A new Big 12 Roundtable, courtesy of Crimson and Cream Machine.
1. Who are some of the new faces that emerged in the spring who could be serious playmakers for your team this fall?
Offense: For Texas fans, the question is especially relevant in light of the departure of its three top offensive playmakers to the NFL - Jamaal Charles, Jermichael Finley, and Limas Sweed. For the Sooners in the audience, that means Texas lost its top tailback, tight end, and wide receiver from a season ago.
As far as replacements go, I'm not one who believes there's much (if anything) to be learned from spring practice. With the depth chart supposedly wide open, we won't have a good grasp on who might best become a playmaker for Texas in '08 until late August at the earliest. More realistically, we won't know if Texas has a playmaker problem until conference play begins the first week of October. Players I'll frantically be watching for game-changing ability: John Chiles, DeSean Hales, Malcolm Williams, Vondrell McGee, and Foswhitt Whittaker.
Defense: I'm already in love with this Texas defense, both for how it sets up in 2008 and its potential for dominance in '09. The Longhorns will lose Brian Orakpo (DE), Roy Miller (DT), Aaron Lewis (DT), Rashaad Bobino ('MLB'), and Ryan Palmer (CB) after this year. Orakpo and Miller are potential All-Americans this season, but the rest are either already passed on the depth chart or about to be by younger, better players. By 2009, the optimist in me sees Deon Beasley ready to be a Thorpe candidate, the young Wells-Scott-Thomas trio at safety ready to shine, a terrifying (for opposing offenses) Kindle-Norton-Muck linebacking trio, plenty of talent at defensive end, and only one question mark - at DT.
2. What is your biggest concern following the spring?
If it's not obvious from above, I'm calmer about Texas football than I have been in years, in large part because I see Texas as well-positioned for 2009, in large part through a building year in 2008. That's not to say we won't be good in '08, but the situation looks even better for a year from now.
For the upcoming year, I'm worried deeply about finding playmakers on offense, but see this year as a good trial run on a host of potential skill position contributors while our offensive line rounds in to shape. By this time next year, Texas' O-Line will be among the country's best, and if we've done our job in '08, we'll have an idea of how to score enough on offense to take advantage of what could be one of Texas' best defenses in a decade.
3. Any major changes (philosophy, coaching or personnel) that you are concerned or worried about?
All the trends in philosophy/coaching/personnel are positive right now. After a soul-crushing 2007 season, I just don't have it in me to be pessimistic that the changes we saw post-A&M aren't going to lead to better results. I may be proven a fool, but for now, I'm donning my Optimist Cap with pride, looking forward to an interesting, productive building year in '08, with greedy eyes on '09.
4. Looking over the 2008 schedule, which home and away game will be the most difficult?
Home: Missouri travels to Austin the week after the Red River Rivalry for a game in which Texas' top three linebackers will need to be healthy and its green safeties all grown up. I'm worried, too.
Away: Same as always, the most important game away from Austin will be the showdown with Oklahoma. The Sooners have a loaded offense and enough defense to be considered rightful Big 12 South favorites. If Texas has BCS aspirations in '08, this is the big one.
5. Time for your way too early predictions (Yes, you can change them in August). Rank how you see your division finishing up next season.
3) Texas Tech
4) Texas A&M
5) Oklahoma State
The Red Raiders own a three-game win streak over A&M; if they win this year's tussle in College Station, I see them as the next-in-line behind the South Division's top two teams.
Texas' schedule increases in difficulty from a season ago, and though there exist too many quesion marks to pick the 'Horns for the South, I do like Texas to have a solid season, finishing the year a team no one is eager to play in '09.