There's no question that all of the predictions of how the Texas Longhorns' season will play out in 2015 have been as varying and uncertain as trying to predict how Season 2 of True Detective would end.
If you're an optimist, you see how another year has helped this team buy more stock in Charlie Strong, his culture, and the way he handles business. You're left thinking junior quarterbackTyrone Swoopes may actually be capable of being the quarterback and leader that Mack Brown wanted him to be when he recruited him out of his 2A high school.
If he isn't the guy, then you believe the answer is waiting in the wings. And you see an increase in energy, pride, and aggressiveness from the team, according to practice reports, due to the infusion of freshmen that are "Charlie Strong-type players".
If you're a pessimist, you still see a team led by the quarterback who allowed Texas to completely embarrass itself in a miserable bowl loss to end their 2014 campaign. You still see big question marks surrounding the quarterback position. And you wonder if all the youth and inexperience on this team will lead to another numbing losing season. And if you happen to be a realist or find yourself somewhere in the middle, then you see how there are so many different factors in play in 2015 that will could leave this team looking back on a nine-win season, a five-win season, or somewhere in between.
With all of that said, below are my "top-10 yes/no questions" for this Longhorn team pre-kickoff to the 2015 season along with my own answers at the moment.
1. Will the Longhorns find an answer at quarterback?
But... This is the million-dollar question. If Texas wants to win eight or more games this season, they will need solid quarterback play. It doesn't have to be excellent. But it must be more consistent than it was last season. There's no denying that.
But trying to figure out who will be that answer has been tough to project. All indications point to Tyrone Swoopes having the first opportunity to take a strong hold of this position in the first game of the season. And if he can stay mentally focused and mentally strong, then I see him as the safe bet to end the season as the starting quarterback entering a bowl game in which he has a chance to redeem himself.
If it all hits the fan with Swoopes, then I would not be surprised to see true freshman Kai Locksley jump Jerrod Heard as the quarterback who finishes the season as the starter. Like Heard, Locksley's legs are one of his best weapons right now. Unlike Heard, reports indicate that he has come into practice from Day 1 hungry to excel regardless of the struggles and growing pains that many freshman quarterbacks experience when they arrive on campus for the first time. And personally, I see Locksley's arm developing better and possibly faster than Heard's. The latter is still a big question mark since we haven't really seen either throw much... So do I think Texas finds an answer at quarterback? Yes, but we all need to hope the answer reveals itself before the month of September ends.
2. Will Jonathan Gray rush for over 1,000 yards this season?
The former five-star Aledo product is coming off an offseason where he was generally healthy the entire time. And with that, I see Gray showing a bit more burst and strength when he runs this season as Texas' feature back. Of course, for Gray to eclipse 1,000 yards, he will need to remain healthy for most, if not all, of the season.
And he will need improved run blocking from his big fellas up front in the trenches. But the new spread offense won't just help the quarterbacks; it will also help Gray and the Texas running game to be more productive.
3. Will Daje Johnson be more than wishful thinking?
I say yes cautiously like a guy giving his hot but flirty girlfriend one more chance to prove she won't break his heart again. Daje has been a disappointment so far at Texas based on the expectations many had for him when we first arrived to the 40 Acres years ago. But there's been a different tune coming out of camp from Charlie Strong this year. From the sound of it, Johnson sees his last opportunity at Texas staring him right in the face. But according to him, he's staring right back ready to take on the challenge.
"I'm just ready to ball," Johnson said earlier this offseason.
4. If the defense allows 40+ points more than 2 times this season, will they still
end the season with a winning record?
Last season, Texas allowed three teams to score more than 40 points against them (BYU-L, Iowa State-W, TCU-L). But if Texas wants to end the season with a winning record, they'll have to play better defense more consistently each week to
give their offense a chance to put enough points on the board to get wins. Even though Texas has made the switch to a spread-style attack, this team still does not have the personnel (mainly at QB) to get into shootouts with other teams like the Baylor's and TCU's of the conference can.
5. Will Malik Jefferson win Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year?
I would throw down money on this one too. MJ already sounds like one of the best players on the Texas defense and is poised to start in the middle. Though he struggle here and there due to freshman growing pains, he has all the physical and mental tools to make a name for himself starting in the first game of the season against Notre Dame.
6. Will Texas end the season with three freshmen starting on the offensive line?
From the looks of it now, for me to be wrong here, Texas only needs one more freshman lineman to step into a starting role. Freshman tackle Connor Williams and freshman guard Patrick Vahe will both likely be starting on the offensive line for most, if not all, of the 2015 season. The third freshman to turn this answer into a "yes" could be the 6'6", 330-pound Ronnie "Buck" Major. Though I can definitely see him contributing this season, I see him as a guy that will need this season and a full offseason to polish his skills and earn the trust of the coaches before being awarded a starting role (barring injury on the offensive line, of course).
7. Will Texas go at lest 2-1 against OU, Baylor and TCU?
Unfortunately, at this point, I see Oklahoma as the one team Texas has a fair shot at beating of those three schools. Baylor and TCU are on a different level than Texas heading into the season.
8. Will Marcus Johnson have the breakout season John Harris had last year?
Let me be clear, I do think Marcus is a key to Texas having success in the passing game this season. It's just I don't think he will have the "1,000+ yards and seven touchdowns" type of success Harris had. He's a different type of receiver than Harris. I see him more in the 700 yards and five touchdowns range, which would be a major improvement
from his 313 yards and one touchdown from last season.
9. Will special teams find an effective kick/punt returner?
Burnt Orange Nation, meet freshman Ryan Newsome. Ryan Newsome, meet Burnt Orange Nation. Unless Strong has a desire to redshirt him, Newsome is my bet to win at least punt return duties if not both punt and kick-return duties. He is
absolutely electric. And sooner than later, we likely will all get a chance to see
exactly why he was such a big win against UCLA in the 2015 recruiting class.
10. Will Texas end the regular season with more than nine wins?
The only way I see nine wins happening is if A) the quarterback position has much more success than anticipated or B) the nine wins includes a bowl win. There are just so many stars that need to align for Texas to have a strong season that includes more than nine wins. I'm not saying it isn't possible. And I'd love to be wrong here. But my realistic inner-self is telling the fan in me to take a deep breathe before getting carried away.
BON, it's nice to meet you and thanks for reading my first post. I have nothing but excitement to be on board for this 2015 Texas season with y'all and want to thank Wescott for bringing me aboard. Moving forward, I'll be posting a weekly column each Sunday. Generally, I'll touch on a few different topics so don't take this column as the norm (though I am open to doing some Q &As or mail bags down the road). I'm an Austinite (born and raised) that graduated from Texas in 2013. I've contributed to a few other Longhorn sites before as well as covered UTSA football and recruiting for Rivals back in 2013 and some in 2014. Please do not hesitate to give your own opinions or raise talking points with me. You can catch me here on the boards and on twitter (@WesKCrochet). I do try to take objective perspectives when talking/writing about the Horns. But there's no doubt I'm a Longhorn supporter and fan. Thanks for the read and Hook'em.