David Ash. As the starting QB in a new offensive system, with a new QB coach (3rd in 3 seasons apparently), he's going to have a lot riding on his shoulders in Charlie Strong's inaugural season. Ash has been cleared to return to practice after only playing in 3 games last season due to concussion. With dwindling playmakers on the offensive side of the ball with just about each passing day, Ash's role continues to grow. Also, there's not much in terms of backups behind Ash with sophomore Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard.
Running backs. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, while supremely talented, will be the only returning running backs with experience. We may see a freshman or a previously unknown player step into this rotation, but expect the majority of the carries to be from these two guys.
Cedric Reed. He had a monster junior year and looks to be the star of the defensive line in 2014. As a senior, he will be counted on to add to his phenomenal junior campaign, where he tallied 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. And he's not the only monster on the defensive line.
Malcolm Brown. The defensive tackle, not the running back. Brown will be the anchor of the defensive front whether Texas is running a 3- or 4-man front. Brown will be a junior this season and ready to take on more of a leadership role, especially on the talented defensive line.
What do we know about the Longhorn offense?
Did you watch the Texas spring game? I've only seen clips and I only watched bits and pieces of Strong's offensive units from Louisville. From what I have seen, though, it will be a pretty balanced and multiple attack, looking to lean on the run. With not-so-ideal talent under center and in the receiving corps (there's still a Shipley out there somewhere and Daje Johnson), the ground attack will probably be leaned on pretty heavily. The plays I've seen have mostly been from a pistol formation with one back. They can line up in a spread formation with 3 or 4 receivers in this look, or bring in a full back and 2 tightends. Your looks are going to be varied, but expect them to run with Gray and Brown. Midterm enrollee Blake Whiteley could factor heavily into the offense, but remember he is a JUCO transfer.
What do we know about the Longhorn defense?
Again, expect this defense to have multiple looks. It seems unclear if they will be running a 4-3 or 3-4 base defense (although in the Big 12, you're going to need to have multiple looks to defend the various offenses in the conference). What is clear, though, is that the defense returns a lot of talented playmakers, like Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown, Quandre Diggs, Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens. I'm interested to see how new defensive coordinator Vance Bedford runs things (also, he's the highest paid assistant coach on staff at $800K).
How will Texas affect the Red Raiders?
Texas has an interesting schedule this year. Following their non-conference slate, which includes North Texas, BYU and UCLA, they run through the conference schedule with a 1 off, 2 on rotation, where they play a traditionally weaker team, then 2 strong teams, then 1 weak, then 2 strong. You get the point.
|Aug. 30||vs. North Texas|
|Sept. 6||vs. BYU|
|Sept. 13||vs. UCLA|
|Sept. 27||@ Kansas|
|Oct. 4||vs. Baylor|
|Oct. 11||vs Oklahoma|
|Oct. 18||vs Iowa State|
|Oct. 25||@ Kansas State|
|Nov. 1||@ Texas Tech|
|Nov. 8||vs West Virginia|
|Nov. 15||@ Oklahoma State|
|Nov. 27 (T-giving)||vs. TCU|
Tech catches Texas back in Lubbock on Halloween weekend, 6 years to the day of "THE CATCH." They will have just traveled to face a dangerous Wildcat team in Manhattan and will be hosting West Virginia in Austin after this game. They're likely sitting at 5-3 heading into this game. They won't be too worried about making a bowl this year, unless the wheels fall off somewhere, but we have yet to see how a Charlie Strong-led team performs in various scenarios. Tech will have just faced TCU in Ft. Worth and will be going into a bye week before hosting Oklahoma. I don't think either teams' schedule sets this game up in something special, outside of the "weirdness" of playing a night game in Lubbock in November.
Where will Texas finish?
This team is such a mystery to me. I don't know what they're capable of, good or bad. Realistically, this team could finish anywhere between 4-8 and 10-2 (I know, that's a huge margin of error for me). If Texas struggles, though, the end of their schedule could snowball. I would expect for Texas to finish with a "Texas mediocre" 8-4, but I don't know enough on this team to definitively say where I see the wins and losses coming from (outside of them going down in Lubbock, obviously). They're not going to win the conference (this year) and may be settling for a mid-tier bowl game in the end of December.