Texas Longhorns: Steve Edmond

Top-10 player spring update: Texas

March, 27, 2014
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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.
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.

Who to watch in spring: Steve Edmond

February, 27, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

Brian Jean-Mary had to like what he saw the first time he glanced at the Texas roster for 2014.

The new Texas linebackers coach followed Charlie Strong from Louisville and inherited a situation that might best be described as favorable, maybe even ideal.

Good luck finding another first-year coach whose position group includes seven players with starting experience.

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond made significant strides in his second season as a starter for the Longhorns.
Jean-Mary gets to work with a veteran group that might be three-deep at each spot. He gets at least four seniors -- Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson -- who know what they're doing and can lead the underclassmen. He gets the hard-hitting Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens, now juniors, and another third-year player in Timothy Cole who contributed in 2013.

But that depth is also indicative of what Texas hasn't had from its linebackers in recent seasons: Consistency. Injuries are as much to blame as anything else, but the Longhorns have rolled out all sorts of linebacker combinations in the past two seasons.

How will all these linebackers adjust to the new defensive scheme in spring ball? That's an especially good question for Edmond.

After a disappointing first season as a starter, Edmond took a step in the right direction in 2013. He finished with 73 tackles, two interceptions -- including the game-clincher at West Virginia -- and five pass breakups, but missed Texas' final two games after suffering a lacerated liver against Texas Tech.

With Hicks out for the spring while he recovers from his ruptured Achilles, it's on Edmond to not only lead this group, but also outperform his peers. Don't be surprised if you see Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford experiment with Edmond at a few spots, maybe even on the defensive line. The spring is the best time to explore those options.

We don't know the ceiling of Edmond's potential, but this is his third position coach in three years. Can Jean-Mary get the best out of him? If so, and if Hicks can finally stay healthy, Texas could have the best linebackers in the Big 12.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This is the deepest linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. There’s reason to hope that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.

Big 12 games of the year: No. 3

January, 23, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12, and here's No. 3. One of the most competitive games of the year went down to the wire in Morgantown, W.Va.

No. 3: Nov. 9, Texas 47, West Virginia 40 (OT)

This back-and-forth thriller featured big plays from both teams and seven combined touchdowns after halftime.

What happened: Texas made the plays when it needed them. West Virginia did not.

On fourth-and-7 at the West Virginia 47, Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for a 9-yard gain. Five plays later, Anthony Fera tied the game at 40 with 13 seconds left, sending this one to overtime.

In overtime, McCoy was clutch again with a third-down conversion to Marcus Johnson followed by a two-yard touchdown pass to Alex De La Torre on third-and-goal. It was the Texas defense’s turn on WVU’s overtime possession, as it tightened its resolve after a 20-yard run by Mario Alford to start the possession. WVU gained one yard in the next four plays, capped by Steve Edmond’s interception to end the game and send the Longhorns back to Austin with their Big 12 title hopes intact.

Player of the game: UT defensive end Cedric Reed. Several Longhorns defenders had exceptional games, but Reed was relentless. He finished with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Not a bad day’s work.

Stat of the game: 6. WVU allowed six sacks and had six fumbles (losing three). UT’s defense was opportunistic and aggressive throughout the game, as its defensive line was all over Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard after knocking Clint Trickett out of the game.

Quotable: “When one of us gets a sack, that means the other guys are doing their job. We just knew we had to put pressure on these guys and disrupt them.” -- Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

The rest of the list:

Season report card: Texas

January, 13, 2014
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As bad as things got for Texas in 2013 -- and they did get bad -- the Longhorns played for a Big 12 championship on the final day of the regular season after rallying following a horrible nonconference slate. Nonetheless, 8-5 isn’t going to get it done in Austin, Texas.

Offense: C

The Longhorns offense was average in pretty much every area except running the ball. UT was third in the Big 12 with 196.2 rushing yards per game thanks to a deep group of ball-carriers. Johnathan Gray is one of the Big 12’s top running backs and his injury against West Virginia was a bigger loss than most realize as the Longhorns lost three of their final four games after his injury. They had won six straight games before Gray was hurt. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are solid runners in their own right and give the Longhorns quality running back depth.

UT’s quarterback play was terrific at times, like the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma, and horrible at other times, like the Longhorns' blowout losses to Baylor and Oregon. Case McCoy brought confidence and moxie but was too confident at times and hurt his team with some of this poor decision-making and throws. Outside of Jaxon Shipley, UT’s receivers struggled to be consistent and explosive for much of the season.

The Longhorns' offensive line was solid, allowing a sack just 3.6 percent of the time quarterbacks dropped back to pass, ranking second in the Big 12, and paving the way for their bevy of running backs.

Defense: C

Much like the offense, the defense wasn’t great at much of anything with the exception of getting to the quarterback. Texas finished first in the Big 12 with 39 sacks thanks to 23 combined sacks from Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat (13) and his opposite defensive end Cedric Reed (10).

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Will Smith
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray and the Longhorns finished the 2013 season 8-5 after losing to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The defensive line was great at times and subpar at other times. The lack of consistency killed the team and made the entire defense just as inconsistent. When its defensive front played well, however, the defense was much tougher to handle. Safety Adrian Phillips, linebacker Dalton Santos and linebacker Steve Edmond all finished among the top five on the squad in tackles and were active defenders. But the Longhorns didn’t seem to have many difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball.

In UT’s five losses the defense allowed 36.4 points per game, 497 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, and 2.4 points per drive. Ugly numbers for a team with the talent the Longhorns possessed. Injuries played a role in the defense’s struggles but talent wasn’t the issue as it was clear the unit improved when Greg Robinson took over and simplified the system.

Special Teams: B-

Anthony Fera was the clear bright spot among an average group of special teams units. He handled the place kicking and punting and did both well for the Longhorns. Daje Johnson was a scary threat on kickoff and punt returns with his speed but didn’t rank among the Big 12’s best in either category.

Overall: B-

The Longhorns won eight games and competed for a Big 12 championship during a season that will be remembered for its faults. They could have, and should have, been better but they did dominate an OU team that defeated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and had one of the Big 12’s most impressive stretches of the season during their six-game win streak. It was a disappointing season but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some would like to believe.

Texas Ten: Top Longhorns for 2014

January, 10, 2014
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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.
New Texas coach Charlie Strong has plenty of catching up to do when it comes to evaluating his returning talent. The former defensive coordinator should like what he has on defense.

On Tuesday, we brought you a look ahead at the 2014 offensive depth chart for Texas. Here's a breakdown of what the Longhorns are working with on defense. It's a unit that loses key starters but brings back considerable experience.

Remember, this is subject to change plenty in the coming months as Strong's staff shuffles the lineup and discovers new breakout players.

Defensive End
Cedric Reed, senior
Bryce Cottrell, sophomore

Once the new staff is in place, winning over Reed and convincing him to return for his senior season will be an absolute must for Strong. He finished with 10 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a junior and was just as good as Jeffcoat for most of the season. Between Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett, who started in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Texas must find a significant contributor. Both are under a lot of pressure if Reed goes pro.

Defensive Tackle
[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown had a solid sophomore season at defensive tackle.
Malcom Brown, junior
Hassan Ridgeway, sophomore

Brown has the makings of becoming an All-Big 12-caliber defensive tackle and maybe more. He’ll be one of the best players on the field for this defense in 2014. Ridgeway is still young and coming along, but showed flashes in limited stints this season. Big potential there.

Defensive Tackle
Desmond Jackson, senior
Alex Norman, sophomore

Tank Jackson has 13 starts and plenty of experience. Norman and fellow redshirt freshman Paul Boyette disappointed in their first year of playing, but Texas is running low on depth here after taking some recruiting hits. Abilene’s Jake McMillon is the only DT pledge left. Strong will have to recruit this spot hard in the next month.

Defensive End
Shiro Davis, junior
Derick Roberson, freshman

There should be some fairly good competition to replace Jackson Jeffcoat, and nobody would be surprised if Davis wins the job. He’s a freakish athlete and speed rusher who flashed in 2013 and needs an expanded role. Roberson needs to put on weight, but he was a sack master in high school and is one of the gems of this class.

Weakside Linebacker
Jordan Hicks, senior
Kendall Thompson, senior

What is Texas getting in year five with Hicks? The injury-prone former five-star recruit went down with a torn Achilles four games into the season and has missed 19 games in the past two seasons. He’s a leader when he’s healthy. This is his last chance. Thompson and Tevin Jackson return to provide depth.

Strongside Linebacker
Dalton Santos, junior
Peter Jinkens, junior

It’s hard to know which direction Texas will go in at some of these spots, as both seem like obvious candidates. That’s the challenge with everyone coming back. The Longhorns’ next defensive coordinator has the luxury of several options with every UT linebacker slated to return next season.

Middle Linebacker
Steve Edmond, senior
Tim Cole, sophomore

It’s entirely possible Santos takes over the middle next season, considering the way he finished this season, but don’t count out Edmond. He had a promising junior year before missing the final two games. Cole got a few opportunities in his debut year, but has work to do.

Cornerback
Quandre Diggs, senior
Sheroid Evans, junior

Diggs had a solid junior season and won’t be turning pro this offseason. He played all over the field in his nickel role, but with Carrington Byndom graduating, that likely means he’ll slide back to corner. The speedy, long-armed Evans has as much potential as anyone in this secondary, but suffered a torn ACL this season.

Free Safety
Mykkele Thompson, senior
Adrian Colbert, sophomore

[+] EnlargeDuke Thomas
John Albright/Icon SMIDuke Thomas made three interceptions in 2013.
Could Thompson’s future be at cornerback? It’s worth considering, especially since he’s not much of a hitter. He started 12 games in 2013 and must finally put it all together in his last season. Colbert is a thumper who could fight his way into the lineup.

Strong Safety
Josh Turner, senior
Leroy Scott, senior

With Adrian Phillips graduating, this is presumably Turner’s spot to lose. He’s played in 37 games. Scott is sneaky good and made a few nice plays this season. It’s time to see what he can do with more responsibility.

Cornerback
Duke Thomas, junior
Antwuan Davis, redshirt freshman

Thomas took a few lumps in his first season of starting, but also led the Longhorns with three interceptions. Davis is a guy coaches would’ve loved to play in 2013, but they didn’t want to burn his redshirt. He’s in for a big-time debut both on defense and special teams.

Punter
Nick Rose, junior
Will Russ, senior

Texas should have a fairly open competition for Anthony Fera’s punting duties. Rose’s specialty is kickoffs, and Russ was hampered by injuries in the past but should be in the mix. So is walk-on Mitchell Becker.

Season superlatives: Texas Longhorns

December, 11, 2013
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Honoring the best of the best from Texas’ 2013 season:

Offensive MVP: RB Johnathan Gray. The best, most valuable player Texas had and the guy the Longhorns wisely built their attack around once David Ash went down. A torn Achilles ended his season after nine games, but Gray finished with 780 yards, four scores and No. 4 in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray became the focal point of the Texas offense when David Ash went down to a head injury.
Defensive MVP: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Came on strong and led the Big 12 in sacks with 12, all of them coming in conference play. Jeffcoat finished with a team-leading 80 tackles, 21 of them for loss, and emerged as a key senior leader. He’s playing up to his five-star potential.

Special Teams MVP: K/P Anthony Fera. The Groza Award finalist finished 20-for-22 in field goals, and his only two misses were deflected at the line. He was a solid punter, too, pinning more than 40 percent of his boots inside the 20.

Newcomer of the Year: TE Geoff Swaim. He didn’t get enough praise for his efforts, but the junior college transfer was a sharp blocker and quickly earned the starting job. He became a critical asset once Texas transitioned to run-heavy offense.

Freshman of the Year: OT Kent Perkins. Really the only choice here, since most of the 15-man rookie class redshirted. Perkins started one game and showed off the potential to be an elite starter down the road.

Most improved: LB Steve Edmond. Among the biggest disappointments of Texas’ 2012 defense, Edmond grew up and became a playmaker as a junior. He snagged the game-clinching interception at West Virginia and was Texas’ leading tackler before suffering a lacerated liver against Texas Tech.

Most impressive win: Texas 36, No. 12 Oklahoma 20. Texas, the major underdog, made the Sooners look like complete frauds, which nobody saw coming, and dominated the line of scrimmage en route to a surprisingly easy victory. Just a great all-around performance, and Texas probably could’ve scored 50.

Biggest surprise: The six-game win streak. Texas rallying to start 6-0 in the Big 12 without its quarterback and with a new DC is still remarkable no matter how this season ended.

Best performance: A few good choices here, but we’ll go with Gray’s night against Kansas State: A career-high 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Honorable mention: Jeffcoat against TTU; the Gray-Malcolm Brown duo against OU.

Best offensive play: We’ll go off the radar: Jaxon Shipley’s 10-yard touchdown catch and Alex De La Torre’s 2-yard score at West Virginia. Two clutch scores to save a comeback.

Best defensive play: Chris Whaley’s 31-yard interception for a touchdown against Oklahoma. He dropped into coverage, picked off Blake Bell’s pass and ran him over at the goal line. That big fella can really run.

[+] EnlargeChris Whaley
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsChris Whaley's rumbling interception return was one of the season's most entertaining moments.
Best special teams play: Daje Johnson’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Sooners. Made it look way too easy.

Best pass: Case McCoy’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson against Oklahoma, giving the Longhorns a 17-3 lead. McCoy threw an absolute dime, a 30-yard pass down the sideline on a wheel route. Johnson got a step on Kass Everett and easily outran him to score. Huge play in a huge game.

Best catch: John Harris’ 44-yard Hail Mary catch to give Texas an improbable 17-13 lead at halftime at Iowa State. Harris snagged McCoy’s last-second heave between three Cyclones defenders.

Best hit: Hard to choose one here, so let’s just go with the nine sacks that Texas recorded against Texas Tech. Jackson Jeffcoat was responsible for three, and the best of the nine was probably when he switched gaps from his “Spinner” role after the snap and went completely unblocked to take down Baker Mayfield.

Best decision: Hiring Greg Robinson in July for the football analyst role. Had Mack Brown not lined up his backup plan before the season began, the Longhorns would’ve been in even worse trouble after two games. The role also gave Robinson a baseline familiarity with Texas’ defensive talent.

Worst decision: The fact that Tyrone Swoopes did not end up getting any meaningful game reps after his redshirt was burned. Because he received nothing more than meaningless mop-up time, he wasn’t an option when Case McCoy struggled at Baylor.

Best quote: “Playing you’re a** off. Bottom line. That’s our identity. It has nothing to do with plays, it has to do with believing in yourself and playing your ass off.” -- OC Major Applewhite, after beating Oklahoma

Best interviews: Have to go with two winners here. Quandre Diggs gets a medal for his enjoyable weekly dose of defiance. It’s not anger, it’s not disdain, it’s just the way he delivers his brand of swagger. And McCoy gets one, of course, for his always-chipper demeanor, long-winded but insightful takes and self-deprecating humor.

Week 11 helmet stickers

November, 10, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- This was a really tough week to hand out only three, but here's who stepped up in Texas' 47-40 overtime victory at West Virginia on Saturday.

DE Cedric Reed: Seven tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries. Impressive, but pretty much par for the course, considering the breakout season Reed is enjoying. He's now up to 61 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2013 and continues to build a resume that should merit All-Big 12 recognition. Desmond Jackson also deserves a big shoutout for his 2.5 tackles for loss while filling in for Chris Whaley.

WR Jaxon Shipley: Good to see Shipley finally get on the scoreboard this season with his first touchdown, but he did a whole lot more than that against the Mountaineers. His 10-yard scoring catch to put Texas up 37-33 was a game-changer, and Shipley ended up with 82 yards on seven receptions. Just as he made the critical conversion to keep the comeback at Kansas alive last year, the junior hauled in a Case McCoy pass on fourth down to keep the Longhorns' final drive of regulation moving.

LB Steve Edmond: Several others are very worthy of praise, but we have to give a tip of the cap to Edmond for his team-high 12 tackles and for making contributions on the final two plays of the night. First he tipped Paul Millard's floater over the middle on third down in the red zone. Then, on fourth down, he covered up his tight end, then slipped back and grabbed Millard's pass with one arm, pulling it in as he came down for the game-clinching interception. Edmond did big things when it mattered most.
 

Survive and advance. That’s all Texas could worry about doing on Saturday night.

A wild night in Morgantown, W.Va., ended with an even crazier finish, when Longhorns linebacker Steve Edmond snagged a diving interception on Paul Millard’s fourth-down pass to clinch a 47-40 overtime victory.

The last-second win keeps Texas’ Big 12 championship hopes alive another week. The Longhorns got to 6-0 in the league despite another perfect storm of injuries and mistakes. They couldn’t have pulled this off without the help of a large cast of big-moment contributors and surprise saviors.

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond and Texas made big plays when the Longhorns needed them most against West Virginia.
“That’s the way this team has had it all year. Nothing has been easy,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “They’ve had to come back from the dead and they’ve had to fight and claw each week and they’ve had to win some tight games. They just continue to amaze me and overcome everything.”

This wasn’t like the Iowa State game, when Texas won an ugly 31-30 game and Brown was nothing but smiles, declaring a win a win and that he loves nothing more than a comeback on the road. That cheery optimism drew more than a few eye rolls.

No, this was a get the heck out of Dodge -- or, in this case, Appalachia -- and get home with a win, and no more casualties.

“We’ll take this win any time,” quarterback Case McCoy said.

For Texas, nearly everything that could’ve gone wrong early on did. The first four offensive possessions ended with a safety on a blocked punt, an interception, a fumble and a punt.

Its defense forced five turnovers and recorded six sacks. The Longhorns have never lost a game in the past decade when getting four takeaways. But they came awfully close on this night, with a rough first half of offense and injuries to running back Johnathan Gray, defensive tackle Chris Whaley and right tackle Kennedy Estelle.

Texas trailed 19-13 at halftime, then 26-16 midway through the third quarter. And yet, this team kept finding a way to scrap together just enough, delivering on every critical moment.

Jaxon Shipley caught his first touchdown of the season, on as beautiful and difficult a pass as McCoy has thrown, with a diving two-handed grab on a corner route.

Then came Shipley’s fourth-down conversion on Texas’ final drive in regulation. And Malcolm Brown’s 27-yard run. And Anthony Fera’s field goal to send Texas to the first overtime of Brown’s entire coaching tenure, and just the second in school history.

There was Marcus Johnson’s third-down catch in overtime. And Major Applewhite’s best play call of the year, a play-action pass on third down to Alex De La Torre, whose first career catch gave Texas its overtime lead.

And then there was Edmond, the once-maligned middle linebacker, batting a floated pass at the goal line on third down and slipping back to snag an interception on the game’s final play.

Big moments, each of them. Drop the ball once and it could be game over. The Longhorns delivered, over and over again.

“When I got that pick, I felt like I just won the lottery, like I was just the richest man on earth,” Edmond said. “I didn’t know what to do. When you don’t know what to do, you just do crazy stuff. I just took off running.”

And his teammates, tired and worn out but undeniably relieved, chased him as Edmond tried running the length of the field.

How long a run does this Texas team have left? Next up, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home. Then Baylor on the road, possibly for the Big 12 title, Baylor’s BCS title hopes, Texas’ Fiesta Bowl dreams and all the other marbles.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These Longhorns aren’t. They’ve been humbled a few times during the six-game streak, enough to know that they’re living one week at a time.

We don’t know the prognosis on Gray. If he misses extended time -- he was in a boot and crutches by the end of the night -- Texas’ coaching staff will need to go back to the drawing board this week and find new ways for their offense to get the job done.

Another key leader went down early on, when Whaley was lost for the night with a left knee injury. The senior leader, a heart-and-soul cog of the defense, wiped away tears as he left the field on a cart.

His defense kept going, plugging in tackle Desmond "Tank" Jackson and getting an inspired performance and two sacks. They survived and advanced.

This is a resilient bunch. They shouldn’t even be in this position after starting 1-2. West Virginia found ways to exploit them on both sides of the ball. They can lose any or all of these final three games.

But just when you’re ready to count them out, the Longhorns somehow keep fighting.

“They’ve been called everything, they had their struggles when they got started, they never got their head down,” Brown said. “They kept their head up and played with pride. I’m just happy to coach them and continue to watch them play.

“It’ll be interesting to watch them the next three weeks. I’m not going to bet against them.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBlake Bell answered his critics with a big performance in Saturday's victory over previously unbeaten Texas Tech.
Team of the week: After three scuffling weeks, Oklahoma finally broke out with an inspiring 38-30 win over Texas Tech. Most encouraging, QB Blake Bell had his best game since Notre Dame. On a second-quarter touchdown drive that finally got the Sooners going offensively, Bell completed 3 of 4 passes on third downs for 45 yards. After the lone third-down incompletion, Bell rushed for 10 yards on fourth-and-2 to the Texas Tech 14. Two plays later, he found Jalen Saunders for a touchdown. That kind of drive inspires confidence as the Sooners get ready for Baylor -- both for Bell in himself, and for the Sooners in their quarterback.

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia had begun to show signs of life offensively, scoring 30, 42 and 27 points, respectively, in its previous three games. But the Mountaineers took a major step back at Kansas State on both sides of the ball. After taking a 12-7 lead early in the third quarter, West Virginia was thoroughly outplayed the rest of the way. K-State scored four unanswered touchdowns on the next four drives while the Mountaineers mustered nothing, as the Wildcats coasted to a 35-12 win. West Virginia can still get to a bowl game. But the margin for error is running out.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland, K-State QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters and Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard.

Roland proved he’s the Cowboys’ most effective running back, racking up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as a featured back. His 58-yard rumble in the third quarter essentially put Iowa State away.

Sams and Waters were stellar in K-State’s win over West Virginia. The dual-threat duo combined to complete 18 of 21 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and ran for 71 yards.

This will be the last time Millard will be eligible for any game recognition. He tore his ACL in the fourth quarter covering a kick. On the previous drive, he took a pass and hurdled a Tech defender for a 14-yard gain to set up a touchdown from the Tech 3. Millard was also tremendous all game as the lead blocker for Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. Millard’s great career in Norman comes to a close.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and K-State safety Ty Zimmerman.

Edmond led a Texas defense that completely shut down TCU in the Longhorns’ 30-7 win. He had an interception, two pass breakups and helped thwart the TCU running attack.

Gilbert had a pick-six early that gave OSU an early 14-0 lead. He added three tackles and a pass breakup.

Zimmerman spearheaded the Wildcats defensively with 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. The forced fumble of West Virginia QB Clint Trickett set up a K-State touchdown that put the Wildcats ahead 28-12 in the fourth quarter, effectively putting the game away.

Special-teams players of the week: Everyone involved with the Texas Tech punt return and kickoff coverage teams. Trey Haverty’s units masterfully executed a pair of maneuvers in the third quarter that almost allowed Tech to knock off the Sooners. Down 21-14, deep man Jordan Davis ran away from the ball to draw the OU punt coverage team toward him. Toward the other side of the field, where the ball actually was, Tanner Jacobson scooped up the ball on the bounce and returned it 17 yards. The play set up a field goal. Immediately after the field goal, Kramer Fyfe's onside kick was recovered by Summitt Hogue. Three plays later, the Red Raiders were in the end zone to take a 24-21 lead.

Play of the week: For the second straight week, Oklahoma wide receiver Lacoltan Bester takes this category. After the Sooners fell behind 24-21, Oklahoma dialed up a double reverse pass for Bester -- the same play that resulted in a touchdown pass last week. But with no one to throw to this time, Bester took off and weaved his way through the Tech defense 35 yards for a touchdown. The Sooners never trailed again.

Stat of the week: By defeating Kansas 59-14, Baylor extended its winning streak to 11 games dating back to last season, the longest winning streak in Baylor history.

Quote of the week: “They’ve all had a goal and a dream to play on Sunday, and now they’ve done it.” -- Longhorns coach Mack Brown, after the weather-delayed Texas-TCU game went past midnight

What we learned: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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FORT WORTH -- Where exactly are we supposed to begin? The list of what we learned about the Longhorns after their 30-7 win over TCU is a long one. Here's a start:

1. No game, no problem

Think back to Sept. 7, when Texas got a late kickoff in Provo, Utah, due to a severe weather delay of 1:50. The defense played flat, Daje Johnson got hurt immediately, David Ash got hurt later, and BYU was flat-out more physical than Texas. This time, Mack Brown, his staff and players faced a game delay of more than three hours and were perfectly fine with the setback. Texas held onto and built upon its lead entering that long break, without giving up any more TCU scores. Players killed time with meetings, listening to music and eating, but once the game resumed it was same old Texas.

2. Front seven setting the tone

To heap all the praise on the defensive line wouldn't be too fair when you recognize how well these Texas linebackers are playing and how far they've come. Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond were both treated like scapegoats for the rest of the defense's troubles but are playing some great football right now. Together, they made life difficult for Casey Pachall in only the second career Big 12 start he's made. That Texas defensive line is playing lights out right now, and that'll need to continue over the final stretch.

3. Here comes Swoopes

Well, here we go. Texas burned the redshirt of the former four-star recruit with less than 5 minutes left against TCU. The results were more than modest -- 29 total yards on the eight plays he ran -- but what this means for the future is significant. We'll delve more into this on Monday, but just believe they wouldn't be taking this step if they didn't think he could help, and that he could use all the bonus snaps he can get. What does this mean for David Ash's long-term health? Brown isn't going into it other than to say Ash won't play against Kansas next week. But one thing is for sure: If that's the only time we see Tyrone Swoopes this season, it's a real shame for all involved, especially those who wholeheartedly believed Swoopes should redshirt.

Ten things Texas must do to beat OU

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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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.

Planning for success: Texas

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When the news came out Monday that all three linebackers of Texas’ 2012 recruiting class are now starting, the collective response from Dalton Santos, Peter Jinkens and Timothy Cole was universal: This is going to be fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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