Texas Longhorns: Carrington Byndom

Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Seventeen Big 12 players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft. Many other Big 12 alums will have a chance at the next level as undrafted free agents.

Below is a list of undrafted players who reportedly have agreed to free agent deals. This is not a final list, as teams are still working to sign undrafted free agents. But these are the players we know of so far.

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU
Texas
Texas Tech
West Virginia
Shortly after Texas' worst NFL draft weekend in more than 75 years, six Longhorns ended the day with good news.

Texas made national news Saturday when it failed to produce a selection in the NFL draft for the first time since 1937, a shutout that nobody saw coming and led to a long day of mockery for the program.

But once the draft ended with Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine being named Mr. Irrelevant with the 256th pick, the phones began ringing and the undrafted free agent deals got rolling.

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas' highest-rated draft prospect, inked a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to join an already-stacked defensive line.

Jeffcoat was ESPN's No. 106-rated prospect entering the draft and No. 9 at his position. He watched as 22 ends were drafted ahead of him. Questions about his scheme fit, versatility and injury history seemed to be the reason for his drop, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told a reporter he passed because Jeffcoat was a "tweener."

“Going to work in the great northwest. Hello Seattle! #humble&hungry," Jeffcoat wrote on his Twitter account after signing with the defending Super Bowl champions.

One encouraging number for Jeffcoat's chances: Since 2010, the Seahawks have signed 15 undrafted free agents to their 53-man active roster.

Former Texas wide receiver Mike Davis, who was expected to be a mid-round pick, landed with the Oakland Raiders. The first message he posted on his Twitter page after learning of his destination was to Derek Carr, the Raiders' second-round QB selection out of Fresno State.

For the sixth year in a row, no Texas offensive linemen were selected in the draft. Guard Trey Hopkins signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and tackle Donald Hawkins inked a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Cornerback Carrington Byndom signed with the Carolina Panthers and defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who is still recovering from a torn ACL, will get a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Whaley is a particularly interesting fit there since the Cowboys signed Henry Melton this offseason, another Texas running back-turned-defensive tackle who also happens to be coming back from an ACL tear.

The contracts that Jeffcoat and his undrafted Texas teammates agreed to are three-year deals worth a little less than $1.5 million over the life of the deal, but the only guaranteed money in unrestricted free agent deals come from a signing bonus and, for some, a partially guaranteed base salary.

One surprise among Texas' free-agent hopefuls was kicker Anthony Fera. The consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award finalist did not sign with a team on Saturday, and a source close to him said few teams had expressed interest thus far. If that doesn't change soon, Fera's ticket to the league will have to come through tryouts.

Texas had six former undrafted free agents playing in the NFL last season: Justin Tucker, Phil Dawson, Fozzy Whittaker, Lyle Sendlein, David Snow and Cullen Loeffler.

Reviewing the Big 12 pro days

March, 31, 2014
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Pro day season has come and gone. Draft-eligible players returned to school this month and hit the weight room and practice field to give NFL scouts a taste of their potential. Here’s a rundown of how the Big 12’s top draft prospects fared as well as a few who surprised.

TCU (March 6)
Big name: CB Jason Verrett. A total of 26 NFL teams had reps at the Horned Frogs’ pro day, and you know many of them came for Verrett. He didn’t look to improve his 40 time from the NFL combine (4.38), but he did show off a 39 ˝-inch vertical and benched 19 reps.
Sleeper: QB Casey Pachall. While he’ll have to answer lots of questions about his off-field issues, Pachall’s on-field work at pro day was encouraging. He checked in at 6-foot-3˝ and 216 pounds, ran his 40 in the mid-4.9s and completed 62 of 72 passes, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Kansas State (March 11)
Big name: S Ty Zimmerman. Though 20 Kansas State players worked out at pro day, Zimmerman was not one of them. He’s still recovering from labrum surgery and reportedly plans to hold a workout next month to show his progress.
Sleeper: OT Cornelius Lucas. Hard to project how things will play out for Lucas, a mammoth tackle at 6-8 and 316 pounds, after he discovered a stress fracture in his left foot at the NFL combine. He’s supposed to be out up to eight weeks but plans to work out along with Zimmerman on April 28.

Oklahoma (March 12)
Big name: CB Aaron Colvin. The Sooners had 28 NFL organization represented at their pro day, but a few key players were still on the mend. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, did not work out but hopes to be running again by late April and vowed his recovery is ahead of schedule.
Sleeper: C Gabe Ikard. While Ikard elected to stand by his combine numbers, which were strong for his position group, he did use the pro day to show in position drills just how athletic an interior lineman he can be for an NFL club. Running back Damien Williams also made a solid impression, and receiver Jalen Saunders drew mixed reviews after poor shuttle times.

Oklahoma State (March 13)
Big name: CB Justin Gilbert. The Steelers have the No. 15 pick, so it made sense that Mike Tomlin and his GM were among the many coaches in Stillwater to scout Gilbert. He stood by his 4.37 in the 40 from the NFL combine but did agility drills and reportedly wowed in his position drills. He’s a first-rounder, no doubt.
Sleeper: WR Josh Stewart. Well, OK, he’s not much of a sleeper. But Stewart had work to do to raise his stock, and pro day should’ve helped. He improved his 40 slightly, from 4.69 at the combine to 4.59 at pro day, and showed what he can do as a receiver and returner. Safety Daytawion Lowe also made a good impression.

Texas Tech (March 14)
Big name: TE Jace Amaro. The All-America tight end tried to secure a spot in the first round with improvements in the 40 (4.68) and vertical, and at 6-5 and 266 pounds he evoked comparisons to Vernon Davis from one 49ers scout.
Sleeper: CB Bruce Jones. He’s undersized at 5-7 and 183 pounds, but Jones did grab some attention at pro day with a run of a 4.5-second 40 time and team-best vertical of 41 inches.

Kansas (March 14)
Big name: RB James Sims. A dozen scouts showed up for the Jayhawks’ pro day, and the highlight was probably Sims busting off a run of 4.56 seconds in the 40. The 6-foot, 205-pound back was not invited to the NFL combine and told the Lawrence Journal-World he felt good about the numbers he put up.

Baylor (March 19)
Big names: OT Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon. Richardson shed 20 pounds after his senior season, which had to encourage NFL scouts, and he did nothing at his pro day to diminish his chances of being a top-50 pick. Seastrunk was as explosive as expected, with a time of 4.37 in the 40 and a 4.36 second shuttle, and tried to show off his pass-catching ability. Dixon ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the NFL combine and improved that to 4.48 at pro day.
Sleeper: TE Jordan Najvar. At nearly 6-6 and 280 pounds, Najvar certainly has the size to make the NFL. His speed had been a question mark, but his reported best for pro day was 4.86 seconds in the 40.

West Virginia (March 21)
Big name: RB Charles Sims. A nice showing at the NFL combine (40 time: 4.48) meant Sims needed only to do positional drills, and he drew good reviews for his pass-catching ability despite small hands.
Sleeper: DE Will Clarke. Knowing it’s possible he’ll be asked to play outside linebacker in an NFL scheme, Clarke worked out at both end and linebacker on pro day and tried to show what he can bring to pass coverage as a nearly 6-6, 268-pound defender.

Iowa State (March 25)
Big name: LB Jeremiah George. After a subpar showing at the combine, George had a nice day in front of 30 NFL officials. He hit 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posted a big improvement in his broad jump and was solid in positional work.
Sleeper: CB Jeremy Reeves. How’s this for a success story? Reeves played at ISU from 2010-12, missed last season with a pectoral injury and showed up to pro day to prove he’s still got it. He had a crazy good day: 4.29-second 40, 43-inch vertical, 11˝-foot broad jump. The New York Jets signed him on Friday.

Texas (March 26)
Big name: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Like most other top prospects, Jeffcoat stuck with his NFL combine testing numbers. The 6-3, 253-pound end demonstrated his coverage ability in position drills amid talk that he might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Sleeper: CB Carrington Byndom. Questions about the three-year starter’s speed were put to rest when he ran his 40 in 4.37 seconds. Byndom was happy with his positional drills and is starting to line up meetings.


Texas hosted its pro day on Wednesday and put its senior prospects to the test in front of representatives from all 32 NFL organizations. Here’s how the Longhorns' top draft prospects fared and a look at who helped their stock.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJackson Jeffcoat, shown at the NFL combine, says he's open to playing wherever a pro team wants him.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat: Texas’ top draft prospect did not participate in testing or the 40-yard dash because he was satisfied with his NFL combine times.

With father and former Dallas Cowboys lineman Jim Jeffcoat in attendance, Jeffcoat did positional drills and displayed the work he’s been putting in on dropping into coverage. Jeffcoat checked in at 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds said he’s open to playing 4-3 end, 3-4 outside linebacker or whatever else an NFL defensive staff would ask of him.

“When it comes down to it, it’s football,” he said. “Whatever a coach tells me to play, I’ll do it. It’s exciting to see they want me to play a hybrid outside linebacker rush guy. It’s fun watching Brian Orakpo and Sam Acho do it, so it would be fun to do the same thing.”

WR Mike Davis: Going into the day, perception was Davis had a chance to raise his draft stock if he put up an impressive time in the 40-yard dash.

The 6-foot, 197-pound deep threat did not run at the NFL combine, so he did have plenty to prove Tuesday. Davis looked sharp in his passing drills with former SMU and Eastern Washington QB Kyle Padron throwing to him. The 40 time? A solid 4.48.

A likely mid-round selection, Davis said he’s receiving good interest so far and has visits scheduled with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

K Anthony Fera: For Fera, preparing for the draft has meant lots of work on his kickoffs. The consensus All-American and Groza Award finalist was Texas’ placekicker and punter but hadn’t done kickoffs in two years thanks to Nick Rose’s strong leg. NFL scouts want to see him boom the ball, and he did just that on Wednesday.

“I hit them to the back of the end zone every time, and one of them hit the roof, so I thought I did pretty well,” Fera said.

The Saints, Titans, Browns and Jaguars could be searching for their kicking solutions in this draft and Fera should be in the running to be the first kicker selected.

OG Trey Hopkins: A 42-game starter at Texas, Hopkins has a chance to be the Longhorns’ first drafted offensive lineman since Tony Hills (2008). He came away proud of his 28 reps on the bench press and said interest is picking up, with a meeting with the Cleveland Browns already set up.

“I want people to know I play all positions on the offensive line,” Hopkins said. “I can snap, play tackle in games. And of course guard is where I played the most. I’m comfortable doing any of them.”

CB Carrington Byndom: It’s possible no Longhorn helped his draft stock more than Byndom on Wednesday. The three-year starting cornerback knew there were questions about his speed, and he’s confident he answered those with a time of 4.37 in the 40-yard dash.

“I think a lot of scouts had me running a lot slower than that,” Byndom said. “I could’ve done a little better on my position work, but there’s still time for that.”

He has one workout lined up and is hoping his performance Wednesday will spark more interest in the weeks ahead.

DT Chris Whaley: A left knee injury ended Whaley’s senior season in November, at a time when Mack Brown believed he was playing like a surefire NFL draft pick. Now Whaley is trying to get healthy, get back on the field and get drafted.

The 6-foot-3, 273-pound defensive tackle said he’s about three months away from being fully healthy again, but received positive feedback from NFL doctors about the progress of his knee’s recovery. Whaley participated in the NFL combine and did only one event at the Texas pro day, knocking out 22 reps on the bench press.

OT Donald Hawkins: At 6-foot-4 ˝ and 295 pounds, Hawkins knows that, like Hopkins, he’s capable of lining up at a variety of offensive line spots. He thinks he can be a swing tackle-guard but isn’t sure what to expect when draft day arrives. Hawkins’ 40 time wasn’t immediately available, but he hit 20 reps on the bench press.

S Adrian Phillips: The two-year starter set out to prove he’s worthy of a late-round selection and believed he helped his case. While there was some uncertainty about what he ran in the 40 -- some said 4.44, others thought it was closer to 4.5 -- Phillips emerged feeling confident about his coverage work and hoping he’ll hear his name called in the draft.
As we close in on national signing day, it’s an appropriate time to look back at how the top Big 12 recruits from four years ago performed.

2010 was a banner year for the Big 12 in recruiting, as the league collectively landed 23 from the ESPN 150.

A few, such as Jackson Jeffcoat, Ahmad Dixon and Shaun Lewis, became stars. Others washed out before their careers ever got off the ground.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFormer five-star prospect Jackson Jeffcoat finished his career as the best defensive end in the Big 12.
Below is a closer look at what happened to ESPN 150 players who signed with Big 12 schools:

No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – Though he never reached a high level of team success, Jeffcoat had a great individual end to his career, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league with 13 sacks.

No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – Hicks has been good when he has played. Because of multiple injuries, that hasn’t been often. Hicks missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, just a year after also being knocked out with a hip flexor injury. After getting a medical redshirt from his 2012 season, Hicks has one more year of eligibility remaining.

No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas – Davis finished in the Big 12’s top 10 in receiving the last two seasons, compiling 200 career catches and 18 touchdown receptions.

No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas – Bible never played a down at Texas, leaving after his redshirt freshman season because of issues with grades. Bible ended up at Carson-Newman.

No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor – Dixon had a tremendous tenure with his hometown school, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors as a senior as Baylor captured its first Big 12 title in 2013.

No. 18: Demarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas – The Tulsa, Okla., native has appeared in 29 games on special teams and as a defensive reserve. He missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury.

No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas – After making just six catches his first two seasons, White transferred to Missouri. He caught just seven passes this season for the Tigers, but has another year of eligibility left.

No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma – In his first season, Jefferson was the Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the year, and he was a three-year starter before leaving early to go pro.

No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas – After serving as a reserve throughout his career, Dorsey was projected to start this season, but he transferred out days before Texas’ season opener.

No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma – After getting playing time as a third tight end early in his career, Haywood unexpectedly quit in the middle of the season, tried to earn his way back on the team, failed and ended up transferring to Central Arkansas. After getting suspended there, Haywood gave up football.

No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma – Nelson shined early this season after finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter. That, however, was short-lived, as Nelson tore his pectoral muscle in an early October win over TCU and sat out the rest of his final season.

No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma – The “Belldozer” starred his first two seasons as a situational, short-yardage QB. But in the preseason, Bell was beaten out by Trevor Knight for the starting job. Bell, however, still had his moments this season because of injuries to Knight. He led OU to a win at Notre Dame, then quarterbacked OU’s game-winning touchdown drive at Oklahoma State.

No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas – He appeared in 51 games as a defensive reserve. Wilson had 19 tackles and a sack as a senior.

No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas – Jones transferred out after one year, and never played.

No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State – Lewis made an immediate impact, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors along with Tony Jefferson. Lewis was a four-year starter and a big piece in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround this season.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 150 recruit Brennan Clay was a solid, not spectacular, tailback for the Sooners.
No. 77: Quentin Hayes, S, Oklahoma – After serving a year-long suspension, Hayes returned to win a starting job this past season. He has another year left.

No. 86: Tevin Jackson, LB, Texas – Jackson has been a backup linebacker for the Longhorns and will be part of the team’s great depth there in 2014.

No. 103: Adrian White, CB, Texas – Played in 17 games, then joined the mass transfer exodus from this Texas class.

No. 109: Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia – McCartney never became a No. 1 receiver, though he did contribute on West Virginia’s explosive offenses in 2011-12. He only had 12 catches this past season as a senior, however.

No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas – The cousin of former Texas running back great Cedric Benson has only been a contributor on special teams.

No. 122: Carrington Byndom, S, Texas – One of the few players from this Texas class to pan out. Byndom made 39 career starts and was a second-team All-Big 12 selection this past season.

No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma – Clay proved to be a reliable and steady force in the OU backfield. He finished his career with 1,913 rushing yards, including 957 in 2013.

No. 134: Adrian Philips, ATH, Texas – Phillips settled in the Texas secondary, collecting 28 career starts there. He was second on the team this past season with 82 tackles.

No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas – Hopkins became a stalwart up front, making 42 career starts along the offensive line. He was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.

No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma – McCay transferred to Kansas after two years in Norman. He had nine receptions and a touchdown, which also was the first scoring catch by a Kansas wide receiver in almost two full seasons.

Big 12 all-star game invitations

December, 17, 2013
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With only the bowls left, the all-star games are beginning to fill out their rosters. Invitations for pre-draft games have gone out to seniors around the Big 12.

This is not a final list, just an early rundown of who we know that has decided where to showcase their skills in front of the NFL scouts.

REESE'S SENIOR BOWL (Jan. 25, Mobile, Ala.)
EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME (Jan. 18, St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Texas seniors endured tough run, rebuild

November, 28, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When Mack Brown introduced his latest recruiting class on signing day of 2010, he did so with great pride.

“I've been asked over the last couple of days, ‘Is this the best class that we've ever had?’” Brown said that day. “We feel like it definitely has the potential to be, because from top to bottom it covers every position and that's a very difficult thing to do.”

On Thursday, seven of those signees will take the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium one final time. Senior Night has a tendency to elicit mixed emotions, a bittersweet cocktail of pride, sadness and sentimentality.

It’s hard to assess this Texas class with anything else but mixed emotions. You wonder if they feel the same. After all, this four-year run was not what these seniors signed up for or expected back in February 2010.

Of the 13 scholarship seniors being honored during Texas’ Thanksgiving home finale against Texas Tech, more than half came from the 2010 class that ranked No. 2 nationally. They signed after Texas won 13 games and played for a national title. The senior class that departed after 2009 went 45-8 in their four seasons.

Today’s seniors made their debuts for a 2010 team that was No. 5 in the preseason AP poll. Expectations were as high as ever. Brown seemed poised to chase another championship.

Instead, this class ended up inheriting the task of helping lead a rebuilding project, one that still isn’t complete. They hope this is their legacy, that their efforts will get this Longhorn program back on track.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat calls his Texas career a roller coaster ride.
“To their credit, they would tell you they haven’t accomplished what teams at Texas would want to have accomplished as seniors,” Brown said.

The fourth-year seniors enter Thursday night’s home finale against Texas Tech with a career record of 29-19. If the Red Raiders pull the upset, this group will drop to 17-17 in Big 12 games.

They haven’t been particularly successful at DKR, either, with a record of 13-11 at home in the past four years. They’ve won six conference home games and lost nine.

Most of these seniors been playing from the very beginning. Guard Mason Walters, a 2009 signee who redshirted, and receiver Mike Davis were starters on the 5-7 team of 2010. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, cornerback Carrington Byndom and guard Trey Hopkins are three-year starters. All together, this senior class has combined for 266 starts.

It's a group that, to this point, has endured an awful lot. The first losing season of Brown’s tenure. A coaching staff shakeup. The end of the Texas A&M rivalry. One win and three losses to Oklahoma. No Big 12 championships. No BCS bowl games.

“It's been a roller-coaster ride, ups and downs,” Jeffcoat said. “I think I'm better for that.”

Jeffcoat signed to play for then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Case McCoy has been tutored by three different quarterback coaches and playcallers. These Texas seniors received an education in embracing change.

“A lot of things have gone good, a lot of things have gone bad,” McCoy said. “That's part of the game, that's part of life. One thing I know in this game and in life, you’ve got to battle. You can't give up. That's why I love this team. I love the way they're playing. I love their hearts because we haven't given up.”

They know they had Texas-sized standards to live up to in their careers. When a program bottoms out the way the Longhorns did in 2010, everything achieved since has been in the commitment to getting back on top.

There have been high points along the way, but it all seemed to be building toward 2013. Brown believed Texas had a chance to win every game this season. That didn’t work out.

To the seniors’ credit, he said, they didn’t fold after starting off 1-2 this year. They didn’t give in and they rallied to win six in a row.

“They were very, very strong-willed in stepping up with their leadership and telling the other guys, ‘This is our last time now, we’re going to make this work,’” Brown said. “I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of the way they’ve handled adversity, proud of the way they fought through it.”

And Jeffcoat believes the legacy of these seniors is unfinished. They’ll earn a share of the Big 12 title, and perhaps more, if they win out. Three games left means three more chances to get the Longhorns back in the right direction.

“I think we definitely have that opportunity,” McCoy said. “We have the opportunity right now to put our final stamp on it and put it where we need to go.”

Texas’ seniors have had a rough journey. As the end nears, though, they still believe their story can have a happy ending. And they seem to have few regrets.

“If I had to choose all over again,” Jeffcoat said, “I’d come to Texas.”

First glance: Texas Tech Red Raiders

November, 26, 2013
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A look ahead at Texas Tech in anticipation of its Thanksgiving night matchup with Texas. The Longhorns and Red Raiders face off Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Record: 7-4 (4-4 Big 12)

All-time record vs. Texas: 15-47

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBaker Mayfield and Texas Tech led early against Baylor on Nov. 16 but could sustain it.
Last game: Texas Tech went ahead 14-0 and 20-7 early in the first quarter but couldn't keep up in a 63-44 loss to then-No. 5 Baylor at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Baker Mayfield threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns in his first start in more than a month, but the Red Raiders failed to score on nine of their next 10 drives after the score reached 20-7, and their defense gave up eight touchdowns, including five on the ground. Tech has now lost four in a row.

Last meeting with Texas: Last season, Texas went on the road and won 31-22 against the then-No. 18 Red Raiders, a win sealed when Carrington Byndom blocked a Ryan Bustin field-goal attempt late. Mike Davis enjoyed a career day with 165 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and the Longhorns defense held Tech to field-goal attempts on four of its red zone trips.

Key player: Everyone knows the key to the Texas Tech offense is unstoppable tight end Jace Amaro, and the fact he isn't a John Mackey Award finalist is absolutely laughable. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 92 receptions for 1,157 yards and six touchdowns. Mack Brown called Amaro "a bigger, thicker Jermichael Finley" on Monday and acknowledged he's a matchup nightmare for any defense.

Why Texas Tech might win: This is a team with plenty to play for, even after its perfect season fell apart. Despite its recent struggles, Texas Tech still has the No. 1 passing offense in the country (400.1 ypg). Texas wants to play a ball-control game and pound the rock and probably can't afford to engage in a shootout.

Why Texas Tech might lose: The Red Raiders have given up 277, 281, 291 and 340 rushing yards in their four losses. They've had a bye week to try to shore up that vulnerable run defense, but you know Texas will test it early and often. Another glaring flaw for this Tech team: Turnovers. The Red Raiders are minus-12 in turnover margin after giving the ball away 28 times this fall. Hard to beat good teams when you do that.

Texas faces same late-season stakes again

November, 25, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- After a week off, Texas goes into its final home game of the season with a potentially huge finish on the horizon. All the Longhorns need to do is win two games.

First comes a Thanksgiving night game against a foe that already has four conference losses. Then a regular-season finale on the road against one of the teams atop the Big 12 standings. A share of the Big 12 title could be on the line, but not if Texas can’t win the first one.

Here’s what’s fascinating about that statement: It was just as true on Nov. 22, 2012, as it is today.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
John Albright/Icon SMIConsecutive losses to TCU and Kansas State last season left a sour taste in the mouths of Longhorns such as cornerback Quandre Diggs.
If the stakes this team now faces seem familiar, that’s because they’re almost identical to what the Longhorns faced one year ago.

This time it’s Texas Tech and Baylor on the slate. Last season, Texas was eyeing a trip to a BCS bowl and maybe even a slim hope of winning the conference with TCU and Kansas State standing in the way.

Those hopes were dashed by a Turkey Day disaster, a 20-13 home loss to the 6-4 Horned Frogs after Texas had clawed its way up to No. 16 in the BCS standings and back onto the national radar.

“We missed a great opportunity to get back in the mix for some things," Texas coach Mack Brown said afterward.

Then came a 42-24 loss to K-State, sending the Wildcats to the Fiesta Bowl. Before this season, Texas players said they remember the bitter taste left from having to watch their opponent celebrate a co-Big 12 championship.

Now they get an opportunity to replace that negative memory with a positive one.

“We just have to go back and regroup knowing that we still have a chance to win the Big 12,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said after Texas’ 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State. “We just have to win out.”

Last year, it was a Baylor win over Kansas State that created a glimmer of hope for Texas. This time around, Baylor’s loss to Oklahoma State has made perfectly clear what UT needs to do to snag a share of the Big 12 title: win out.

Two wins plus an Oklahoma victory over OSU in Bedlam means an outright title for Texas and the elusive BCS bowl trip.

That’s not much different from last year’s scenario, except Texas was crossing its fingers for a Sooners loss in 2012. Doesn’t matter if you don’t take care of your own business, though. And the Longhorns stumbled.

Texas turned the ball over four times, two coming on interceptions thrown in the red zone by an injured David Ash and one on a last-ditch effort to rally from Case McCoy. TCU won the rushing battle 217-86. The Longhorns squandered their big opportunity by squandering lots of little ones that night.

“At times we all didn't play well tonight. That's football,” lineman Mason Walters said after the loss. “Someone's got to step up and be the man, and we didn't have anyone doing that.”

That Texas team was coming off four straight wins. This one strung together six Big 12 victories in a row before the Cowboys came to Austin and blew them out. Nine days have passed since then.

This team has to defeat a Texas Tech team that began the year 7-0 and has now lost four in a row, then go on the road and beat a Baylor team that, despite revealing its vulnerabilities in a 49-17 loss this weekend, is still No. 9 in the BCS and capable of putting up 50-plus on the Longhorns.

What's it going to take to get to 9-3? Some of Texas' best football yet at a time when six starters are injured or out and the margin for error is slim.

"I don't think anybody is capable of playing perfect football. Football is a game and nothing's going to be perfect," receiver Jaxon Shipley said after the loss to OSU. “Ultimately, I think it's if you can be persistent. If you are facing adversity, can you overcome those?

"Today we didn't do that, but I think we can bounce back and we've still got a shot at winning the Big 12 championship."

And to pull that off, the Longhorns need a perfect 2-0 record to close the season. They need to do something they couldn't one year ago.

Longhorn players not ready to give up yet

November, 20, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown was trying to make sense of a lopsided home loss.

It was Sept. 14. After losing 44-23 to Ole Miss, Brown tried to espouse hope and confidence about leading a troubled two-loss Texas team on a Big 12 title run. At some point during the discussion, he was asked what fans should think about where the program is heading.

“Forget the coaches, come for the kids,” Brown said. “Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often. They just need to keep supporting the players.”

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond (left) and Texas' defense will have to regroup quickly with games against Texas Tech and Baylor to close the season.
They kept trying. Texas beat Kansas State. Then the Longhorns beat five more Big 12 teams, and that goal of a conference title got more real and tangible on a weekly basis.

The goal seems long gone now, after Oklahoma State sent the Longhorns crashing back to reality with a 38-13 loss, but it isn’t. Texas can claim a share of the conference if it wins out. And once again, that’s all the Longhorns are clinging to after a loss that sincerely shocked some players.

“I’m very surprised. As a team, we had some momentum,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “We had a close game last week, and we had a good week of practice. On game day, everything didn’t work out the way that we wanted it to, and these are one of the ones you wish you could have back. It’s not a good feeling.”

Such a thorough loss like that stings. The victory over No. 12 Oklahoma was Texas’ signature win of 2013, no doubt about that, but it seemed those six victories were building toward an opportunity like this. A top-15 team had to come to DKR, its Big 12 title hopes on the line. For Texas, the table was all set for this moment.

And it slipped away quickly. The Longhorns dropped out of the polls one week after entering. A Big 12 title is attainable but Texas no longer controls its own fate. An upset of No. 4 Baylor in Waco on Dec. 7 is now an absolute necessity.

“It was frustrating, but we can’t get too down,” sophomore defensive tackle Malcom Brown said. “We still have two more games going into the Big 12 championship. We have to stay focused and go play Texas Tech like we didn’t even lose.”

For players like fourth-year seniors Phillips and cornerback Carrington Byndom, there was unmistakable encouragement. They’ve had to pick themselves up and keep going before and will do it again.

“It was a bit of a shock,” Byndom said, “but that’s just called the game of football.”

Last time the Longhorns lost, though, they followed through on what they vowed. The post-Ole Miss promises worked. Improvement happened, leadership emerged. Texas’ offense found a way to win without David Ash. Its defense is getting by without Jordan Hicks again.

The circumstances have changed plenty since Sept. 14. Guard Trey Hopkins conceded after OSU that there’s no margin for error now. There are no easy games left.

Texas is on a bye week before hosting Tech on Thanksgiving. The Longhorns have plenty of time to regroup. There is plenty of time to review the Oklahoma State film, and plenty more to move past it.

But perhaps in this stressful off time, they’ll think back to September. Back then, folks were questioning if this was Mack Brown’s next 5-7 team. Texas players were determined to prove just how wrong that fear was.

Now they’re facing what could be a similarly unsatisfactory finish.

“It’s a setback, but it’s a setback for a major comeback. That is what we say,” running back Joe Bergeron said. “Honestly, it is just a speed bump in the road and we will get over this. We still have two more games and we just have to get everybody to understand it is not the end of the world.”

Nor is it the end of the season. The Longhorns have six more days to figure out what they’re going to do about that.

Planning for success: Texas

November, 14, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas – The touchdowns are usually all most people notice, and all they remember days later. The little plays, the ones that don’t pop up during Sunday film review, get Mack Brown just as excited.

You don’t win games like Texas’ 47-40 overtime victory over West Virginia last weekend without sneaking in a handful of those small, but significant plays. Under Brown, Texas is 22-5 in games decided by three points or less. You don’t win those without getting the upper hand on a few sneaky-important plays.

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsTexas made just enough plays to beat West Virginia and will need more of the same against Oklahoma State.
There were plenty to choose from in Morgantown, W.V., last Saturday. Cornerback Carrington Byndom snuck in and blew up a run on third-and-1 late in the fourth quarter. Texas preserved its timeouts for its final offensive drive by stopping that conversion.

While nobody else was looking, tight end Greg Daniels dove on a Malcolm Brown fumble near the end zone on second and goal in overtime. Texas scored on the very next play.

On West Virginia’s first offensive snap in overtime, Mario Alford took a reverse 20 yards to the 5. He could've scored, but Texas safety Adrian Phillips fought off a block and managed to force Alford out of bounds.

On second-and-goal on the Longhorns’ game-deciding goal-line stand, cornerback Quandre Diggs got a finger on Paul Millard's pass to an open receiver. The box score didn’t credit him for a pass breakup. On the final play of the night, Diggs pressured Millard with a blitz off the edge and was smart enough to avoid roughing the passer.

Those aren’t glorious plays like Steve Edmond’s interception or Jaxon Shipley’s touchdown, both of which merited praise, but these details garner almost no attention from the public and they helped swing a shootout on the road that sent Texas home 6-0 in the Big 12.

Under Mack Brown, Texas has now pulled of 31 second-half comebacks and 20 fourth-quarter comebacks. The Longhorns might need a few more of those plays to go their way against a 12th-ranked Oklahoma State team that’s a tough out in all three phases.

What makes the Longhorns so proficient in these close games? You could chalk it up to practice habits or savvy play-calling or plenty of other factors. It’s a bit simpler than that to co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.

“Me personally, just my own personal opinion, I think you’ve got good players,” Applewhite said. “When you have Vince Young and Colt McCoy and you have Ricky Williams and you have Jaxon Shipley, I just think players usually end up winning the game over the course of time.

“I’d love to attribute it to something out there, but I think it’s good players making big-time plays in big-time situations.”

But contributions like the ones Byndom, Daniels, Phillips and Diggs made don’t go unnoticed. They’re the kind of detail plays that come from a 2013 team loaded with experienced veterans.

It’s also a group that has produced enough close wins and last-second victories to know how to thrive in these high-pressure spots.

“I don’t think anybody wants to be in a close game with us in the fourth quarter,” senior guard Mason Walters said. “I’m really confident the guys I play football with thrive in that. I really think it’s that pride in being able to win close games that really helps us.”

And by now, this Texas team has had enough close calls to know the “big-time plays” Applewhite seeks aren’t always the ones that put points on the scoreboard.

Texas weathers another storm against TCU

October, 29, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When it’s time for coaches to assemble again for their annual convention, the president of the American Football Coaches Association might want to give a seminar on surviving tedious, stress-inducing rain delays.

Mack Brown has now literally weathered storms twice this season, with markedly different results. He found himself, and his team, surprisingly well-prepared for the unusual circumstances of Texas’ 30-7 win over TCU on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
AP Photo/LM OteroSevere weather delayed the Texas-TCU for more than three hours and both teams had to find ways to deal with it.
Back on Sept. 7, he and his players were thrown off by a severe weather delay during pregame at BYU. Once the storm had passed over Provo, Utah, and the wait was finally over, 110 minutes had passed.

“I wish somebody had told me before Brigham Young how to handle that,” Brown said Monday.

His team didn’t respond well. Texas struggled on offense and didn’t show up on defense in the 40-21 loss. Brown blames himself for how his team handled the delay. He thought their wait would be as brief as 20 minutes, so his players prepared accordingly.

Then more lightning struck, and 20 minutes became an hour, then an hour and 50 minutes. Getting fired up to start a game two or three times isn’t so easy.

With that experience under his belt, Brown took a new approach when Texas and TCU were sent back to their respective locker rooms on Saturday. They had no expectations for when the game would resume.

“We told them we’ve got no clue,” Brown joked.

What ensued was a delay of 3 hours, 6 minutes. About an hour in, Brown and his coaches accepted it was going to be a long night.

“It just kept continuing and kept continuing,” Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom said.

This time, when the players hit the locker room, the pads came off right away. The Longhorns approached the break, which came with 6:08 left in the second quarter, as if it were an extended halftime.

They went over in-game adjustments, though both teams were prohibited from reviewing film of the first quarter and a half. They held position meetings. And then they went back to waiting.

“We told them, ‘Do anything you need to do to get yourself ready to go back out,’” Brown said. “Go to sleep. Take your pads off. Listen to music. Walk around. Talk with your buddies. Doesn’t matter.”

That low-pressure approach seemed to help. So did breaking into the halftime PB&Js and the postgame food supply -- copious amounts of chicken tenders -- around 9:30 p.m.

Coaches reviewed and tweaked their plans. Some took naps, though Brown couldn’t. He had to work with game officials and TCU coach Gary Patterson to hammer out a plan for the rest of the night.

For Texas, the locker room vibe was much different this time around. They’d taken a 17-7 lead into the break and had plenty to talk about, and plenty more to feel good about.

“We went in there with some points on the board,” center Dominic Espinosa said. “I think going in there we felt it out already and knew how they were going to come at us and what was going to work for us. That definitely gave us some confidence.”

Brown and Patterson agreed to finish out the second quarter, remain on the field for a brief halftime and then kick off the third quarter. They agreed on a five-minute intermission, which later got cut down to three, and huddled their teams on the sidelines during the commercial break-length intermission.

Finally, around 10:45 p.m., they were cleared to begin warmups. The game resumed at 11 p.m. CT and finished just after 12:30. Despite the slippery conditions and long layoff, no Texas players went down with injuries in the second portion of the game.

And this time, they came out firing. The Longhorns defense forced TCU to punt on eight of its nine drives after the break. Texas came away with 10 points on its first two possessions to put the game away.

Nobody was more relieved after the 186-minute delay than Brown. His coaches didn’t panic. His players didn’t either, and more importantly, they were ready to play.

“I thought the fact that they did not waver, and I couldn’t tell any difference in the attitude in the team when they came back out than when they went in, that’s huge,” Brown said. “That’s huge for your team to be mature enough to handle all of those circumstances and just go play.”

Planning for success: Texas

October, 3, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When the news came out Monday that all three linebackers of Texas’ 2012 recruiting class are now starting, the collective response from Dalton Santos, Peter Jinkens and Timothy Cole was universal: This is going to be fun.

If the celebrating the trio has done on their Twitter accounts is any indication, it’s safe to say the second-year linebackers are more than up to the challenge Thursday night at Iowa State (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). This week, their contributions should be critical.

[+] EnlargePeter Jinkens
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesPeter Jinkens is part of an all-Class-of-2012 starting linebacking corps that Texas will unleash against Iowa State.
Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson was looking for a spark in the wake of losing the Longhorns' most talented linebacker, junior Jordan Hicks. His season-ending torn Achilles was the last thing Robinson needed in his quest to repair the run defense.

The Longhorns defense fell apart without Hicks last season during its toughest five-game stretch. His absence opened the door for others, and a total of seven linebackers earned starts in 2012.

Yet Robinson didn’t chose any of the remaining six to take over for Hicks. He picked Cole, a redshirt freshman from Brenham, Texas, who’s spent nearly all of his debut season on special teams.

“Tim did a tremendous job against Kansas State on special teams, and because of that and practice the last four days, Greg Robinson is convinced he wants Tim out there as a starter,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.

There’s the benefit of getting a fresh set of eyes on Texas’ linebackers. Cole wasn’t in line to contribute much to that unit before Robinson took over for Manny Diaz last month.

A four-star prospect who came to Texas last year with best friend Malcom Brown, Cole makes up for non-prototypical size (he’s listed at 6-foot-2, but that’s generous) with a strong football IQ and a knack for leadership.

When Texas was recruiting him, Brenham coach Glen West vowed that Cole would end up being a team captain for Texas. His new coaches don’t doubt that, and teammates recognized what made Cole unique early on.

“Since he got here, he was different than a lot of other guys,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “I knew he was a little more mature than other guys. His football game has come a long way since he first got here, but he looks good. He knows he has to step up and play well, and I think he will.”

He’ll team up tonight with Jinkens and Santos, two high-energy sophomores coming off strong finishes in Texas’ win over Kansas State. Steve Edmond will likely have some role in the game, but he can’t play in the first half after receiving a targeting ejection in the second half against KSU.

Juniors Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson were the presumptive favorites to step into the lineup in Hicks’ place, but the Longhorns’ young trio won over their new position coach.

They’ll have to reward his faith with a stout showing against the Cyclones, who got a 137-yard rushing performance out of newcomer Aaron Wimberly last week vs. Tulsa.

In their first three game without Hicks last fall, Texas’ defense let opposing running backs produce games of 199, 207 and 167 yards, respectively. That can’t happen again, not if the Longhorns are hoping to turn the season around after a 2-2 start.

What matters more to Brown, though, is the leadership void that Texas must fill now that Hicks won’t be on the field. Jeffcoat said he’ll take on the responsibility along with defensive tackle Chris Whaley and defensive backs Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips.

Simply having more seniors to rely on this time around means more accountability across the board.

“That’s a lot of guys who can keep their positions up and make sure guys don’t start slacking off and guys pick up the slack from what was lost with Jordan,” Jeffcoat said.

The sophomores are doing their part, too. Of the 25 members of Texas’ 2012 class still on campus, Cole is about to become the 13th to earn a start.

While others broke into the starting lineup in year one, Cole was patient. He kept working and kept waiting for an opportunity. Here it is.

“He’s upbeat and positive and smart and never makes a mistake,” Brown said. “Greg Robinson said the other day, ‘Don’t tell him something that’s wrong, because he’s going to remember it and he’s going to do it.’ He just plays so hard. It’ll be fun to watch him on Thursday night.”

Can Robinson turn Texas defense around?

September, 10, 2013
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After a brief but successful stint in 2004 as the Texas defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson wound up in Michigan calling defense by way of Syracuse.

Robinson’s two Michigan defenses, however, turned out to be among the worst in Wolverines history.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWill Greg Robinson, a former defensive coordinator at Michigan, be able to turn Texas' defense around?
On Sunday, Texas coach Mack Brown tabbed Robinson to turn around a beleaguered Longhorns defense that surrendered a record number of rushing yards (550) in a 19-point loss at BYU. The abysmal performance resulted in Brown firing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

The question now, which will likely determine Brown’s future in Austin, is will Robinson do any better?

Brown, and his players, indicated strongly Monday that he would.

“I think Greg has a track record that's as good as anybody in this country,” Brown said. “Kids gravitate to him. He just makes kids play better.”

The problem with that is Robinson’s track record since leaving Texas has not been good. And within the past decade, his kids have not played well. In fact, since coordinating the Texas defense in 2004, Robinson has not overseen a top-50 defense.

Robinson’s failure in Syracuse was as a head coach. The Orange went 3-26 in the Big East during his tenure.

But Robinson’s failure in Michigan was as a defensive coordinator. Under Robinson in 2010, the Wolverines ranked last in the Big Ten in total defense (451 yards per game), scoring defense (35.2 points per game) and pass defense (262 yards per game). Robinson was fired after that season along with head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Monday, Brown exonerated Robinson for those failures, countering those Wolverine defenses were bad because they “had really bad players.”

Only, with many of those same “bad” players, the Wolverines jumped all the way to sixth nationally in scoring defense and 17th in total defense under coordinator Greg Mattison the following season. And with virtually the same front seven that Robinson had the season before, the Wolverines went from allowing 189 yards a game on the ground to 132 in Mattison’s first year.

“When he went to Michigan, they weren't very good,” Brown said. “We have good players on defense. We just have to play better.”

The Longhorns did have good players during Robinson’s first spell in Austin. Linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Michael Huff were unanimous All-Americans and first-round picks. Several other defenders from that 2004 team enjoyed success in the NFL.

Robinson won’t have that kind of talent to work with this time around. Sure, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks are nice players. And defensive backs Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom have pro potential. Yet, even as Texas piles up recruiting classes that are the envy of college football, there are no surefire All-Americans on this defense. And, at least according to one NFL scout who watched the Longhorns practice in person during the preseason, no future first-rounders, either.

Brown indicated Diaz’s schemes were shaky at BYU, and the results obviously reflected that. But was the defensive collapse in Provo purely scheme-related?

Former Longhorns linebacker Drew Kelson, who was a freshman during Robinson’s 2004 season, thinks Texas’ defensive issues go way deeper than poor play calling or scheming.

“We lost seven games while I was at Texas, and it wasn’t just because the coaches called perfect plays,” Kelson said. “Look at who we had when I was playing. I had to move to linebacker to get on the field because we had five or six DBs who were NFL-caliber guys.

“The last few years we haven’t had the players to help bail out the coaches. When the schemes or X's or O's haven’t been right on point, you’ve seen [big offensive plays]. The players need to have the mentality of being relentless, making something happen regardless of the play call, regardless if the scheme is perfect and wanting to fight to live another down. That’s what we need.”

Installing a mentality that has been missing from the Texas defense lately on top of implementing his scheme is something Robinson will have to accomplish in little time.

“Obviously he’s overloaded,” Brown said.

Kelson, however, spoke highly of Robinson, and recalled his energy and enthusiasm.

“He was kind of quirky,” Kelson said, “but it worked for us.”

When at Texas, Robinson also had a flair for making solid halftime adjustments -- something Diaz seemingly failed to do against BYU. During the 2004 regular season, the Longhorns outscored their opponents 105-3 in third quarters, smacking of big-time halftime adjustments.

“We know [Robinson’s] experience, we know of the things he's done in his past, and you know whatever he's saying has worked,” Byndom said. “That will be the biggest thing for us, his credibility.

“We know whatever he says, it has worked before.”

The Longhorns are banking on it working again in Austin. Even if it didn't in Michigan.

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