Texas ranked 11th in ESPN's Way-Too-Early Top 25

USA TODAY Sports

The Longhorns are projected to slot in between Florida and Notre Dame to start the 2013 football season.

A staple of the first day of the football offseason are rankings that may be a little bit premature. But, hey, when it's the offseason, one does what one can to survive.

ESPN's Mark Schlabach released his version of the way-too-early lists on Tuesday, ranking Texas 11th in the country heading into the offseason, with the Florida Gators one spot ahead and the national runners up, Notre Dame, in the spot behind the 'Horns.

There isn't anything particularly incisive in Schlabach's analysis of the 'Horns -- the quarterback play needs to be where it was down the stretch against Oregon St., the team is young and doesn't lose much, and there's some hope for offensive and defensive improvements, though Texas fans probably don't have a lot of optimism regarding the latter.

Released somewhat in tandem, Big 12 blogger David Ubben surveys the landscape of the Big 12, putting Texas at 4th in his power rankings, behind Oklahoma St., TCU, and Oklahoma, all three of which were ranked behind the 'Horns in the poll by Schlabach.

Clearly Ubben isn't as high on Texas as Schlabach, perhaps because he has a greater understanding of the unsound things going on the defense that limit projections for 2013. Or maybe because Ubben also doesn't have a ton of respect for David Ash, tweeting last week that all three Oklahoma St. quarterbacks are better, which may have been slightly in jest. Was hopefully slightly in jest.

Considering the fact that Ash had a better passer rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt than Lunt, who threw 7 interceptions and only 6 touchdown passes as a freshman, numbers similar to those put up by Ash in 2011, it's hard to make the argument that even two of the quarterbacks are better than Ash.

But Ubben points out something that is rather interesting -- Ash is the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12 right now with Casey Paschal's status for 2013 still up in the air. Five of the 10 teams in the conference lose their quarterbacks -- Landry Jones, Collin Klein, Geno Smith, Seth Doege, Nick Florence. An impressive group right there.

It leaves only Poke signal-caller JW Walsh as a returning quarterback with a higher passer rating in the conference than Ash, though Walsh's small sample size raises some questions about how much better than Ash he really was in 2012. Or if he was at all. Ash did come out on top in the head-to-head matchup.

The return of Jackson Jeffcoat and, hopefully, Jordan Hicks, will help offset the loss of Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro, while the damage on offense is minimal, with Marquise Goodwin, DJ Monroe, DJ Grant, and Luke Poehlmann the only contributors moving on.

If the offense can continue improving to the same degree it did from 2011 to 2012, it should provide more margin of error for a defense that is just getting older and should have at least slightly better linebacker play.

The season, then, will likely come down to the three games against Oklahoma, TCU, and Oklahoma St, with one game on the road, one game at home, and of course the Red River Rivalry on the neutral field in the Cotton Bowl.

The loss of Jones will be significant for the Sooners, whose quarterback transition could be okay, but has plenty of potential to go poorly. The Cowboys are still young and return all those quarterbacks and the two talented runners, while TCU is even younger, adds Aaron Green, and will have a handful of players back from injury.

Texas went 1-2 in the season-defining stretch in 2012. And while the stretch in 2013 won't occur in back-to-back-to-back games, the impact will still be the same.

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