With the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, the Texas football program can now set its sights on a promising 2013 season. Despite the departure of team captains Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor, the Longhorns will be looking to reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2009. The question is: will they?
Looking ahead to their schedule this fall, things appear to be falling into place for the Longhorns. The top five quarterbacks in the Big 12 last year — Geno Smith, Landry Jones, Collin Klein, Nick Florence and Seth Doege — all graduated and left gaping holes in their teams’ backfields. Considering three of the Longhorns’ four losses in 2012 came to those quarterbacks, that should bode very well for Texas.
And it doesn’t stop there. The Longhorns’ upcoming opponents had a combined .530 win percentage last year, including two teams that won only one game apiece. In fact, only two teams that Texas will play in 2013 won more than eight games last season: the Kansas State Wildcats and the Oklahoma Sooners. Though the Red River Rivalry is another story, the Wildcats shouldn’t scare Texas without Klein, who was the Heisman front-runner for most of 2012.
The next question then is whether the Longhorns will bring enough to the table to take advantage of what appears to be a golden opportunity to reclaim the Big 12 throne? When looking at the Texas’ roster, there’s no doubt that Vaccaro and Okafor will be missed. Both were a presence in the locker room, providing leadership to a Longhorns team that featured underclassmen at almost every starting position. Even more so, the duo usually provided the lone bright spots for a defense that was statistically the worst in Texas history. Vaccaro was the only semi-reliable tackler on the team, recording a team-high 96 tackles.
Okafor did his part, too, leading the team with 18 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, 4.5 of which came in the Longhorns’ 31-27 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State.
That being said, the Longhorns still have plenty of talent remaining on defense, especially in the areas that their seniors vacated. With Okafor and Vaccaro gone, the torch is now passed to Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom and Jackson Jeffcoat, all of whom are expected to make big moves in 2013. Diggs and Byndom combined for seven interceptions last year and should form one of the nation’s top defensive back duos. Along the line of scrimmage, Jeffcoat should dominate in a way that will remind Texas fans of Sergio Kindle. Despite playing in only six games last year, he finished second to Okafor with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. The Longhorns look good on the offensive end, too. They have a stable of running backs, including Johnathan Gray and the lightning-quick Daje Johnson, as well as a seasoned receiving corps that shouldn’t miss Marquise Goodwin too much. Texas has tons of big-play ability to boast. There are still questions that need to be answered, though. Will David Ash, in his third year starting, make the necessary strides to guide Texas to a Big 12 title? With most of the conference’s premier quarterbacks gone, he stands alone as the only signal-caller who has won two bowl games. No doubt, big things will be expected of him. Additionally, Major Applewhite’s ability to call plays will have a huge impact on this offense. If he struggles like Bryan Harsin did, expect Texas to have trouble scoring against top defenses.