It's once again that wonderful time of year when I'm working late into the night putting together the annual football preview magazine, when four hours of sleep feels like a lot and an unhealthy amount of my waking thoughts are devoted to Texas football and the upcoming season. Which is how I came to be lying in bed at 3:30 a.m. last night thinking about some of the things that had the greatest potential to derail what is shaping up to be a pretty promising 2012 season.
The focus here is on things that, first of all, could plausibly occur, and second, would be most damaging to the Longhorns in 2012. "Greg Davis is rehired to replace Bryan Harsin" is terrifying, but implausible. "Walk-on Cody Ramirez tears his ACL" is plausible, but of minimal impact to the team's prospects this fall.
There's enough that could go wrong that you could stay up all night thinking about it, but after the jump are five of the things I particularly worry would prevent Texas from having the 10-win type of season many are hoping is within reach. Good news, though: although this post is devoted to cataloguing the things that could knock the team off track this fall, our good friends at Barking Carnival will be publishing the companion post to this topic, highlighting the developments that have the greatest potential to help Texas have an outstanding 2012 season -- perhaps even ending in a BCS Bowl. So when you're done fretting here, head over to Barking Carnival to replenish your optimism.
1. A serious injury to Kenny Vaccaro. This isn't so much a concern about depth, as an acknowledgement of Vaccaro as such a high-impact defensive player. Even where quality depth exists, not all losses are absorbed equally, and more than any other player, theTexas defense would most suffer from the loss for an extended period of time of its All-American caliber safety. Like Earl Thomas and Michael Huff before him, Vaccaro is that elite defensive back who is literally a playmaker all over the field -- as lethal in the backfield as the deep secondary. This year's Texas defense is deep and strong, but if there is one player whose loss would most lower the unit's overall potential, it is Vaccaro, the dropoff from whom would be substantial, and would limit Texas in meaningful ways.
2. A serious injury to Jaxon Shipley. Along with a series of injuries that forced Texas to juggle its offensive line (more on that below), the one offensive player whose loss would seem to me particularly difficult to overcome is Jaxon Shipley. Like Vaccaro, its Shipley's ability to impact the game in so many different ways that makes his presence so valuable, and his replacement so difficult. If the Texas ground game is thundering along at its top-end potential, the impact of losing Shipley would lessen considerably, but in any scenario in which Texas needs a healthy and consistent passing game to get to 10 wins, it's a whole lot easier to envision it happening with Shipley on the field all season.
3. A slow start by David Ash. If David Ash isn't the long-term answer at quarterback, it really doesn't much matter how he starts the season, but most plausible scenarios ending with 10+ wins in 2012 involve Ash seizing the QB job and delivering solid production with a minimum of costly mistakes. Assuming that Ash is capable of delivering that level of performance, among the worst things that could happen would be a poor start from the sophomore signal caller; whatever he's capable of under good circumstances, it's easy to imagine how a slow start could undermine his whole season. After last season, many Texas fans will be looking for reasons to doubt the kid, and it will be a matter of drives, not games, before many conclude -- and vocally express -- that Ash doesn't have what it takes. The absolute last thing that Texas needs in 2012 is a repeat of last year's revolving door at quarterback, but if Ash gets off to a slow start, the coaches will feel enormous pressure to do something, Ash himself will feel enormous pressure to turn the tide, and it's easy to see things getting ugly in a hurry. Texas doesn't need Ash to be a hero to be successful in 2012, but it can't afford for him to get off to a bad start, even in early games it can still win.
4. Musical chairs on the offensive line. Instability along the offensive line is always going to present problems -- for any team -- but boy would that be a big setback to this Texas team, which is desperate to overcome the crippling struggles suffered in recent years, and whose offensive system is built on a foundation of power rushing. With strong, stable offensive line play, Texas and its deep crop of talented tailbacks would be poised to pound teams on the ground, which not only would allow Bryan Harsin do all the things he likes and wants to do, but would take the pressure off Texas' young quarterbacks and provide them with the support that would most help them succeed. The success of rushing plays -- such as the Power-O -- that make up the foundation of Harsin's offense depend in large part on good timing and feel, both of which are bound to suffer when the constitution of the line undergoes change. Few teams are lucky enough to start the same five guys all season long, but while Texas doesn't need everything to go picture-perfect to be successful, a season-long string of injuries, position changes, and/or musical chairs would dramatically lessen the likelihood of the offense taking a big step forward.
5. Impotence in the kicking game. As good as Texas has had it in recent years, Texas fans probably take great kickers for granted. Although Alabama just finished proving that you can win big with lousy kicking, it's worth remembering that its kicker meltdown in Baton Rouge would have cost the Crimson Tide a national title but for a stunning Iowa State upset of the Pokes. This Texas team won't be competing for stakes quite that high, but depending on the margin for error provided by the rest of the team's performance, disastrous kicking could be a determining factor in Texas winning 8 games or 10. Encouragingly, the Longhorns' punting, kick offs and place kicking all looked promising in the spring game, and even average production would likely be sufficient to avoid the kicking game holding the team back. Impotence in the kicking game, however, would very much show up on the scoreboard and, potentially, the win column, and as recently as the middle of spring practices, the coaching staff was alarmed by their options.
And with that, now it's your turn to channel your inner Woody Allen and share all the things that keep you up at night with worry. Any thoughts on the five big concerns above? What else do you fear would make a 10-win season difficult for Texas this fall?