In the opener against Rice last season, the Texas Longhorns played 18 true freshman in the game, a major indicator of where the program was entering the 2011 season. The good news entering 2012 is that despite being thin at offensive tackle, the Longhorns are once again climbing back towards the type of championship-level depth that helps coaches sleep well at night.
As a result, there won't be many freshmen playing big roles on Saturday evening. Not like now-sophomore Quandre Diggs did last year starting the opener. Or a freshman quarterback seeing early playing time in a specific package of plays, as did David Ash. Even though it would be pretty awesome to see what Jalen Overstreet can do.
Instead, there will be only a handful of freshmen likely to play significant roles against Wyoming, a number decreased by the suspension of Daje Johnson, who looked poised to steal reps from senior DJ Monroe. Here's a look at the players who will have a role:
1. Nick Jordan, placekicker -- With Penn State transfer Anthony Fera still out indefinitely due to his groin strain/hip flexor, Jordan will be the starting placekicker against Wyoming, and possibly through the rest of the non-conference season. A US Army All-American, Jordan's play during practice has been described by head coach Mack Brown as "good, but not great." It will be a major test to see how he performs under the bright lights at DKR in his first collegiate game, but the hope is certainly that he won't have to make any in high-pressure circumstances.
2. Johnathan Gray, running back -- It seems almost unimaginable to put Gray second on this list considering his incredible prep accomplishments, but Jordan gets the nod because there is currently no timetable for the return of Fera. Gray probably won't take a starring turn, either, on Saturday, with two proven running backs in front of him on the depth chart. But it will still be quite the sight to see him trot onto the field in burnt orange for the first time. And there's also a significant amount of anticipation regarding the first snap he will take in the Wildcat package, which should happen in a matter of hours.
3. Nick Rose, kickoff specialist -- Brown believes that the special teams have a chance to be as they have ever been in his Texas tenure, and the ability of the Highland Park walk-on to boot the ball through the endzone will reduce pressure on the coverage unit to make tackles. Here's the question, though -- with the kickoff moved up five yards and touchbacks moved out to the 25, doesn't it make sense to sky kick inside the 10 and then try to cover the kick instead of giving up that extra five yards every time?
4. Malcom Brown, defensive tackle -- There's been a lot of buzz about Brown throughout fall camp, to the extent that he could crack the rotation, even if there might not be a lot of snaps early in the game for the no. 5 player on the depth chart. If Texas can take care of business, though, Brown should see some action in his first college game. Senior defensive end Alex Okafor raved about how well he uses his hands for a young player, and there's never been any doubt about his quickness off the ball.
5. Marcus Johnson, wide receiver -- At times, each of the freshmen wide receivers have had their moments during fall camp, but from all reports, the most consistent of the group has been the League City Clear Creek product, who is known for his work ethic and attention to detail. With sneaky athleticism and fantastic body control, Johnson has a chance to crack the rotation this fall.
So, Longhorn fans, which freshmen are you looking forward to seeing on the field on Saturday night?