When thinking about how much the prospects of the 2013 Texas Longhorns football team would have taken a blow had senior wide receiver Mike Davis carried through with his tentative intentions to declare for the NFL Draft, it's almost hard to believe how much of a question mark he was entering last season.
After a promising freshman season that saw him set a single-season freshman mark at Texas for receptions (47) and finish third in receiving yards (478), despite a knee injury that caused him to miss the Oklahoma game and limited him for the rest of the season while he took a beating on screens and other short passes in the Greg Davis offense, Davis regressed as a sophomore.
Well, perhaps it's tough to say that Davis regressed, because he did improve his per-catch average and gained 609 yards, while making only one fewer catch. He even started to show off his potential as a deep threat with five catches that went for 40 or more yards.
But it was clear that something was wrong, which head coach Mack Brown partly blamed on a hip flexor that slowed him for much of the reason.
More than that, though, it was something mental that held him back. Something mental that caused the lapses in concentration that led to far too many dropped catches and missed blocks.
His roommate at the time, the malcontent Darius White, was blamed as much of the problem, so it was a relief to many when White left after the 2011 season, taking his poor attitude and work ethic with him to Missouri.
There were transfer rumors surrounding Davis and he even admitted last fall that he was going through personal problems and suffering from distractions and other issues he didn't want to discuss publicly. It got so bad that he considered giving up the game and returning to his first love of basketball.
Fortunately for the 'Horns, the Skyline product decided that he wasn't a quitter, regained his focus and love for the game, and played with a passion. In the spring, he asked to have the word "Magic" added to the name of his jersey and said during that fall that he needed to "make magic plays" to live up to his name.
Going back even further, the 'Horns are lucky to have Davis at all. One of the few prospects spurned at the first 2009 Junior Day, Davis then committed to LSU shortly thereafter, but reached out to the Texas staff late in the process and ended up becoming a Longhorn two days after visiting for the team banquet. At the time, Davis was an important piece of the 2010 wide receiver group, but he was eventually eclipsed in stature in the class by the pledge of Darius White at the Under Armour game.
Now, Davis is the last receiver standing from that group, which also included Chris Jones, who transferred from the program without making a catch, and Darius Terrell, who moved to H-back and barely contributed more than Jones before leaving the program as well.
And returning to last fall, he lived up to his "magic" promise. Sure, there were the big plays in the passing game, but there was also a knockdown block to help spring Joe Bergeron for a touchdown against Baylor that really illustrated just how far he had come.
On the season, he finished as the team leader in receiving yards with 939 yards, second in receptions, led the team in receiving touchdowns, and averaged 16.5 yards per catch, a monstrous improvement over his per-catch numbers as a freshman.
As those per-catch numbers indicate, he emerged as an elite or at least near-elite deep threat, with nine catches that went for 35 yards or more and three over 60 yards, including a stretch against Texas Tech and Iowa State late in the season when he caught a 75-yard touchdown pass and a 61-yard touchdown catch.
Against Oklahoma State, he made one of the biggest catches of the season, and one of the biggest in recent Texas history, by elevating to pull in a pass over Justin Gilbert to set up the game-winning touchdown.
Other than the degree of difficulty, which was high with Gilbert trying to dislodge the football as Davis went to the ground, the most impressive element of the play was the fact that it came after he had dropped a sure-fire touchdown earlier in the game. Afterwards, Davis admitted that there would have only been a 50-50 chance he would have made the same play last season.
Instead, Davis went to Ash after the drop and told his quarterback that he would come through with a play if he had the ball thrown his direction again. Ash showed confidence in his wide receiver, delivered the ball on the money, and Davis came down with the catch.
The newfound level of trust in Davis extended to Case McCoy, as he checked into a go route for Davis late against Kansas and then found him racing down the sideline for a 39-yard gain that set up the final touchdown pass to DJ Grant to avoid what would have been the worst loss in Mack Brown's tenure at Texas, which is saying something after the 2010 season.
The only real cause for pessimism regards the last several games of the season. After the outbrusts against the Red Raiders and Cyclones, Davis wasn't nearly as much of a factor, failing to match his eventual yards per game average in each of the final three games. However, it's easy to somewhat disregard the TCU and Kansas State since Ash was injured for the former and out for the latter -- his replacement, Case McCoy, simply doesn't have the arm strength to push the ball deep down the field in the same way that Ash can.
Still, that doesn't explain the Alamo Bowl. A month of preparation may have made quite a bit of difference for Oregon State in terms of emphasizing ways to take away Davis deep, but the three catches for 30 yards still aren't good enough in that big of a game.
As a corollary to the less-than-impressive finish, the offensive changes will mean more two-deep looks against Texas and a lower likelihood of safeties crashing into the box to defend the run as they did last season, especially on the long catch against Texas Tech.
With the way that defenses approach the offense changing, how will that impact Davis' nearly-uncanny ability to get open deep on post routes?
He'll surely still have some opportunities and if they aren't there in the spread sets, the coaching staff has been adamant that they will still have the ability to run the ball with numbers and force, so perhaps the play-action pass out of heavy sets with Davis running post routes will still remain an important piece of the offense, though it seems hard to imagine that it won't at least decrease to a significant degree.
Now a more mature player willing to do what it takes in multiple facets of the game, including with his mental approach, Davis has a chance to become one of the better receivers in school history with a season that builds on his 2012 efforts. The offense probably won't make it as easy to get open deep, but it doesn't seem outrageous to expect that he could eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career in his last season in Austin.
And after all of his ups and downs at Texas, that would be an extremely impressive accomplishment. If it happens, just thank the magic for returning. And Magic for returning.