen Calvin Howell and Derek Johnson, as well as other defensive ends who could spent some time inside like Tevin Mims and Kyle Kriegel, a sophomore and redshirt freshman, respectively.

Mack Brown has also made it a point to say that he expects one or two of the three incoming defensive tackles to contribute early. De'Aires Cotton is the most raw of the three and will probably redshirt, placing a great deal of pressure on Under Armour All-Americans Taylor Bible and Ashtn Dorsey. Bible was the more highly regarded of the two throughout most of the recruiting process, but a shoulder injury affected his conditioning as a senior, leaving the formerly lightning-quick DT looking sluggish on the field. Unless he can get himself into top shape, which he did not appear particularly close to at the spring game, Dorsey will be counted on to provide some snaps.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

The Longhorns travel to Texas Tech for the third game of the season and strange things always happen on the South Plains, particularly at night, so it's going to be a challenge. Throw in the Airraid offense, which will persevere after the departure of Mike Leach and what will likely be an increased emphasis on the running game with talented backs like Baron Batch, Eric Stephens, and Harrison Jeffers, and you have the potential for another upset. Fortunately for Texas, they only seem to lose in Lubbock every other trip. Don't count on Texas to suffer any hangovers from the trauma of The Catch -- this team has moved on from that, particularly Blake Gideon.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Over the years, I've developed a deep fear of playing Tech in Lubbock, even though they won't be the best team on the schedule this year. It's not really rational at this point.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

I think that has to be Aaron Williams. Teams rarely targeted him last year, to the extent that he revealed during a press conference some time during the season that he prays for quarterbacks to throw at him. Even when they don't, he can still make plays, as evidenced by his spectacular leaping interception against Oklahoma on a pass Landry Jones was trying to throw out of bounds. Not only is the kid the protoype for a cornerback -- and especially a nickel back -- but he also maximizes that talent.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

He hasn't started a game yet for the Longhorns, but Garrett Gilbert is already clearly the leader of the team and the best player on offense. Once he settled into a rhythm in the national championship game, he flashed his ability and sparkled through most of the spring game.

During the second open practice back in March, Gilbert not only made several NFL-quality throws, and perhaps more importantly, took control of the team by leading the celebrations afterward -- somewhat out of character for the normally soft-spoken sophomore, but evidence of his growing leadership. He has poise beyond his years and his teammates pick up on that and the way that he practices has a lot to do with it. Gilbert goes about his businss with the same type of intensity and purpose as you would expect Peyton Manning to show practicing or preparing.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Due to his ability to get to the quarterback and force/recover fumbles, Sam Acho should be the most impactful player on the defensive side of the ball and could present a major challenge to opposing guards in passing situations, as well as continue making plays from his defensive end. As a senior, it's his first opportunity to play full-time and there's no doubt that he's ready for it. And if you want to know what type of person Acho is, just check out this unprompted, random, user-generated story from BON about he and his brother, junior linebacker Emmanuel.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

I don't think there's any question that the offensive line needs to step up this season. The spring was spent mostly focusing on improving the running game by consistently using not only a tight end (the fabled Extra Blocking Surface) and an H-back, but it will be up to the offensive line to open up holes for the running backs. The Longhorns also lost their left tackle, Adam Ulatoski, who was a four-year starter at the position and excelled in pass protection. Kyle Hix, the starter last season at right tackle, moves to the other side of the line and needs to step up in pass protection or Gilbert will have trouble delivering the ball downfield.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

The most likely freshman to have a major impact offensively is wide receiver Mike Davis. An excellent route-runner from talent-laden Dallas Skyline, Davis has the chance to make big plays in the passing game on the double moves from the slot that made Jordan Shipley such a dangerous threat throughout his career in burnt orange. He'll have a chance to play early because few receivers enter the college game with as much polish as does Davis and that's a way to quickly earn the trust of a quarter like Gilbert, who somehow established a strong connection with sophomore speedster Marquis Goodwin in a matter of weeks last fall.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

As mentioned above, Jeffcoat could see some time in pass-rushing situations, but another highly-touted, five-star recruit may have a greater impact due to the depth chart at his position and his ability to contribute on special teams. That's Ohio linebacker Jordan Hicks, the Butkus award winner as the best linebacker in the country and one of the best recruits to every come out of the state. He's a Will Muschamp type of linebacker because he has it all -- size, speed, and aggressiveness. The fact that his high school team ran the same scheme as the Longhorns will only ease his transition. During the Under Armour game last year, it was Hicks delivering a good block downfield that helped spring fellow Texas commit Darius White for a punt return touchdown. It says something about how strongly Texas finished in the 2010 class that neither of those players were committed to Texas during that game in January, though White would don a Texas hat moments later.

Will Muschamp is one of the top Assistants in all of college football and is also the coach in waiting at Texas. Do you see Mack Brown retiring in a year or two and if not do you see Muschamp moving on if he gets a good job offer (presumably one better than the Tennessee offer he got last year)?

I think Mack Brown sticks around for a while. He's seemingly more at ease right now than he ever has been at Texas -- notable because it took him a few years to adjust to the culture and high expectations at the school. The staff around him is excellent and he's hauling in nearly every recruit he targets, so it's hard to see him stepping down in the middle of this run of success. Why would he want to? It's not a secret that Brown doesn't want to coach into his old age like Joe Paterno, but he's just too happy right now and in too strong of a position to want to leave yet. He still has a significant portion of his legacy to write at Texas.

The only two jobs that I could see Muschamp leaving for are Georgia and LSU. Muschamp spent some time at LSU under Nick Saban and Les Miles will surely be on the hot seat this season, so it's the other job that is a bigger concern. Mark Richt is another season of mediocrity away from his seat heating up and if there is one school that could really appeal to Muschamp, it's his alma mater, Georgia.

However, Muschamp doesn't seem to be in a hurry to be a head coach and his wife reportedly loves Austin, so those two factors combined with Texas perhaps being arguably the best job in the country will hopefully keep Coach Boom rooming the Texas sidelines indefinitely.

If he's as smart as I think he is, he understands that he can learn a lot from Mack Brown about how to run a program and at times he might even be happy that he doesn't have all the politcal/social obligations of being a head coach. Muschamp would much rather be breaking down film than glad-handing or dealing with the media, areas in which Brown excels. It's exremely believable that Muschamp truly is willing to be patient. And frankly, he just doesn't seem like the mercenary sort. Can't blame me for that belief as a Texas fan, right?

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Judging by the success of the last few seasons, it seems like a safe bet to pencil in 10 wins and I'm just having a hard time picking out any guaranteed losses because the defense should keep the offense in most games. I don't see more than two losses. The standard at Texas is high and if the team isn't competing for at least a BCS game at the end of the season, it would be a major failure because that's the worst position the program has been in throughout most of the last decade. Three losses in the regular season would be treated by the Texas fanbase as a major catastrophe, in large part because Texas will be favored in virtually every game this season with the possible exception of Oklahoma.

Check out Burnt Orange Nation to get your fill on Texas and Big 12 football. You can follow Burnt Orange Nation on twitter @PB_at_BON   and you can follow Wescott Eberts on Twitter @GhostofBigRoy.

Next Up: Oklahoma Sooners

Previous Big 12 Previews
Kansas State Wildcats
Missouri Tigers
Texas Tech Red Raiders

2010 Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Tech Hokies
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers
C-USA- Houston Cougars, SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Tulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- Troy Trojans
WAC- New Mexico State Aggies

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