Texas Football 2011: Offseason Ruminations

As longtime readers of the site well know, my contributions to BON take a sharp dive in May each year as I bury myself in the long and tedious work of putting together the Eyes of Texas football preview magazine. I've got another two weeks of grinding work left, but there's light at the end of the tunnel and -- interesting and encouraging recruiting news aside -- my mind is more or less fully transitioned from hoops to football mode. 

As such, and seeing as I've reached a point tonight where I'm not going to do any more work on the magazine, how about a quick scattershot of football-related thoughts, largely based on stuff I've been working through for various portions of this year's annual.

Horns_bullet_mediumEnthusiasm and expectations.  My sense is that the generally outstanding job that Mack Brown did in turning over his staff of assistants has fans excited and optimistic about the future. To be sure, I share in that, but I must say, after pouring over both the roster and upcoming schedule, I wonder if expectations are aligned with reality, at least where 2011 is concerned. Regarding the roster, there's plenty to like, generally, and an encouraging number of younger talents about which to be excited. But overall, both the composition of the team and the new coaching regime suggest that we're going to open the year an incomplete work-in-progress.

As for the schedule, Texas will be decided underdogs against OU, OSU, and A&M. Assume, for now, that we lose all three, even if we play well. Texas will also be tested by BYU (a team that finished awfully strong last year and returns a lot of key players), at UCLA (an incomplete, but talented, team that won't back down from playing us) and Baylor (quarterbacked by senior Griffin), to say nothing of road trips to potential landmines at Ames and Columbia. I'm not ready to discount Texas Tech as a viable threat, either.

In other words, even if Texas was projecting to be damn good this year, we'd have three Top 15 opponents in OU, OSU, and A&M that could be losses in the best of times. As is, we have that, plus as many as a half dozen games that qualify as toss-ups to some degree. Even if Texas goes 5-1 or 4-2 against its second-level competition, if we get swept by the big three the team is looking at a 7-5 season -- or 8-4 if things go well. 

Are fans ready for that? The question is not whether 8-4 is good enough to be Texas Standard -- it's not, and neither we the fans, nor Mack Brown, nor anyone else associated with the program, will argue that it is. The question is whether fans with that expectation think that we're going to meet the Texas Standard right away. And how they're going to react when we don't.

It could be that fans will take the long view and that this season will be evaluated -- as it should -- on whether and how the program takes concrete steps towards getting back to the top, but that's a lot to ask where the standards are as high as they are and fans, understandably, don't have much patience for failure to meet them. Understandable or not, an objective view of this year's team and the schedule suggests Texas fans are going to be precisely so challenged, and I'm genuinely interested to see how it is received. If this season goes exceptionally well and the team has a great year, we'll all be (rightfully) excited, but I'm deeply intrigued to see how fans feel if the season is merely average or, as is possible, below average.

Given our history, you'd think we'd be able to handle a merely solid season just fine, but memories are short and recent success has assuredly spoiled us, to one degree or another. Combine that with the optimism that this new coaching staff is sure to inspire and I have to wonder whether as a fan base we're really prepared for what could be a clunky, working-things-out kind of year.

Are Texas fans really prepared to conclude of an 7-5 season (that represented the right kind of progress for the future) was, all things considered, a success? I have my doubts. I'd love to hear more about what you think in the comments.

Horns_bullet_mediumRedshirts! Name your redshirts!  I've been polling friends and colleagues to ask who among the incoming freshmen they thought would play and who would redshirt this season.  Various roster issues make for particularly complex decisions this year, but even if the personnel situation were relatively straightforward this question provides a fun challenge because Mack Brown has proven to be difficult-to-predict in this regard. Especially in the last half dozen years, he's not been shy about burning 'shirts, for reasons good and bad.

So let's give it a shot. I've divided the freshmen into three categories: "Will Play," "Won't Play," and "Crap, Tough Decision." For the latter category, I'm underlining the names of guys I'm guessing will play. Use the comments section to dis/agree.

Will Play:  Malcolm Brown, Jaxon Shipley, Quandre Diggs, Cedric Reed, Garrett Greenlea, Joe Bergeron, Sedrick Flowers, Steve Edmond, Sheroid Evans

Won't Play: Taylor Doyle, Miles Onyegbule, Leroy Scott, Quincy Russell, David Ash, MJ McFarland, Marcu Hutchins, Josh Cochran

Crap, Tough Decision:  Kendall Thompson, Mykkele Thompson, Chet Moss, Desmond Jackson, Josh Turner

Horns_bullet_mediumOn Malcolm Brown.  It's funny, but as we prepare to welcome the tailback many Texas fans view as our savior, Malcolm Brown appears poised to be at the same time one of the most overrated and underrated backs in program history. He is/will be overrated because he is widely misperceived as an athletic talent on par with some of the other recent greats to come out of this state, most notable Adrian Peterson. To be sure, Brown is a strong and physical runner, but he is not anything close to the freakishly explosive and powerful athletic talent that Adrian Peterson was/is. Nor is he as physically gifted as was Cedric Benson. Brown is "merely" a strong, durable runner with great burst for his size. And in that sense, he is already, and to the extent he's successful at Texas will continue to be, wildly overrated.

At the same time, Texas could not have asked for a more suitable back to be the ball carrier in Bryan Harsin's offense. The Power O run play off of which Harsin wants to base most everything that we do begs for a rusher like Malcolm Brown -- one who has the timing and acceleration to see and rip through a quick-to-open, quick-to-close rushing hole.  The ideal Power O Back is equally capable of making a big gain when it all opens up just right and plowing forward for 2-5 yards all the times that it doesn't.  That's Brown to a T, and whatever his ultimate upside limitations he looks ideally suited to be a supremely successful back in Texas's new offense. And if he is, he'll likely manage to be overrated and underrated at the same time.

Which... who cares? I'll certainly be delighted if we're forced to have that discussion.

I've got plenty more thoughts on the team, but my bed is calling. What's on your mind this offseason?

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