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Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Texas future power rankings

By Carter Strickland

Texas, which as it always seemingly is when it comes to all things but standings these last couple of years, is near the top of ESPN’s power rankings. The Longhorns aren’t quite Alabama, which sits at No. 1. But given where Texas has been since it lost to Alabama in the 2009 BCS title game, No. 12 in the rankings is respectable and could give rise to more expectations. But to get 13 wins, at least if ascribing to the merits of the power rankings, Texas will have to play above its standing, something it has not done for several seasons.

The Longhorns will rise if: The coaching talent moves above what appears to be an unusually low number, given the fact the head coach, Mack Brown, is one of only six coaches in the top 25 with a national title. It is true Texas had its issues with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz last season and that accounts for what is the third-lowest coaching ranking in the top 25. (Auburn and USC were lower). But Diaz is also the same coach who was in charge of the 2011 defense, and it finished No. 11 nationally. The difference between 2011 and 2012 was that Diaz had veteran linebackers in 2011. They understood his multiple schemes and took proper angles. Last season Diaz was dealing with a new middle linebacker, Steve Edmond, and lost his best linebacker, Jordan Hicks, three games into the season. He started to panic and that bled over onto the team. Texas also made a shift to involve secondary coach Duane Akina more in the defense as the season progressed and that appeared to calm the nerves of the players. It resulted in slightly better overall defensive play. Akina, a veteran coach at Texas, will again have more of a hands-on approach to the overall defense. That, coupled with more veteran players on that side of the ball, should help overcome what were coaching deficiencies in 2012.

Major Applewhite
Major Applewhite will take over play-calling duties for the Longhorns this fall.
On offense, Texas has changed its playcaller from Bryan Harsin to Major Applewhite. This should significantly upgrade the coaching acumen. Harsin, who came to Texas from Boise State, failed to grasp the fact that he was now working with much more speed and talent than every other team he faced. Instead of utilizing that speed, Harsin attempted to keep the ball in between the hashes and run an SEC-style offense. It didn’t work against the better defenses in the Big 12. Marquise Goodwin, an Olympian, only had four or more receptions in a game three times and only had 13 total rushes. And Daje Johnson, the most explosive player on Texas’ team, only rushed the ball 27 times despite averaging 7.5 yards per carry and had eight games when he had two carries or less. Applewhite has decided to take Texas back to what has worked, a fast-paced spread offense in which players are allowed to be in space and create in that space. The results really won’t be known until Texas plays BYU in the second week of the season, but the early returns through spring practice were that Texas had embraced Applewhite’s approach and coaching style.

The Longhorns will fall if: Texas slipped in recruiting in 2012. It’s really the first such slip in the Brown era. Five players decommitted, and Texas A&M appeared to be grabbing all the recruiting headlines and best players in the state. The Longhorns appear to have bounced back and have 19 commitments for 2014 -- four more than they took in all of 2013 -- and another seven in the 2015 class. Texas has been more aggressive in recruiting younger players because its hand has been forced by A&M and several other SEC schools. Brown admitted the evaluation process for the Longhorns went awry as they were wrapping up their second trip to the BCS title game at the end of the last decade. Brown appeared to shore that up with the 2011 and 2012 classes. (Thirty-four of those players played as freshmen.) But now the staff is being asked to project further into the future with these young players and there could be some concern that these players do not pan out as they should. Texas hired Patrick Suddes away from Alabama to direct it in all things recruiting. But, still, the Longhorns are dipping their toes into uncharted water. This fact, coupled with the strength of A&M, the crossing of borders by Alabama and LSU, the rise of TCU to the Big 12 and the ever-increasing presence of Oklahoma State as well as Oklahoma, should be cause for some concern in recruiting.