Texas Longhorns: Charlie Strong

Stats that matter: Texas-Oklahoma

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
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Ready for some numbers? It's time for our weekly stat digs, in which we team with ESPN Stats & Information to find the numbers that matter most for the Longhorns and their next opponent. Here are the stats to remember going into Texas' Red River Showdown game against No. 11 Oklahoma on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ABC).

1. 3/24

Take a closer look at what Texas’ defense has done on a drive-by-drive basis in its first two Big 12 games.

The Longhorns did not allow a single point until their 20th drive in conference play. Throw out three drives that ended with the clock expiring to end a half and you get a better sense of this group’s dominance.

Texas has now given up scores on just three of its first 24 drives in Big 12 play. Half of those 24 drives have ended in punts. Five have ended with a turnover on downs and four have ended with takeaways.

By the way: If you throw in the UCLA game, Texas’ defense hasn’t allowed points on 28 of its last 35 possessions, with 18 of those 28 drives ending in punts.

2. 21.7

Texas’ handling of Sterling Shepard will go a long way toward deciding if Trevor Knight struggles or succeeds in his first Red River Showdown start.

Shepard is the true go-to receiver this season, getting exactly one-third of Knight’s targets and has accounted for one-third of his completions. At 30 catches for 651 yards, Shepard already has his career-high for single-season receiving yards and we’re only five games in.

Among receivers with 30 or more receptions, nobody in FBS can top Shepard’s 21.7 yards per reception. And he’s gained first downs on 22 of those catches. He’s instant offense. But that’s not the only reason he’ll be so important to Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas on Saturday.

Knight has completed passes to only three other wide receivers this season. His two interceptions against TCU came on throws intended for Shepard. At a time when the young quarterback is struggling again, Texas needs to take away his safety blanket as frequently as possible.

3. 5/23

When Oklahoma inevitably loads the box to stop the run, is Tyrone Swoopes going to be able to make the defense pay?

On pass attempts of 15-plus yards this season, Swoopes is 5-of-23 with no touchdowns and one interception. Texas coaches have acknowledged the need for downfield shots, and Swoopes is doing a good job of passing them up when they’re not open. But he’s connecting on about only one per game.

Case McCoy’s four completions of 20-plus yards against OU last year were a game-changer: two went for TDs, three came on third downs. Swoopes doesn’t have to match that. But when he gets the 1-on-1 or busted coverage he wants, he can’t hesitate and miss his throwing window.

Swoopes will need to be sharper than ever, because this has been a weakness for OU. Though the Sooners do have nine interceptions, they’ve also given up more 20-plus yard passes than any other Big 12 team, including seven against TCU.

Three more to remember

16: The number of points Texas has given up in the first half this season, including three in the second quarter. Texas ranks No. 3 nationally in first-half scoring defense behind Baylor and Marshall. And yet, Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford must wonder why their D has allowed 80 points in the second half.

256: Samaje Perine’s rushing yards after contact this season, best in the Big 12. He’s gained 50.6 percent of his rushing yards this season after absorbing the first hit.

1: The number of tackles for loss Texas produced on Baylor rushing plays. That’s a big credit to Baylor’s offensive line, and it could be a big problem for Texas against OU. It must get stops in the backfield.

Stats that matter: UCLA vs. Texas

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
5:00
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Ready for some numbers? It's time for our weekly stat digs, in which we team with ESPN Stats & Information to find the numbers that matter most for the Longhorns and their next opponent. Here are the stats to remember going into Texas' faceoff with No. 12 UCLA on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.

1. 97

If Texas does have one of the nation's best defensive lines, this is the week to prove it. UCLA's downfall as a College Football Playoff contender could be its inability to protect Brett Hundley.

Since 2012, when Jim Mora Jr.'s staff took over, UCLA quarterbacks have been sacked 97 times, tied second-most in FBS. Hundley has already been sacked a nation-leading nine times this season and gets hurried or knocked down on nearly 25 percent of his snaps. Even more damning, he's been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which a defense sent four pass-rushers or fewer.

The Bruins' struggles extend beyond pass protection. This offense produces too many negative plays -- a total of 130 plays lost yards in the past two seasons, third-most in FBS -- and, in the run game, its yards before contact per-game average ranks second-worst in the Pac-12.

Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford say they take pride in their blitzing schemes. Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown and the rest of Texas' front seven should feast if they get into the backfield consistently.

2. 2.34

Texas' offense has its own problems to face up front, too. As Shawn Watson acknowledged Tuesday, it's not just that the Longhorns are down to eight or nine offensive linemen. The starting line has no experience playing together. The starting five haven't had time to gel or get comfortable with each other's tendencies.

That showed in the run game vs. BYU. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray combined for 75 rushing yards and Texas averaged 2.34 yards per rush as a team. That was this team's worst yards-per-carry performance since Gray joined the program in 2012.

Add up Texas' efforts in three of its past four games -- against Baylor, Oregon and BYU -- and this unit is averaging a measly 3.52 yards per play and 8 points per game. That is some poor big-game offense. The pressure is on Watson and Joe Wickline this week to produce a plan that will get the Longhorns' offense moving and scoring early and often.

3. 19.5

Texas coaches talked up Hundley plenty this week, but one name that did not come up: Myles Jack. The UCLA sophomore burst onto the national scene last season as the Pac-12's Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year. He's a scary playmaker on both sides of the ball.

And while Jack is playing at as high a level as ever at linebacker (career-high 13 tackles vs. Memphis), his offensive snaps have been limited. After rushing for seven TDs last season, Jack has just three carries in 2014. He scored on one last week, and Mora says his offensive role could increase soon.

Perhaps Mora is just saving him for a big night against Texas. Jack has found the end zone on 19.5 percent of his 41 career carries, and the Longhorns will no doubt have to keep an eye on him. He's the kind of guy who can, in just a few plays, swing an otherwise close battle.

Three more to remember

36.7: UCLA's points-per-game average since the start of 2013, despite all those aforementioned sack/pressure stats.

546: Hundley's total rushing yards on scrambles in the past two seasons, second-most among Power 5 conference quarterbacks behind Johnny Manziel.

27-1: Strong's record as a head coach when his team wins the turnover battle.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Thirteen months ago, David Ash had a vision for how this would someday play out.

At Big 12 media days in July 2013, Ash was asked about his relationship with Tyrone Swoopes, the freshman who'd enrolled early and was battling to become his backup. He talked about Texas' proud history at the quarterback position -- Vince Young, Colt McCoy, even mentioned Major Applewhite. Then he reflected on what he wanted to leave behind when his playing days at Texas were over.

"Coming in, Texas kind of took a nosedive for a year, and we've been trying to get back up," he said. "With Tyrone, my goal is that whenever he steps in, I've got the program where he can just keep it rolling and Texas can be good for a long time."

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMIWhile Tyrone Swoopes' ability to run gives the Longhorns another dimension, their success will depend on his ability to make key throws and good decisions.
The passing of the torch wasn't supposed to go down like this. Ash has played in just four games since then. Concussion-related symptoms have once again benched him and put his football future in doubt.

The time for Swoopes to step in is right now and when he least expected it. The sophomore played two snaps against North Texas -- the final two kneel-downs of the ballgame -- but must start his first career game Saturday against BYU.

Swoopes' resume is fairly blank to this point. He's completed nearly four times more passes in spring games (19) than in real ones (five). But he showed enough in fall camp to make this a clear-cut decision for Charlie Strong and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson once Ash was ruled out.

"I'm very confident in Tyrone. I am," Strong said. "I'm confident with any player on this football team."

The 6-foot-4 sophomore isn't easy to bring down at 245 pounds, and Watson will surely implement more run options into the game plan this week to accentuate what Swoopes does best. Strong went so far as to compare Swoopes's ability on the perimeter to BYU's prolific quarterback Taysom Hill.

He is not the fleet-footed Young clone that fans expected during Swoopes' recruitment out of Whitewright (Texas) High School, but his legs do give the Texas offense an asset and a chance for some new wrinkles.

What Texas needs from Swoopes, above all else, is a competent passer capable of making key throws and sound decisions. He throws a nice deep ball, but how will he handle the intermediate throws? What about third downs and passing downs? Watson has seen improvements both in Swoopes' knowledge and fundamentals during their time together. A long offseason of training will soon be put to the test.

"Once Tyrone gets a couple completions in, he'll start getting a little rhythm and he'll be fine," running back Malcolm Brown said. "He's a guy that I've seen work since he's been here. I know as a backup, you always feel like you have to go above and beyond, but that's not the case at all. Just have to be consistent."

The presence of Brown and Johnathan Gray, two of the Big 12's best backs, certainly helps. Strong insists he does not demand greatness of Texas' quarterbacks. He just needs a game manager.

"What you have to look at, it's not all about one position," Strong said. "If you have the defense play well like we played the other night, you have two good running backs, your offense line protects well, you can function."

Strong said Swoopes executed the Texas offense effectively during practice Sunday, but he must also prepare a contingency plan. Swoopes' backup will be freshman Jerrod Heard, the former ESPN 150 recruit and two-time state champion from Denton (Texas) Guyer. Walk-on Trey Holtz figures to be the No. 3 option, and there are no other scholarship quarterbacks available.

Had Heard been able to enroll early at Texas this spring, he might've had a better chance to beat out Swoopes. After Watson told reporters this month that Heard was "in China" when it came to his understanding of the offense, a redshirt seemed likely. That might not be possible now.

"It's got to move very quickly for him," Strong said. "You're always a play away."

The opponent for Swoopes' first start, while familiar, is no less scary. BYU forced an Ash-led Texas offense to punt eight times in the 40-21 beatdown in Provo last season. He might struggle early, Strong admitted, but Swoopes needs to maintain his composure. He needs to find confidence.

And Texas will need everybody else to chip in if they're going to pull this off and, as Ash hoped, keep rolling.

"Other players have to step up, other players have to go play," Strong said. "You look across the country and it can happen to any team at any second. Now it's happened to us."

Stats that matter: North Texas-Texas

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
9:00
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Are you ready for some numbers? It's time once again for our weekly stat digs, in which we team with ESPN Stats and Info to find the numbers that matter most for the Longhorns and their next opponent. Here are the stats to remember going into Texas’ season opener against North Texas (7 p.m. CT, Longhorn Network).

No. 1: 101.6

Charlie Strong admitted on the Big 12 coaches' teleconference Monday there's one number he cares about (after the final score) when he's handed the postgame stat sheet: Rushing yards allowed.

His defense at Louisville led FBS in run defense last season, allowing just 81.5 yards per game. Texas gave up an average of 183.1 rushing yards per game a year ago. You better believe Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford intend to close that 101.6-yard gap as much as possible in 2014.

In the past four years, only one Big 12 defense has given up fewer than 100 rushing yards per game: The 2011 Longhorns, who held teams to 96.2 yards per game on the ground.

For what it's worth, and maybe not much, Georgia's defense did hold North Texas to 7 total rushing yards on 25 attempts last year.

No. 2: 123

We know very little about North Texas starting quarterback Josh Greer, a juco transfer who spent 2012 at UAB and 2013 at Navarro College. He's seen as a guy who has some similar traits to the successful guy he replaces, Derek Thompson, and he was a 63.5-percent passer at Navarro. He's a bit of an unknown otherwise.

But we do know he'll be protected by an offensive line that, on paper, looks impressive with 123 career starts among the five starters. Cyril Lemon, a first-team All-CUSA guard last year, moves from right tackle and has 37 career starts. He's one of four senior starters along with Mason Y'Barbo (37 starts), Antonio Johnson (34) and Shawn McKinney (2).

Texas players think they have the best defensive line in the Big 12, if not the nation. Those boasts will be put to the test Saturday as they try to rattle a QB making his first college start.

No. 3: 434

When you talk about David Ash's best games as Texas' starting quarterback, his 2013 season opener against New Mexico State doesn't usually get brought up. But in his only compete game of that injury-wrecked season, Ash accounted for 434 total yards (343 passing, 91 rushing) and offered an appealing glimpse of what he might've been able to do had he stayed healthy.

Texas struggled to get rolling until late in the second quarter, but Ash got the offense to open up from there. He threw for four touchdowns, busted off a 55-yard touchdown scramble and showed poise in the second half to guide an offense that put up a school-record 715 total yards.

North Texas should be a better foe than NMSU, which went on to finish 2-10 with the fourth-worst scoring defense in the country. But will we see a version of Ash that's as good or better than the one that showed up in last year's opener?

Three more to remember

Eight: The number of kicks North Texas blocked last season, most in FBS. Four were blocked punts. Against Georgia last year, UNT blocked a punt for TD and also returned a kickoff for a TD.

Two: North Texas coach Dan McCarney coached the defensive line on Strong's Florida defenses for two seasons, in 2008 and 2009.

35-21: The score of North Texas' last game against a Big 12 program, a loss at Kansas State in 2012. UNT is 7-57 all-time against the Big 12 but 0-9 in the past decade.
DALLAS -- Winning football games holds top billing in most cases, but when discussing the most important objective to college football coaches, a great recruiting class is always high on the totem pole.

The Big 12 media days on Monday and Tuesday gave coaches a chance to share their opinions on their teams, their competitors and the future of college football. It also allowed each coach to talk about the positives and negatives of recruiting.

Texas held its first-ever "Under The Lights" night camp inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Friday. While the event did not immediately result in new scholarship offers or commitments, we still learned plenty from Charlie Strong's final summer camp of 2014, which featured well more than 100 participants including at least 30 ESPN 300 prospects. Here's what stood out:

1. Out-of-state commits shine

Zach Gentry had seen his future teammates on recruiting websites and kept up with them via one long group text message. But Friday's camp provided the ESPN 300 quarterback commit the first real chance for him meet the rest of the class -- and for them to meet him.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native flew out for the night camp and lived up to the legends of his startling size -- he's now 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, and swears he's done growing -- while performing well under Shawn Watson's tutelage.

Gentry gravitated toward two other Texas commits with whom he shares plenty in common as outsiders: 2015 RB Kirk Johnson and 2016 WR Collin Johnson. The committed brothers from San Jose, California, made their third trip to Austin and earned rave reviews. Collin, a ESPN Junior 300 prospect, was especially impressive with 6-foot-4 size and major leaping ability.



The Johnson brothers are proud to say they did their part to ensure Gentry joined the class in May, and the trio stays in touch frequently. Surely they'll soon reach out to their newest out-of-state future teammate, Garrett Thomas of Many, Louisiana. The four-star tackle did make it to Austin as well Friday after delivering his commitment last week.

Another out-of-state recruit everyone was watching Friday: four-star QB Kai Locksley. He made his first visit to Austin this weekend and brought along father Mike Locksley, Maryland's offensive coordinator. Locksley showed off a quick release and impressive athleticism. Heck, he might be just as good a receiver at the next level, too.

Strong and Watson dedicated a lot of time to Locksley and his father after the camp wrapped up. It's going to be Texas, Florida State or Maryland in the end, and Locksley said he wants to make his decision soon.

2. Young linemen didn't disappoint

By the end of the night, most of the recruits who were getting significant buzz for their performances were underclassmen defensive linemen.

Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints defensive tackle Mike Williams, an ESPN Junior 300 prospect, was one of the breakout stars of the night and got plenty of attention from the coaching staff afterward. As usual, massive DT Kendell Jones of Killeen (Texas) Shoemaker was a star. The 6-5, 310-pound big man ranked No. 36 in the ESPN Junior 300 has visited Texas at least three times this year, including two camp trips.

Another player we'll all be talking about a year or two from now was Houston Episcopal's Marvin Wilson. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle, a 2017 prospect, said after the camp the Longhorns are his early No. 1 school ahead of TCU, Ohio State and Texas A&M. Texas also got one of the state's best at camp in Houston Westfield DT Edward Oliver. He'll be as coveted as any in-state defensive lineman in the 2016 class.

3. Brown an exciting project

New defensive line coach Chris Rumph had to be just as excited about what he saw from the defensive ends, particularly ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown and Texas three-star commit Charles Omenihu.

Brown, a former Baylor commit capable of playing defensive line, linebacker or tight end, shined in 1-on-1 work as a speed-rushing end. In fact, on back-to-back reps, he easily got past one of the camp's best linemen, coveted 2016 tackle J.P. Urquidez. For a kid from a small Class 2A school (Burton) who isn't used to big-time competition, Brown was unfazed.

Omenihu has been bulking up and received plenty of pointers during the camp from preseason All-Big 12 end Cedric Reed. It was clear throughout the night that Omenihu and Brown have a good bond. Brown will be a project early on in college, especially in the weight room at 6-5 and 210 pounds, but there's big potential. It's probably a safe bet he ends up choosing the Longhorns.

4. Commitments coming soon?

In addition to Brown, we'll give you three more recruits who might be on commitment watch in the not-too-distant future.

Three-star center Tyler Moore (Houston/North Shore) already has his offer and was back at camp. He and his father had an extended conversation with Joe Wickline afterward, but no pledge. Four-star defensive tackle Du'Vonta Lampkin (Houston/Cy Falls) visited Texas before the night camp and left with some news: He's announcing his decision on Sept. 15 and it's down to Texas, Oklahoma and LSU. The former OU pledge has repeatedly said the Longhorns are in the lead.

And keep an eye on WR Ryan Newsome. The ESPN 300 speedster from Aledo, Texas, came down to Austin for a full academic tour on Friday and spent time catching up with close buddy Jerrod Heard. He's not looking to decide until December after five official visits (Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA, Oregon, Tennessee) but admitted he'll be back for several Texas games in the fall, including his official for Baylor-Texas on Oct. 4.

5. The guys on the sideline

The campers who showed up but did not compete on Friday night were truly just as critical.

ESPN 300 cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd spent much of the night together watching on the field along with four-star ATH J.W. Ketchum. They spent a lot of time with Texas freshman safety John Bonney, who played with Hill last year at Houston Lamar.

Boyd and his brother, 2016 LB Demarco Boyd, visited Baylor on Friday morning and then made the trip down to Austin. Demarco is seen as potentially the key to Kris' decision, and Texas has wisely been recruiting the younger Boyd for a while now.

Texas also hosted the No. 2 recruit in the state for 2016, safety Deontay Anderson, along with a large group of his teammates at Manvel (Texas) High School. Two more big names on the sidelines: Four-star DT Darrion Daniels and ESPN 300 WR John Humphrey Jr., the former Baylor pledge who hopes to earn a UT offer soon.

Schedule analysis: Texas

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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July is around the corner, leaving us a month away from the beginning of fall camps, and two months from the start of the season. With the 2014 season arriving in the not-too-distant future, it’s time for us to break down every Big 12 team’s complete schedule.

We continue this series on Wednesday with the Texas Longhorns:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)

Aug. 30: North Texas (9-4)
Sept. 6: BYU (8-5)
Sept. 13: UCLA (10-3) (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

Big 12 home games

Oct. 4: Baylor
Oct. 18: Iowa State
Nov. 8: West Virginia
Nov. 27: TCU

Big 12 road games

Sept. 27: Kansas
Oct. 11: Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl in Dallas)
Oct. 25: Kansas State
Nov. 1: Texas Tech
Nov. 15: Oklahoma State

Gut-check time: The annual midseason bowl game. When Texas and Oklahoma face off on Oct. 11, you can throw out their respective season records and trajectories. They don't really matter. All that matters is Texas is in possession of The Golden Hat and the Sooners want it back. This year's Red River Showdown will likely feature a top-5 Oklahoma team with playoff aspirations and a thirst for revenge. It's absolutely gut-check time for David Ash, who has one TD and five turnovers in his two career games against OU.

Trap game: By definition, a trap game is a potential upset you don't see coming. They don't get much more "trappy" than last year's Texas-BYU game in Provo, when the Cougars put up 40 points and 550 rushing yards and the Longhorns lost the game, Ash, Daje Johnson and, a day later, their defensive coordinator. So yeah, Texas players aren't going to be sleeping on Taysom Hill and BYU this time around. This is a real trap, too, because a loss by any margin could snowball into a 2-4 start to the season.

Snoozer: In 2012, Texas had a close call at Kansas and a snoozer at home against Iowa State. Last season, it was a close call at Iowa State and a snoozer at home against Kansas. So unless West Virginia's season has completely fallen apart by the time they visit Austin in November, the safe bet here is that the Iowa State game is a win for Texas and a forgettable one. Considering it's the first post-Red River game, that's probably a good thing for the Longhorns.

Telltale stretch: Sept. 13-Oct. 11. In the span of a month, Texas will likely have three games against top-10 opponents, with two of those games coming in sold-out neutral sites with crazy atmospheres. If Texas gets past BYU and enters its UCLA-Baylor-Oklahoma stretch unscathed, it sets up a gigantic stage for new coach Charlie Strong to send a message. Winning two of three would get a lot of folks excited about the program's future. Winning all three would put Texas right in the middle of the playoff hunt. An O-fer would make a clear statement that Texas has some rebuilding to do.

Final analysis: Notice how we didn't even mention the second half of the schedule? That's because, after Oklahoma, it's all downhill (or uphill?) from there. Once Texas begins its Big 12 slate, it does not have a bye week until Nov. 22. That's eight consecutive weeks of conference games. It's going to be one long, brutal run for these Longhorns, one that will test the resolve of its players and its new coaching staff. There are no cupcakes along the way like Strong's Louisville teams faced in the Big East and American Athletic Conference. Still, these Longhorns overcame a brutal start in 2013 to win their first six Big 12 games, and this team has just as much veteran talent and leadership. How they respond to those three huge games, no matter the result, will dictate how this seemingly unfriendly schedule plays out.

Best case, worst case: Texas

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
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Last week, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.

The premise of these fun posts is to examine what the season might look like if everything falls into place for each school -- the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we’ll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong -- the worst-case scenario.

We continue the series today with Texas.

BEST CASE

Mack Brown’s debut season at Texas featured a Heisman Trophy winner (Ricky Williams), a 9-3 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Tough act to follow, but why not try?

To kick off this run, David Ash takes the boot off his left foot in early July and the word “injury” is never whispered for the rest of his career. The Longhorns don’t need much from him to beat down North Texas in the opener, not with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray each rushing for 100 yards.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Rick BowmerDavid Ash missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion and fractured his foot in spring practice.
The team doesn't need much motivation against BYU, either. Texas exorcises last year’s demons by holding BYU to an unprecedented minus-550 rushing yards.

Even with Ash’s physical invincibility, Texas is challenged by a top-10 UCLA team. Trailing 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, Charlie Strong elects to insert freshman Jerrod Heard. He goes off on the Bruins, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for two more to pull off the upset. Texas goes to 3-0 and No. 10 in the polls.

Strong sticks with Heard the rest of the season and he throws for 3,707 yards and 27 touchdowns, plus 1,411 rushing yards and 22 more TDs. It’s not enough to win the Heisman, but Heard does finish second and inspires a recruiting run in December and January the likes of which this state has never seen.

So Texas beats UCLA and then has a close call at Kansas – Ash’s fourth-quarter cameo saves the day – before the big home game against No. 4 Baylor. Final score: Texas 6, Baylor 3.

Next up: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Texas. Blake Bell – yes, the Sooners go back to Blake Bell – throws for 130 yards and two interceptions and Texas wins 49-17. That makes six games in a row that Gray and Brown have each gone for 100-plus.

Texas takes care of Iowa State and Kansas State, but a nail-biter in Lubbock ends in heartbreak when Davis Webb connects with Jakeem Grant for the game-winner with 1 second left, evoking comparisons to the ending in 2008. Texas is despondent, but still No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

They beat West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU but finish in the dreaded No. 5 spot. In an incredibly close vote, the committee’s sixth tiebreaker is Strong’s April 21 statement that Texas will not play for a national championship. Alabama secures the No. 4 spot and is one of three SEC teams in the inaugural playoff.

Texas settles for a spot in the Sugar Bowl and beats LSU 33-23. Gray and Brown each finish with 1,500 rushing yards and join Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs in earning All-America honors. A record-breaking 15 Longhorns are selected in the NFL draft.

WORST CASE

Texas has no troubles against North Texas – in fact, a healthy Ash looks encouragingly good – and folks are feeling good about the beginning of the Strong era.

But then Texas loses to BYU thanks to more heroics from Taysom Hill and his knee brace-aided touchdown runs, and this reeling team isn’t ready for the big stage in Jerry World against UCLA. Brett Hundley raises his Heisman stock with a big game and the Longhorns’ inability-to-tackle woes are again a trend.

Texas coaches have two weeks to prepare Heard for the Big 12 opener against Kansas, but they stick with Ash the rest of the season and let the rookie redshirt. Ash’s final numbers are solid, all in all – he returns to putting up top-25 passing numbers in several metrics, as he did in 2012 – but by the end of the season the Longhorns have no more confidence in their quarterback situation than they did on June 25.

Texas gets to 2-2 with a win over Kansas, then gives up 45 points to Baylor in a game that gets out of hand in the second half. Art Briles wears his Big 12 title belt on the sideline the entire fourth quarter.

Despite a valiant effort in a closer-than-expected battle, Texas still comes up just short against Oklahoma and drops to 2-4.

Texas does get to six wins by beating Iowa State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, but hardly anyone notices. The nation is too captivated by a playoff race that ends with Oklahoma, Baylor, Alabama and Florida State making the College Football Playoff. The Sooners win it all.

But Texas’ humiliation doesn’t end there. The AdvoCare Texas Bowl jumps at the chance to pit the 6-6 Longhorns against a 6-6 Texas A&M team in Houston. The Aggies get the last laugh on a field goal as time expires.
Charlie Strong is closing in on the start of his first season in Austin, and that means his first full recruiting class as the head coach of the Longhorns. While Texas is positioned well in the RecruitingNation class rankings early on, as expected, Texas is fighting an uphill in-state battle against Texas A&M for the first time since the mid-to-late 1990’s.

Here's a look at five questions that must be answered for the Longhorns entering July.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas is extending its summer camp season one final night in an effort to bring a jolt to its first-year staff's recruiting efforts.

The Longhorns are planning a "Friday Night Lights" style camp for July 18. It's a new move for Charlie Strong, an event Mack Brown never hosted during his 16-year tenure but one that has become popular nationally in recent years.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Michael ThomasNew Longhorns coach Charlie Strong is stepping up his recruiting efforts with his new camp.
The night camp inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium provides Strong and his coaches with another chance to host their top targets before fall camp begins -- and a much-needed opportunity to chip away at Texas A&M's remarkable summer recruiting momentum.

Word is already starting to spread. Mesquite (Texas) Poteet ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson, arguably the No. 1 target on Texas' board, said he received his invite this week and is excited about the new event. ESPN 300 wide receiver Ryan Newsome of Aledo, Texas, is planning to be on campus that day as well along with a handful of Texas commits and targets from the classes of 2015, 2016 and beyond. Even Texas-committed brothers Kirk and Collin Johnson say they are making the trip from San Jose, California.

These "under the lights" camps have been big hits at Florida, Ohio State and Georgia, and they're spreading across the country. The inspiration for Texas' event likely came from Urban Meyer, who first introduced the "Friday Night Lights" camp when he took over at UF in 2005. Strong was on Meyer's staff there for five years. This year, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Wake Forest, Purdue, Toledo and Akron are all running similar night camps inside their home stadiums.

But of course, in this state, the first comparable event that comes to mind is "Friday Night Lights" at Texas A&M. A tradition Kevin Sumlin started in 2012, the Aggies invite their fans and top recruits for an annual Friday night scrimmage at Kyle Field in the spring.

Considering because of university policy Texas is not able to operate satellite camps outside its campus, unlike the rest of its Big 12 peers, starting up a new high-profile event is a logical solution. Last year, in response to that disadvantage, the staff hosted a "Texas Stampede" one-day recruiting event at the end of July.

But as Jeremy Crabtree wrote last week, Strong and his staff haven't received much of a new-guys-in-town boost in recruiting buzz and face an uphill climb to keep up with the rolling Aggies, who already have commitments from 11 recruits who held Texas offers and brought in five new commitments just last week, including top in-state receiver DaMarkus Lodge and elite 2016 tackle Greg Little.

The night camp also provides Texas an opportunity to get ahead on top recruits in 2016 and even 2017. The rest of Texas' in-state rivals are already making gains on that front, and every chance to get a kid back on campus helps.
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Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.

When a new coach is hired, especially at a place like The University of Texas, it usually creates excitement with prospects and high school coaches on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that buzz isn’t there. With the addition of ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge on Thursday, Texas A&M further tightened its grip on the top talent in the Lone Star State.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Eric GayCharlie Strong still has nearly eight months to bolster his 2015 recruiting class.
Lodge’s pledge gives A&M three of the top eight players in Texas and positions the Aggies for a run that could include four of the top five and five of the top 10.

On the other hand, the Longhorns, whose 2015 class is ranked No. 11 in ESPN's rankings, are struggling within their home state. Texas has yet to gain a commit from a top-10 in-state player. To make matters worse, Strong’s staff is losing commits to conference rivals and SEC powers in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oklahoma.

“In the state of Texas, A&M has taken over,” Cedar Hill (Texas) High School coach Joey McGuire said. “Through what coach [Kevin] Sumlin has done and then what Johnny Manziel did to help put that school in such a great position, it's helped them move to whole different level. They're the hot thing going right now. It's hard to beat, even for a program like Texas.”

As any Texas fan will tell you, there’s nothing worse than losing to the hated Aggies. The recruiting beatdown could continue as A&M is in good position with cornerback Kendall Sheffield, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end James Lockhart and cornerback Kris Boyd -- all ESPN 300 prospects strongly considering playing in College Station.

A Big 12 assistant who recruits in the Lone Star State said he could see that Texas would have problems on the recruiting trail the minute Strong announced his staff. The assistant praised Strong for luring Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State and believes his addition will help the Longhorns find some hidden gems along the offensive line. But after that, the assistant said it was hardly the all-star cast many thought Strong could assemble, given the school’s resources.

“I thought [Strong] needed to bring in guys that can stand toe-to-toe against A&M, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and all the other top teams that recruit in Texas,” the coach said. “He needed guys that had deep ties with the high school coaches in Texas. Instead, he got a lot of coaches that can win recruiting battles against Cincinnati, UCF and teams like that. This is the Big 12, not the AAC.”

In defense of the Longhorns, Strong did retain Bruce Chambers, who is entering his 17th season in Austin and has connections with high school football in the state. He also hired Les Koenning, a 1981 Texas graduate who is entering his 34th year of coaching after previous stops at Mississippi State, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Replacing Mack Brown wasn’t going to be easy. Replacing the relationships he so tirelessly built with Texas high school coaches will take some time.

All of this has made Strong’s job of recruiting local talent more difficult than most assumed it would be when he was first hired six months ago. But all is not lost. There has been no shortage of effort from the Longhorns’ staff, and Strong can sway some recruits with a simple formula this fall: winning.

“If Charlie Strong comes out and wins, there might be another flip,” McGuire said. “If they can come out and surprise some people this year and win games, then they’re going to be the hot team with recruits. Winning and losing is going to make a big part of those schools' recruiting classes.”

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
1:30
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Here's the latest in recruiting around the Big 12, with several programs seeing their commit list grow during the past week:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: Baylor offered Class of 2016 standout Shane Simmons, a defensive end from Hyattsville (Maryland) DeMatha. The Bears joined West Virginia, Arizona State, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and others on his offer list. Baylor also joined the race for elite 2017 prospect Anthony Hines III of Plano (Texas). Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas are among the 20-plus teams who have offered Hines, who has committed to Mississippi State.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 3
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones have been on a roll on the recruiting trail, landing Waukee (Iowa) defensive end Anthony Nelson early last week, just days after Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Prairie offensive lineman Bryce Meeker joined Iowa State's pledge list. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, Nelson is a lean defensive line prospect with plenty of room to grow.

KANSAS
Total commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Kansas' commit list exploded over the weekend with five junior college standouts picking the Jayhawks, according to KUsports.com. Charlie Weis’ program secured verbals from offensive lineman Jarek Smalley of Garden City (Kansas) Community College, defensive tackle Jacky Dezir of College of DuPage (Illinois), offensive lineman DeLonte Murray of Lackawanna (Pennsylvania) Community College, offensive lineman Will Smith of Butler County (Kansas) Community College and receiver Raeshawn Lee of College of San Mateo (California). It’s pretty clear new offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to upgrade the talent along the offensive line.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 3
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: K-State landed a commitment from Seward, Nebraska, defensive end Adam Holtorf, who announced his pledge on social media late Sunday night. The Wildcats also began their pursuit of Class of 2015 Sachese, Texas, running back Devine Ozigbo with an offer last week. Kansas, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Boise State are among the teams that have offered the three-star prospect.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: Oklahoma added another commit to its list, with Lancaster (Texas) guard Dominique Hearne choosing the Sooners. Hearne turned down offers from Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and Arizona State to pledge to Bob Stoops’ program.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Cowboys landed commitments on back-to-back days last week with the additions of Tyler (California) Junior College defensive tackle Motekiai Maile and Houston (Texas) Alief Taylor safety Kenneth McGruder.

TCU
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Gary Patterson’s squad continues to add athletes to its class with Mansfield (Texas) athlete Julius Lewis joining the Horned Frogs’ commit list this week. Lewis has the ability to play several different positions at TCU, but has been recruited as a cornerback to add speed and athleticism to Patterson’s secondary.

TEXAS
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Longhorns didn’t hesitate to throw their name into the mix for ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown of Burton, Texas, making an offer to a player who decommitted from Baylor last week. Charlie Strong’s program also offered Class of 2016 running back Devwah Whaley of Beaumont (Texas) Central.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Kliff Kingsbury’s program secured a early commitment from up-and-coming safety Collin Wilder of Katy, Texas, as Texas Tech got a jump start on its Class of 2016. The Red Raiders offered Marvel, Texas, athlete D'Eriq King joining Clemson, Louisville, Michigan State and UCLA. Kingsbury’s program also offered Hines and Class of 2016 quarterback Shane Buechele of Arlington (Texas) Lamar Consolidated in the past week.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Mountaineers began their pursuit of in-state signal caller Tyrhee Pratt of Charleston Capital. The Class of 2016 prospect could be a key recruit for West Virginia's 2016 class, as they’d hate to miss out on a in-state prospect who could end up with a lengthy offer list.
Texas and Oklahoma face tough road tests as we enter the final few weeks of the season.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a closer look at the 2014 Big 12 schedule during our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we'll wrap up the series with the final stretch of the regular season.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 12.

Nov. 15

Texas at Oklahoma State
TCU at Kansas
Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Jake Trotter’s pick: Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Depending on how the Red Raiders fare in road tests at Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU, this mid-November tilt could hold Big 12 title implications on either side. At the very least, it could be a huge roadblock standing in the path of Oklahoma’s Big 12 title and playoff hopes.

Traditionally, Lubbock has been a disaster zone for the Sooners, who at one point fell to Tech three straight times at Jones AT&T Stadium.

In 2005, a controversial call at the goal line lifted the Red Raiders to a game-winning touchdown. In 2007, quarterback Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter of another Oklahoma loss. And in 2009, Tech simply obliterated the Sooners, who wore Nike combat uniforms that afternoon.

Oklahoma played one of its best games of the 2012 season in a victory in Lubbock. But over the years Tech has given the Sooners as many problems as any team in the conference.

This will be a prime spot for Kliff Kingsbury to earn a program-defining conference win and a chance for me to wolf down another Blue Sky cheeseburger.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Texas at Oklahoma State

I have a feeling this will end up being a critical game for both teams.

It will be the third road game in four weeks for Texas and the lone home game for OSU during a season-ending four-game stretch, which includes trips to Baylor and Oklahoma.

The Cowboys are 3-2 against the Longhorns over the past five seasons but, surprisingly, have not beaten UT at Boone Pickens Stadium since 1997. The last time UT played in Stillwater, Okla., David Ash had the moment of his career, leading the Longhorns to a controversial late win in a game that also could be considered the best of J.W. Walsh's career. If both quarterbacks are still taking the snaps for their respective teams, odds are it’s been a pretty good season in both Stillwater and Austin, Texas.

Simply put, I want to go to this contest because games like these show us what the coaches and players in both programs are truly about. Both teams will be physically and mentally exhausted. There will be no surprises, as both teams will be well-scouted by each other, and both teams will need a win.

And I like the odds for another great game between the two teams, so I’m making a trip to BPS hoping that it won’t be as chilly as my last couple of visits against Baylor and Oklahoma last season.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas

Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor

Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU

Week 9: Trotter -- Texas Tech at TCU; Chatmon -- Texas at Kansas State

Week 10: Trotter -- Texas at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- TCU at West Virginia

Week 11: Trotter -- Baylor at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Baylor at Oklahoma
The home stretch of the season is nearly upon us.

Last week, we kicked off our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we journey deeper into the 2014 schedule.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 9.

Oct. 25

West Virginia at Oklahoma State
Texas Tech at TCU
Texas at Kansas State

Jake Trotter’s pick: Texas Tech at TCU

Arguably the strangest Big 12 game last season, Texas Tech knocked off the Horned Frogs with a late Davis Webb touchdown pass amid a series of bizarre fourth-quarter calls.

The 2014 version of this old Southwest Conference rivalry will feature one of the budding passing attacks in the country against a tenacious and deep secondary. The Red Raiders will want to turn this into a shootout. Even with their new offense, the Horned Frogs will try to make the game a grinder like last season's.

Another compelling storyline to watch in this one: former Texas Tech QB and assistant Sonny Cumbie (now TCU’s co-offensive coordinator) going up against his alma mater, and the staff he coached with last season.

You can best believe both sides will pull out all the stops to win what will be a pivotal game for either team.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Texas at Kansas State

The other two games on the Big 12 schedule are interesting, but watching Bill Snyder’s Wildcats try to return to their winning ways against the Longhorns tops the list of conference games in Week 9.

The Wildcats' recent success is well-documented, winning five of the last six meetings between the two teams including three straight wins in Manhattan, Kan. But the Longhorns' lone win was a 31-21 triumph last September which sparked their run to the pseudo-Big 12 title game at Baylor on the final day of the 2013 regular season.

K-State’s battle with UT comes in the midst of a tough five-game stretch, sandwiched between games with Texas Tech and Oklahoma before UT’s visit followed by Oklahoma State and TCU after Charlie Strong’s squad comes to Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Strong’s Longhorns will be looking to show they can to be a good road team in just their second road contest of the season to this point. The game at K-State kicks off a stretch of three of four games on the road and will go a long way to determining where UT ends up in the standings.

It will also be intriguing to see how Snyder’s underrated offense goes about attacking Strong’s defense in a game that could drastically shift the fortunes of either team.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas

Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor

Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU
Big 12 play is well underway with a schedule full of conference games.

Last week, we kicked off our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week we continue with the bulk of the 2014 schedule.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let's continue with Week 6.

Oct. 4

Baylor at Texas
Kansas at West Virginia
Iowa State at Oklahoma State
Texas Tech at Kansas State
Oklahoma at TCU

Jake Trotter’s pick: Baylor at Texas

This renewed rivalry got another boost in the spring when Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, unprompted, called Baylor “trash.” Bears offensive tackle Troy Baker responded by posting a picture of the Big 12 championship trophy on Twitter and writing, “I love this trash too.”

After conference realignment destroyed several of the Big 12’s rivalries (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Kansas State-Nebraska, Texas Tech-Texas A&M) the league needs some of its games to generate more heat. The Baylor-Texas game should bring plenty of that this season.

By knocking off the Bears, the Longhorns could recover some of their lost standing in the Big 12 the last five years. By taking down Texas for the fourth time in five years, Baylor could keep its thumb on its neighbors to the south, while remaining on the collision course showdown against Oklahoma on Nov. 8 to determine the Big 12 crown.

There will be plenty of heat in Austin for this game. And for me, plenty of barbeque, too.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Baylor at Texas

This clash between Baylor and Texas is too good to pass up.

Charlie Strong gets the chance to send a clear message against a Bears squad that is used to sending the Longhorns home with an L.

Edmond’s words made it clear that Baylor, despite its recent winning ways against the Longhorns, still has a ways to go before it has the respect it must think it’s already earned. Expect the Bears to arrive in Austin, Texas with a huge chip on their shoulder and feeling disrespected.

Meanwhile, Strong can start showing the Big 12 his plan to return UT to national title contention is progressing quicker than most expect with a win over the defending champions.

Intense rivalry. NFL talent. Great coaching.

There are plenty of good reasons to spend Week 6 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium, so I can’t wait to head to Austin.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

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BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

Monday, 12/22
Saturday, 12/20
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12