Texas Longhorns: kendall sanders

Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from them. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 2 Kendall Sanders
Junior wide receiver


[+] EnlargeKendall Sanders
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsKendall Sanders has shown big-play ability but consistent QB play will be key for his development.
Recruitment rewind: After being committed to Oklahoma State for nine months, the four-star from Athens, Texas, reopened his recruitment and chose the Longhorns over a long, impressive list of offers. An athlete in the truest sense of the term, Sanders was at one point ranked No. 10 in the nation among receiver prospects and finished as the 13th-ranked cornerback. ESPN scouts saw an impressive corner with big potential, but Sanders has been a wideout from Day 1 at UT.

Career so far: Sanders was credited with appearing in 11 games as a true freshman in 2012, but his playing time was minimal and he recorded two receptions on four targets. After impressing last summer and in fall camp, he was in line for an expanded role and ended up starting seven games. Sanders finished with 361 receiving yards and one score on 37 receptions, his best game coming against Kansas State: Three catches, 80 yards and his first career TD. He also had a career-high seven catches against Ole Miss and at Iowa State.

Best-case scenario for 2014: On his best days, Sanders looks like the full package you'd want in a wide receiver. He's got speed to stretch the field and has shown he can be a sharp route-runner. Why can't he be a more reliable version of Mike Davis? If he's the go-to guy for Texas' quarterback (whomever it is) it's not unreasonable to see an 800-900 yard season coming with several long TD catches. He's talented enough put up those kinds of numbers if given the opportunity and a lot of targets.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Bad quarterback play in 2014. That'd be the biggest roadblock for Sanders developing into all he can be for Texas. (You're going to see that worst-case scenario a lot in this series.) It's worth noting that Sanders' 37 catches came on a whopping 74 targets last year, including 6-for-15 on attempts from David Ash. Not great. And Texas is set to have literally a dozen other scholarship receivers on the roster this year. If this once again turns into a run-heavy attack, there's a chance Sanders puts up similar numbers to 2013.

Future expectations: Sanders has two seasons of eligibility left and, with Jaxon Shipley on his way out after this season, seems likely to be a starter for the rest of his career. But all those aforementioned receivers -- including five in the 2014 recruiting class -- will provide legit competition and will be more game-ready a year from now. They need Sanders and Marcus Johnson to be a leader of their group when Shipley's career in burnt orange is over.

Texas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
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A recap of what we learned about the Texas Longhorns following their first spring with new head coach Charlie Strong.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.

2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.

3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.

2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?

3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.

One way-too-early prediction:

Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.

Top-10 player spring update: Texas

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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During the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

On Thursday, we continue with the Texas Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter a huge 2013 season, Cedric Reed will be the focus of the Longhorns' defense this fall.
1. Defensive end Cedric Reed: This is the guy Charlie Strong will build his defense around, a 6-foot-6, 258-pound senior who took his game to another level in 2013. During his monstrous junior campaign -- 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles -- Reed often played just as well as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat, and sometimes better. Reed elected to return for his final season to not only earn his degree, but also to make a run at all the awards Jeffcoat collected and get Texas back to its winning ways.

2. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown: Brown has looked like a future NFL player from the day he first stepped foot on campus, and he started playing like it in 2013. In his first season as a starter, Brown racked up 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups. He'll be a menace for opposing Big 12 linemen, and the former top-15 recruit has a chance to get even better under new defensive line coach Chris Rumph.

3. Running back Malcolm Brown: Texas is going to run the ball plenty under new coordinators Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson, and Brown enters his senior season with a chance to become one of the Big 12's premier backs. He finished sixth in the league in total rushing and surpassed 125 yards in each of his final three games. Brown is in even better shape today physically and has a chance to do big things in 2014.

4. Defensive back Quandre Diggs: Entering his fourth season as a starter, Diggs has the potential to make a huge impact in the new defense that Strong and DC Vance Bedford construct. He led the Longhorns with 10 pass breakups from his nickel spot and added 2.5 sacks, but no interceptions, in 2013. Whether he ends up at corner, safety or back in the nickel, Diggs is hungry and out to prove he's one of the nation's best at his position.

5. Running back Johnathan Gray: The big question mark is, when will Gray get back on the field? He's still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered last November and is hoping to be full strength by the start of fall camp. Even if Gray misses a nonconference game or two, Texas will have big plans for him upon his return. He's one of the conference's most dynamic backs and a critical cog in the Longhorns offense. Don't be surprised if Gray, a freaky athlete, is back in pads earlier than expected.

6. Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley: Shipley is probably underrated at this point, even if his 2013 season wasn't too sparkling from a statistical standpoint (team-high 56 catches, 589 yards, 1 TD). But no matter who's starting at quarterback this season, Shipley is going to be the go-to guy. He's been a starter since he first arrived in Austin, and Texas' new offensive attack will find ways to get him in space.

7. Quarterback David Ash: Should Ash be higher on this list? When he's fully healthy, yes, he's one of this program's most important pieces. The junior is back on the field this spring but won't take any contact. His early efforts have been encouraging, but he still has some rust to shake off, and Strong has been somewhat noncommittal when it comes to calling Ash his starter. If USC transfer Max Wittek joins the program this summer, Ash will have to fight to hold down the job. But when he was healthy in 2012, Ash was a top-25 passer in several key metrics and still has a bright future if he can avoid another concussion.

8. Linebacker Steve Edmond: We finally saw Edmond take a big step forward in 2013, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, but his junior season ended early because of a ruptured spleen. In this multiple defense, it will be interesting to see if Strong and Bedford experiment with playing Edmond down at defensive end or in some hybrid roles. Dalton Santos will push Edmond, too, but expect the senior to play a major role in Texas' new-look defense.

9. Linebacker Jordan Hicks: It's hard to justify ranking Hicks any higher after he's missed 19 games in his past two seasons. He is not competing in spring practice right now while he completes his recovery from a torn Achilles, but once he's ready to go, Hicks should be one of Texas' best linebackers and one of its leaders on defense. He only has one season left to play up to his five-star potential, but staying on the field is more important.

10.Wide receiver Kendall Sanders: Several other Longhorns could take this spot on the list and have more playing experience, but Sanders is definitely worth keeping an eye on this fall. A smooth, speedy athlete capable of game-changing plays, Sanders has one year of game experience under his belt and a chance to take over as Texas' top deep threat.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Thursday with receivers (and tight ends). Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see them at the moment:

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and two games with more than 200.
1. Baylor: Antwan Goodley hauled in a Big 12-best 1,339 receiving yards and is back for his senior campaign. Levi Norwood filled in well as a second option after Tevin Reese’s injury, and, like Goodley, can also fly. The Bears are also about to enjoy the fruits of back-to-back monster recruiting classes in the position, including five ESPN 300 players in the last two years. The best of those, incoming freshman K.D. Cannon, has the talent to be Baylor’s next great receiver.

2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Shepard and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hayes, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.

5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.

[+] EnlargeJordan Thompson
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiJordan Thompson showed near the end of the season the type of weapon he can be in West Virginia's offense.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners graduate Jalen Saunders, who was “Mr. Everything” for the OU offense. But Sterling Shepard seems primed to take over the No. 1 role after hauling in 51 passes and seven touchdowns. But who will surround him? Durron Neal is the only other player on the roster with much experience. The good news for the Sooners is they’ve recruited superbly at the position. Among many options, the player to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Smallwood, who was turning heads last summer, until a foot fracture forced him to redshirt.

7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the league. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.

8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.

9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him back in a big way in 2014.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.

Texas Ten: Top Longhorns for 2014

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
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With three of Texas’ top juniors declaring they will return for their senior seasons on Thursday, we now know who Charlie Strong will be working with in his first season as head coach. A look ahead at Texas’ top 10 returning players going into 2014:

1. DE Cedric Reed, senior

Convincing the All-Big 12 defensive end to return for his senior season was one of Strong’s first major victories this week. The 6-foot-6, 258-pound end was a monster in 2013, racking up 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He considered going pro after his breakout season but comes back for what should be a significant role leading Texas’ defensive line. Reed made it no secret he wants to win the trophies and awards that Jackson Jeffcoat piled up this season, and he’ll be one of the Big 12’s best as his position next fall.

2. DT Malcom Brown, junior

Texas coaches believed they had a surefire future NFL defensive tackle in Brown when he signed, and he’s played up to those expectations through two seasons. The former top-15 recruit recorded 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups in his first season as a starter and was a handful for opposing linemen. He’ll only get better, and that’s a scary thing for the rest of the conference.

3. RB Malcolm Brown, senior

A finally healthy Brown finished 2013 strong and goes into his final season with plenty of confidence. He finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing yards with 904 and 11 total touchdowns this season and closed out his junior campaign with three straight 125-plus yard games. He’ll be one of the offensive leaders next year.

[+] EnlargeGray
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Johnathan Gray will boost Texas' backfield.
4. RB Johnathan Gray, junior

Gray is undoubtedly one of Texas’ three best players when he’s healthy, and he was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before suffering a torn Achilles at West Virginia on Nov. 9. While Gray is optimistic he’ll be back in time for fall camp, the Longhorn staff should proceed with patience. Whenever he returns, Texas will have one of the nation’s better rushing duos.

5. CB Quandre Diggs, senior

If we’re comparing career resumes, you’d probably have to rank Diggs higher on this list. He’s accomplished plenty during his time in Austin, enough that the defensive coaches trusted him to take on the nickel spot as a junior and play all over the field. He collected 58 tackles, a team-best 10 pass breakups and 2.5 sacks but no interceptions. With Carrington Byndom graduating, his role in this secondary is crucial.

6. WR Jaxon Shipley, senior

Shipley caught a team-high 56 passes, so it’s hard to call his junior season a disappointment, but he finished with 589 yards and one touchdown. He got targeted 82 times on the year and should see plenty more with Mike Davis graduating. Shipley’s the go-to guy and always has been.

7. LB Jordan Hicks, senior

Hicks might be ranked too high here, if we’re being honest. He’s missed 19 games in the last two seasons due to season-ending injuries, though in fairness his latest -- a torn Achilles -- was a freak accident while running in coverage. When he’s on the field, he’s one of Texas’ best and a trusted leader.

8. QB David Ash, senior

Not too sure where this guy belongs on the list, but he’s an important asset for whoever becomes Strong’s offensive coordinator. Ash missed 10 games this season with concussion issues but was a top-25 passer in QBR and passing efficiency in 2012. Strong needs this guy back and better than ever.

9. LB Steve Edmond, senior

If you think Edmond should be ranked higher, you might be right. Edmond was enjoying a bit of a breakthrough as a junior, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, before a ruptured spleen suffered against Texas Tech ended his season. He’ll have to battle Dalton Santos for his spot, but he could be in for a strong final season if he embraces the coaching change.

10.WR Kendall Sanders, junior

Lots of players merit consideration for this final spot, most notably Daje Johnson, but we’re going to take a chance on Sanders breaking out in 2014. He caught 37 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore but has the full package of skills -- size, speed, long arms, good hands -- to become a big-time target in place of Davis.
After a whirlwind 48 hours full of meetings, appearances and handshakes, Charlie Strong still hasn’t had much time to find out what kind of talent he’s inheriting.

So let’s make life a little easier for Texas’ new head coach. Here’s an early breakdown of how Texas’ offensive depth chart might look in 2014, based on who’s slated to return and the incoming freshmen. On Wednesday, we’ll break down the Longhorns defense.

Keep in mind, a lot can and will change between now and the end of August. All of these players have to prove themselves to a new regime. You could see lots of movement, position changes and reshuffling between now and the season opener against North Texas.

Quarterback
David Ash, junior
Tyrone Swoopes, sophomore
Jerrod Heard, freshman

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDavid Ash will be back for one more season as quarterback.
Ash comes back after missing nearly the entire season with concussion issues. He gets a medical redshirt and a chance to start over. Swoopes’ redshirt was wasted and he’s still a few years away. Could Heard be Strong’s next Teddy Bridgewater? He won’t enroll early but could play early in his career under this new staff.

Running Back
Malcolm Brown, senior
Johnathan Gray, junior
Joe Bergeron, senior
Donald Catalon, freshman

As long as Gray heals up 100 percent from his torn Achilles, Texas will have one of the best rushing duos in the Big 12. Brown was a revelation to end the season and could be in for a big senior campaign. Bergeron will work his way back into the mix. Catalon and D'Onta Foreman will provide depth as freshmen, and one could contribute early.

Wide Receiver
Jaxon Shipley, senior
Daje Johnson, junior
Jacorey Warrick, sophomore

Shipley is the leader of the group and should be in for a big season, no matter the offense. Will Strong’s staff give Daje one more chance? No guarantees he’s still on the roster by the fall. Warrick earned praise in practice and limited playing time.

Wide Receiver
Kendall Sanders, junior
Montrel Meander, redshirt freshman
Jake Oliver, redshirt freshman

This is the year Sanders can take a big step forward. He’s a legit playmaker whose role will expand. Meander made a strong impression in his redshirt year and is a big, athletic target. He and Oliver will battle for snaps and should contribute in 2014.

Wide Receiver
[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Johnson caught 22 passes as a sophomore.
Marcus Johnson, junior
Armanti Foreman, freshman
Emanuel Porter, freshman

Johnson made some big plays and had a nice rapport with Case McCoy. He can stretch a defense and burn corners deep. Should see big opportunities this fall. Foreman and Porter are instant-impact guys among in large group of incoming freshman receivers, and keep an eye on Lorenzo Joe, too.

Tight End
Geoff Swaim, senior
Greg Daniels, senior
M.J. McFarland, junior

Swaim, a junior college transfer, was a revelation as a blocker in 2013. Daniels got the job done as a blocker, too, but neither had many opportunities as receivers. Let’s hope the next staff can salvage the career of McFarland, who got stuck on special teams this season but needs to become a trusted pass-catcher.

Left Tackle
Desmond Harrison, senior
Kennedy Estelle, junior

Mack Brown still believed Harrison will develop into an NFL first-rounder before he’s done, though his first season was a disappointment. If he’s not the solution at left tackle, you could see Estelle or several others move over. Estelle has mostly played right tackle and had some good moments in eight starts, but was suspended from the bowl for grades.

Left Guard
Sedrick Flowers, junior
Darius James, redshirt freshman

The departing senior linemen were big fans of Flowers, who they considered starter-quality throughout 2013 even if he was mostly a reserve. This is his spot to take. James needed a redshirt year to get back in shape, but he has the potential to be one of Texas’ best.

Center
Dominic Espinosa, senior
Jake Raulerson, redshirt freshman

The new veteran leader of the line, Espinosa has 39 career starts under his belt and improved as a junior. Hard to see him losing his spot. Raulerson continues to put on muscle and will have a long, successful career. Texas also adds incoming freshman Terrell Cuney here.

Right Guard
Curtis Riser, sophomore
Rami Hammad, redshirt freshman

Riser is entering his third year in the program and seems likely to be the favorite for this spot, but don’t count out Hammad. He redshirted as a freshman and missed part of the season with an arm injury, but he’s as impressive as any first-year lineman the Longhorns had.

Right Tackle
Kent Perkins, sophomore
Josh Cochran, senior

Perkins earned one start as a freshman and should be an All-Big 12-caliber tackle by the time he’s done in Austin. It’s hard to peg what’s next for Cochran, who lost enough weight from a shoulder injury to necessitate a move to tight end. The former starter could end up at either spot in his final season.

Kicker
Nick Jordan, sophomore

Good luck to whoever must replace Anthony Fera, the All-American and Groza Award finalist. Jordan strugged as a freshman in 2012 but got a year off and seems most likely to assume the kicking duties, though there will be competition.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Taking stock of Week 12 in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas and coach Charlie Weis were finally able to celebrate a Big 12 win on Saturday, ending a 27-game conference losing skid.
Team of the week: Oklahoma State was dominant in its 38-13 victory at Texas. But team of the week honors go to Kansas, which finally snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 victory over West Virginia. The Jayhawks snapped the streak with authority, too, leading the Mountaineers 31-7 at one point in the fourth quarter. Kansas had been showing mild improvement throughout the season but couldn’t string together a performance over the course of an entire game. Saturday, Charlie Weis’ bunch finally did just that, giving the Jayhawks something tangible to build off moving forward.

Disappointment of the week: The Longhorns had a chance to set up a de facto Big 12 title game with Baylor in the regular-season finale. Instead, Oklahoma State handed Texas its biggest home loss of the Mack Brown era. The Cowboys completely shut down the Texas offense, including quarterback Case McCoy, who threw three interceptions. Texas is still technically alive in the Big 12 title race. But Brown has a better chance of being the coach in Austin next year than Texas does of winning the Big 12 championship.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf, Kansas running back James Sims and Baylor receiver Levi Norwood.

Chelf delivered the second-highest adjusted QBR (97.3) of the weekend in college football while leading Oklahoma State to its biggest win of the season. He threw for 197 yards and ran for another 95 while accounting for four touchdowns.

Sims was phenomenal against West Virginia, with 211 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. His 68-yard scoring run 28 seconds before halftime proved to be the pivotal play in the game. Sims (914 yards) trails only West Virginia’s Charles Sims (946 yards) for the Big 12 rushing title.

Norwood picked up where Tevin Reese left off. With Reese out with a dislocated wrist, Norwood exploded against Texas Tech with 156 yards receiving. Norwood also had touchdown receptions of 40 and 58 yards and a 58-yard punt-return touchdown.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Kansas linebacker Ben Goodman.

Gilbert had maybe the finest game of his career, picking off McCoy twice. Gilbert leads the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Goodman halted a potential West Virginia scoring drive in the third quarter. He picked off quarterback Paul Millard at the line of scrimmage, then rumbled 54 yards to the Mountaineers' 14-yard line. Sims capitalized on the turnover with a 2-yard touchdown that put the Jayhawks up 24-7.

Special-teams players of the week: Kansas State kicker Jack Cantele and Oklahoma returner Jalen Saunders.

Cantele had never attempted a game-winning field goal before. But when the time came, he delivered, nailing a 41-yard kick with three seconds remaining to lift the Wildcats to a 33-31 win over TCU. Cantele converted his other three field-goal attempts, too, and the Wildcats needed every one of them.

With Iowa State leading OU 10-3 in the second quarter, Saunders broke off a 91-yard punt return TD to tie the game. The Sooners scored 45 unanswered points the rest of the way to rout the Cyclones.

Play of the week: Late in the second quarter of Oklahoma State's victory at Texas, Gilbert intercepted a McCoy pass intended for Kendall Sanders (who decommitted from Oklahoma State to sign with the Longhorns) and then raced 43 yards for his second pick-six of the season. The play put the Cowboys up 28-10 just 18 seconds before halftime, and Oklahoma State was firmly in control the rest of the way.

Stat of the week: Baylor now has six 60-point games this season. The only other FBS team with more than two is Ohio State, which has three.

Quote of the week: “I've warned them, this is different than the Big East. The days of just showing up and playing [are over].” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, after his team became bowl-ineligible after a loss to Kansas
AUSTIN, Texas -- By now, Texas’ opponents should know plenty about Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley. The scouting reports on those two are obvious.

The Longhorns love to go deep to Davis. He has 30 receptions of 20-plus yards in his career. Shipley is the guy who makes his hay over the middle and on critical downs.

[+] EnlargeKendall Sanders
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWith 25 receptions for 240 yards, Kendall Sanders has found a home as Texas' slot receiver.
They've been doing that for years. TCU has plenty of tape on those two entering this week’s matchup.

The Horned Frogs could have a harder time on Saturday when it comes to accounting for the new wild cards of this Longhorn offense -- Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson.

The sophomore wideouts are starting to emerge as dangerous options. Shipley, for one, is not at all surprised to see them thriving this fall.

“It’s crazy because a lot of people don’t think they have much experience because they didn’t play last year,” Shipley said. “We’ve seen them, ever since they’ve been here, gradually every day they've gotten better and improved. Those guys are making huge plays during camp. We already knew they were going to do big things.

“Everybody outside hadn't seen it, so they didn't know. We had all the confidence in the world in putting them in.”

Johnson enjoyed his breakout moment against Oklahoma, beating his defender on a wheel route and hauling in a 59-yard touchdown. That score, the first of his young career, put Texas up 17-3 in the second quarter.

“[Chris] Whaley's touchdown and that great shot from Case [McCoy] to Marcus Johnson -- those were some big plays for us and I believe those two shifted the momentum for us,” Texas running back Malcolm Brown said after the game.

Johnson first broke onto the scene in September against Kansas State when he picked up big first downs on catches of 14 and 21 yards along the sideline. He’s now averaging 19.5 yards per reception on his seven catches.

It’s a nice start for a wideout who saw action in eight games last season but caught no passes. Sanders didn’t have much of a role either, recording two catches in 11 games. Both entered the season with high expectations, especially with Texas’ need to replace NFL draft pick Marquise Goodwin in the slot.

Sanders rose to the challenge and becoming the clear No. 3 option among Longhorns receivers. In fact, he has nearly just as many targets (43) as Shipley (46) and Davis (45) do this season, and has turned that into 25 catches for 240 yards.

He seems to have found a good rapport with new starter Case McCoy, too. Sanders has a team-high 18 receptions in the three games McCoy has started, though his best play this season came on a pass from Ash.

On a play that’s usually Davis’ specialty, Sanders snuck behind Kansas State’s defense to haul in a 63-yard bomb for his first career score.

Add in the early-season exploits of the explosive Daje Johnson, who despite injury problems already has a rushing, receiving and return touchdown, and 2013 has been a good one for Texas’ trio of sophomore wideouts.

“They’re taking an extra step to get better and starting to put their names out in college football,” running back Johnathan Gray said. “They’re doing a great job for us right now and they’re hard workers. The sky’s the limit for those guys.”

TCU has the No. 1 run defense in the Big 12. It also has the league’s best cornerback in Jason Verrett, who will no doubt be dedicating his attention to Davis and Shipley.

That could potentially make for a big day for Sanders and Johnson. It’s never quite that simple, of course, and TCU has more talent in its secondary, but either could be the X-factor that Texas’ offense seeks.

While Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite likes what he’s seen from the duo in practice and games, he’s careful to give too much praise. Sanders and Johnson are not done developing.

“That’s the biggest thing. The road to the championship is always under construction,” Applewhite said. “You've got to keep working. You’re never there, you’ve never arrived.”

But when the Longhorns find themselves in need of a momentum-changing play this weekend, don’t be surprised if one of the sophomores gets a chance to build on the breakout seasons they've begun.

Ten things Texas must do to beat OU

October, 10, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is a two-touchdown underdog against a No. 12 Oklahoma outfit with a hard-earned undefeated record and a three-game winning streak in the Red River Rivalry. What must the Longhorns do to change all that?

This is hardly a comprehensive blueprint of what they must achieve on Saturday. It’s sorted more by chronology than priority. There’s plenty that has been left out -- like the coaching matchup, special teams, the possibility of some McCoy magic – and this checklist might mean almost nothing after the clock strikes 11 a.m. at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

But if you’re throwing the rivalry’s recent history out the window and are feeling truly optimistic about Texas’ chances, here are 10 things that probably have to happen for this team to emerge victorious.

1. Wake up and start fast

Texas went three-and-out on all three of its first-quarter drives in 2012 and did not have a possession of more than four plays in the first half. It’s easy to fall behind 34 points before halftime when your offense is that inept. The Longhorns have taken 10-0 leads to start each of their games in the last two weeks. Can Texas overcome the fact it hasn’t played a single morning or afternoon game this season and actually begin this one with momentum on its side?

2. Be the physical team

Oklahoma has been the more physical team in its three consecutive Red River victories. Mack Brown admits that. This should start with the Longhorns offensive line, an inconsistent group that needs its finest performance yet on Saturday. This is also about the Texas defensive line, which has NFL-caliber talent and must force the OU offense to go off schedule. It’s going to be a long day if Blake Bell feels no pressure.

3. Run Gray all day

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWith Texas bulking up at linebacker, Dalton Santos will need to be a sure tackler against Oklahoma.
Texas is 4-1 when Gray gets more than 15 carries in a game. He needs to be involved early and often. He’s the most reliable cog Texas has on offense, and the Sooners just lost their best linebacker in Corey Nelson. Texas is averaging a stunning 1.6 yards per carry in its last two Red River losses (68 carries, 110 yards).

4. Second down and short

The problem isn’t just three-and-outs. It’s putting Case McCoy in third-and-long situations that handcuff Major Applewhite’s play-calling ability. This season, the Longhorns are getting 6 or more yards on 40 percent of their first-down plays. Against OU last year that number was a little more than 20 percent.

5. Minimize mistakes in space

Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond better be ready. Starting two bulkier middle linebacker-types is risky against this stable Oklahoma backs, and gap responsibility is a must. This goes for the entire defense, though. Greg Robinson says the key is minimizing missed tackles. Texas learned the hard way last year -- Damien Williams’ 95-yard run, Trey Millard’s 164 total yards -- that bad things happen when the first tackle gets missed.

6. Win (or survive) the second quarter

Texas’ offense hasn’t produced a second-quarter touchdown against Oklahoma since … 2008. The Sooners won the second quarter 23-0 last year and 28-7 in 2011, all but ensuring victory by halftime. In those quarters, Texas had a combined five first downs and -17 rushing yards (seriously). Dig a hole that deep once again and the results won’t be any different in 2013.

7. Contain Bell, respect his WRs

Texas’ defensive line needs to be smart when playing Bell or he’ll turn well-covered pass plays into first-down scrambles, just as Sam Richardson did for Iowa State a week ago. The more time Bell can buy with his feet, the more dangerous his collection of fast receivers gets. Texas’ safeties must step up.

8. Swing the momentum

There’s not a better indicator of success for the Longhorns in recent years than when they win the turnover battle. They’ve lost that battle against OU by a combined margin of -6 the past two years. To keep this game close, Texas must to create momentum-changing opportunities and capitalize.

9. The wild cards

Expect Applewhite to play every card in his hand this week. That means a lot more Daje Johnson, who can score any time he touches the ball and is healthy again. Don’t overlook Kendall Sanders, either, considering the attention Johnson, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will draw. A defender due for a big game -- perhaps Quandre Diggs or Cedric Reed -- will need to rise to the occasion as well.

10. Play pissed

This is self-explanatory. Embrace the underdog role, take chances and don’t fold when this game gets tough. There’s no question the Sooners have the mental edge in this rivalry right now. The Longhorns will need to do whatever they can to get their groove back.

Do all these things and it will at least be a four-quarter ballgame, which hasn’t been the case the past two years. It’s possible Mack Brown would only have a few of these bullet points on his own version of a top-10 list. But it’s a start.

It’s safe to say the most glaring omission, the No. 11, would be obvious considering how this team has been ravaged by injuries and misfortune through five games. Texas also needs some old fashioned good luck on Saturday.

Five things learned about Texas' offense

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- At last, we’ve reached a one-week reprieve after a rollercoaster month of Texas football. Now is a good time to look back and break down what we know and what we’re still trying to figure out about this Longhorn offense.

Here are five things we’ve learned about Texas’ offense after four games:

1. There’s a question mark at quarterback.

David Ash is Texas’ No. 1 quarterback, and nobody doubts that. He gets more than a week to recover from the concussion-related symptoms that forced him out of the Kansas State game, and there’s optimism that he’ll be fine and cleared in time to play Iowa State next Thursday. There’s still a chance, though, that Texas coaches will use the wild card up their sleeve and play freshman Tyrone Swoopes, at least in a limited capacity. Protecting Ash is an absolute necessity, and if he has more issues going forward we’ll see more Case McCoy and more opportunity for Swoopes to contribute.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray has assumed the role of Texas' workhorse in the backfield.
2. Texas is getting a hang of its tempo

Mack Brown’s ambitious goal in the preseason was 84 plays per game. Texas is doing OK on that front, having surpassed 80 twice this season with an average of 77 per game. The Longhorns struggled early in the season to put the foot on the gas pedal and get off to fast starts, though jumping ahead 10-0 against Kansas State was promising. When the Longhorns are really moving the ball, they can play at a blistering pace and wear down a defense, especially with the run game. Now that the Big 12 slate has begun, expect to see this become more of a factor.

3. Johnathan Gray is taking the next step

The lion’s share of the run game is being entrusted to the former five-star recruit, and against K-State he showed just what he’s capable of when he gets a big workload. At 350 yards he’s the No. 2 rusher in the Big 12, and the mix of agility, vision and power he brings to the table are beginning to set him apart. Gray is getting 60 percent of Texas’ carries in 2013, with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron splitting the remaining 40 percent evenly. No matter what happens at quarterback, Gray is the guy Texas can lean on.

4. Texas has depth to deal with its pileup of injuries

If you’d told Texas fans in August that Ash, Mike Davis, Daje Johnson, Josh Cochran and several other starters would get injured during the first quarter of the season, they might be a bit more understanding of a 2-2 start. But a handful of second-year players, including Marcus Johnson, Kennedy Estelle and Kendall Sanders, rose to the occasion last Saturday when replacing those key cogs. That depth needs to keep providing for Texas if it hopes to survive (and thrive) in conference play.

5. We don’t know how good this offense can be

If the season opener taught us anything, it’s that Texas can maximize its tempo, speed and versatility when Daje Johnson is on the field. The running back/receiver can hit the home run on any play and creates lots of problems for opposing defenses. The Longhorns offense can start playing up to its potential when its X-factor returns to the lineup from an ankle injury, possibly next week against Iowa State. Unless more injuries derail this unit, its best days and performances are still ahead.

Texas embracing next man up mentality

September, 23, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The best teams in college football aren’t the ones that got lucky and avoided injuries.

In 2012, Alabama lost five players to season-ending injuries by the end of September. Notre Dame lost two starters in its secondary for the year early on. Two of Oregon’s best senior starters went down before Week 3. It happens.

The best teams in college football are usually deep enough to replace any missing pieces. Mack Brown knows this. He’s preached the need for depth in each of the past two years, insisting the starting 22 listed on the depth chart don’t matter as much as having 22 more good men.

Now it’s time to walk the walk. By the end of Texas’ 31-21 win over Kansas State, six key starters were injured. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is done for the year with a torn Achilles. Running back Daje Johnson is out indefinitely and hasn’t played in two weeks. An ankle issue kept receiver Mike Davis out of the KSU game.

And then there’s quarterback David Ash, who earned the start and didn’t come back from the locker room at halftime. Concussion-related symptoms are the issue, but the details and severity are mostly unknown.

A case can be made that they’re four of the most important players on this 2013 team, the guys most capable of deciding whether Texas ends up winning 10 games or five.

Against Kansas State, the guys tasked with replacing those game-changers took care of business. In this must-win game, embracing a next man up mentality paid dividends.

Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson are a shining example of that. The sophomore receivers both earned starts and did plenty to make up for the absence of Davis.

Sanders did what David does best: He ran a deep post route and hauled in a bomb on a play-action pass from Ash for a 63-yard touchdown, the first of his career.

“I was really nervous, but I’ve been working my tail off so I was kind of calmed down,” Sanders said. “I just treated it like practice. I’ve been working my tail off for this long so might as well show everybody.”

Johnson added 70 yards on five catches, including two long receptions on third downs to help set up scores. Brown lauded him for playing like he’d been around a long time, when in fact he entered the night with one career reception.

Texas went with another sophomore, Kennedy Estelle, to replace right tackle Josh Cochran. Dalton Santos, whose injury status was questionable entering the game, recovered the tide-turning Jake Waters fumble in the fourth quarter as K-State was about to cut the deficit to 31-28.

He’s likely set to play a major role now that Hicks’ season is over. The guy Santos will help replace was a key cog, but his teammates know they have to move on and trust Texas’ depth.

“If he is [out], he is,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “We have to continue to go forward. We have to have people step up and fill that role.”

There was no better example of that mentality on Saturday than when Case McCoy took over for Ash. Longhorn players were surprised by the news that Ash was out, but they’ve been down that road before.

He played the role of reliever well and led two scoring drives. He didn’t need to do much – McCoy handed the ball off on three-fourths of his snaps – but he did just enough. More important, his teammates didn’t flinch. They were unfazed by the sudden change of plans.

“We play behind all our quarterbacks,” running back Johnathan Gray said. “When one is down and the other one comes in, we rally around whoever is in the game. That’s what we did tonight and it was a plus for us.

“I didn’t know David was out. It changed nothing. We kept what we were going to do for our offense. We stayed with it.”

As the injuries continue to pile up, that’s precisely the mentality Texas players plan to maintain. And that’s got to last more than one night, especially if Texas wants to get back to playing like one of the nation’s best.

Five things: Kansas State-Texas

September, 21, 2013
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Few teams in the country are more desperate for a win right now than Texas, and next up is a 2-1 Kansas State team that has had its number in the past three years. Here’s what we’ll be watching for as the Longhorns open their Big 12 slate.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
George Frey/Getty ImagesTexas is hoping that the return of junior QB David Ash will change its fortunes for the better.
Ash is back: Hear that? It’s a loud sigh of relief from Mack Brown. Texas’ starting quarterback hasn’t practiced much this week, but evidently the coaching staff saw enough to declare he’ll get the start. What does he bring to the table? For one, the Longhorns should have a much easier time throwing the ball downfield to burners such as Kendall Sanders and Mike Davis (if he’s available). Getting that advantage back is key. Less than two weeks have passed since Ash’s concussion, so it’s imperative that his offensive line keeps him clean on Saturday.

Going all four: Brown pointed out this week that Texas has taken KSU to the fourth quarter in each of their past two matchups. They haven’t finished. These 2013 Wildcats aren’t exactly world-beaters. North Dakota State laid out the blueprint in the season opener: A physical offense that can sustain long drives and run the ball well can wear out KSU. The Longhorns can’t tighten up and make a late mistake or they’ll watch this one slip away.

Running wild: Kansas State’s game plan should be nice and simple this week: Texas has given up 926 rushing yards through three games. To put that in perspective: The Longhorns’ 2009 defense allowed 1,013 rushing yards the entire season. The Wildcats would be wise to ride John Hubert and Daniel Sams and make Texas prove that defense has improved. If defensive coordinator Greg Robinson can’t make effective adjustments, it’s going to be a long night.

No time for turnovers: Texas’ offense has turned the ball over one time in the past two weeks. Usually that’s a recipe for success, but turnovers didn’t end up being a factor in the BYU and Ole Miss losses. They sure haven’t helped in Texas’ recent history against the Wildcats, who have forced 16 turnovers in their past five meetings. Give the ball away a few times and KSU can put this game away swiftly.

Point of pride: With only three games having been played, it feels strange to call this a “saving the season” kind of game. Yeah, there’s a lot of time left. But after being a national laughingstock for two weeks, after all the ridicule and bad feelings, at what point does it boil over and become anger? When will these Longhorns take ownership of this season and make turning the year around a matter of pride? If Brown’s players can’t get up for this game, who knows.

Big 12 lunchtime links

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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How does a self-proclaimed OU fan dream of going to Texas?

Season Deciders: WR Mike Davis

August, 20, 2013
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This is the second of a five-part series on Texas players with the potential to change the course of the Longhorns' 2013 season. The No. 4 player on this year's list: Senior wide receiver Mike Davis.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Mike Davis doesn’t usually get talked up as one of the best wide receivers in Texas history. Statistically, he will be.

[+] EnlargeDavis
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsMike Davis could end his Texas career ranked among the school's all-time best wide receivers.
You don’t need to dive into the record books to know the Longhorns haven’t historically been known for big-time receivers. Jordan Shipley and Roy Williams sit comfortably atop most of the school’s career stat lists.

But Davis, entering his fourth and final season as a starter, has a chance to join them. He only needs 64 receptions and 1,006 receiving yards this fall to vault to No. 3 on both all-time lists at Texas.

Considering Texas is converting to an up-tempo offense with more receivers on the field and more plays per game, neither feat is impossible for the wideout who likes to call himself “Magic.”

“I have goals for myself,” Davis said. “I think it’s about helping the team win. It’s not really about me. I think about the team and getting everything done and winning all the games.”

Davis is as explosive a receiver as the Big 12 has to offer this year. On his seven touchdown catches last season, he averaged 41.1 yards per reception. Among wideouts with more than five scores, only Baylor’s Tevin Reese (51.2) can top that average.

And when you get the ball in Davis’ hands, it usually means instant offense. More than half of his receptions in 2012 went for first downs, and Texas ended its offensive drive with a score on 42 of his 57 catches.

He enjoyed big moments as a junior -- the game-saving catch vs. Oklahoma State, his stiff arm-and-score at Ole Miss, the long-ball scores to knock off Texas Tech -- and put up big numbers. How good can Davis be in 2013?

On Jan. 10, after telling teammates at the Alamo Bowl that he wasn’t going anywhere, Davis declared he was entering the NFL draft. He changed his mind later that day, but the move was still a bit stunning at the time.

Davis just wanted to test the draft waters. He’s that serious about his NFL future. Coming back for one more year provides him an opportunity to take the next step and become one of the nation’s best at his position.

Even when he sat out the first week of practices, Davis found other ways to help. He’s becoming more of a mentor to Texas’ freshman and sophomore wideouts and frequently pulled them aside in the first days of practice to talk route-running technique.

“I’m a senior, so I’m kind of like a coach too,” Davis said. “When I was out, I loved working with them. They listen, so it makes it better for me. When they’re out there making plays and having fun and doing everything right, it makes me proud of myself.”

Quietly, he’s become one of the Longhorns’ more respected veterans. He’ll continue to guide Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson, Marcus Johnson and the rest of the young wideouts entrusted to complement Davis and Jaxon Shipley.

Shipley might be considered more of the go-to receiver of the duo, but it’s Davis who got more targets in the passing game with 86 last fall. He knows he won’t catch defenses by surprise anymore, but that’s not a problem as long as he’s still outrunning corners and safeties.

Davis did think about going pro a year early. But there was just too much unfinished business he had to take care of first.

“I look at that like, I’ve got plays left on the field that have got to be made, wins that I want,” Davis said. “I just want to win them all, when it all comes down to it. I feel like I owe the school that and coach Brown, coaches, players, the city and the fans.”

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