Texas Longhorns: Joe Bergeron

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 him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayJoe Bergeron, wearing No. 32 last season in honor of then-injured Johnathan Gray, has scored 20 touchdowns in the last two seasons for Texas.
No. 24 Joe Bergeron
Senior running back


Recruitment rewind: Bergeron was relatively low-key with his recruitment -- Texas was the early leader, he committed at a 2010 junior day and that was that. A three-star prospect from North Mesquite (Texas) High School was initially seen as a future H-back for Texas as a 225-pound thumper, and ESPN scouts ranked him as their No. 1 fullback prospect. He rushed for 2,724 yards and 30 TDs in high school and was confident he could stay at running back at the college level.

Career so far: Bergeron rushed for nearly 500 yards as a true freshman, then broke out as one of the Big 12's best short-yardage power backs with 16 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore. He had a more inconsistent role as a junior behind Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, picking up 362 yards and four scores in 2013. Bergeron's 1,392 rushing yards rank fourth-most among returning Big 12 backs.

Best-case scenario for 2014: The short-yardage and goal-line king Texas had in 2012. He carried the ball 47 times in the red zone that season and scored on a third of those tries. The new staff needs to learn to trust him in those situations, and he should get a good workload early in the season if Texas coaches ease Gray back into the rotation as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles. Bergeron has to solve the issue he had last year with holding on to the ball, but it's easy to forget that Bergeron is deceptively quick in the open field and is no fun to tackle. Bergeron likely won't have to be the featured back; he just needs to be the power rusher who does the dirty work when called upon.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Bergeron has been in the doghouse before. He wound up back there this spring when he was suspended for two weeks of spring ball and the Orange-White game, reportedly because of academics. Charlie Strong has made it clear Bergeron will rejoin the team, but what will he do with this second chance? If Bergeron clashes with his coaches this fall, he'll be wasting a big opportunity to help this team and this offense.

Future expectations: If Bergeron can re-establish himself as one of college football's more prolific power backs, he's going to get a look from the NFL. The fact he really hasn't played fullback at Texas might limit his options to some extent, but if the Shawn Watson-Joe Wickline offense can put Bergeron in situations where he can catch the ball and even do a little lead blocking, that would make him an even more compelling and versatile prospect for the next level.
The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.

We continue the series with the Texas Longhorns:

Strongest position: Running back

Not only does Texas have the best one-two punch at running back in the Big 12, the Longhorns might also have the league’s best two overall running backs.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesA healthy Johnathan Gray will make the Longhorns' backfield deep and talented.
Before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury Nov. 9 at West Virginia last year, Johnathan Gray was well on his way to having an all-conference-caliber season. Despite getting limited touches at times, Gray rushed for at least 89 yards during a six-game span and was well on his way to achieving the feat again against the Mountaineers until the Achilles injury.

Malcolm Brown picked up where Gray left off and rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards in Texas’ final three games while averaging almost five yards per a carry. From the beginning of November to the bowl season, Brown was the Big 12’s leading rusher, with an average of 112 yards per game.

Soon, Brown will be getting his backfield mate back. Gray missed the spring while recuperating, but coach Charlie Strong has said he’s hopeful Gray will be cleared by mid-June.

Either player is a handful for an opposing defense. Together, when healthy, they’re a load.

Both can catch passes out of the backfield. Both can pound the ball between the tackles. Both can make opponents miss in the open field. Both have experience shouldering the rushing load.

And with veteran Joe Bergeron (assuming he rejoins the squad) and big-play threat Jalen Overstreet flanking Gray and Brown, as well, the running back position gives Strong a foundation piece on offense in his first season.

Weakest position: Quarterback

The Longhorns really only have one glaring weakness on their roster, but it’s a weakness that has plagued the program since Colt McCoy was behind center.

For the fifth straight year, quarterback once again is a position of concern for the Longhorns heading into a season.

David Ash, the only quarterback on the team with any meaningful experience, missed most of last season with lingering concussion issues, then missed most of this spring with a fractured foot.

Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes struggled mightily through the first half of Texas’ spring practice and doesn’t look ready to take over a Big 12 offense.

And since former USC Trojans QB Max Wittek appears unlikely to transfer to Texas now, that leaves incoming freshman Jerrod Heard as Texas’ only other quarterback option.

Ash has the ability to lead Texas into Big 12 title contention. At times in his career he’s been excellent, including in the 2012 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. But over three seasons, Ash has yet to display the week-to-week consistency needed to guide a team to a conference title. Now, who knows how the concussion issues might affect the remainder of his career?

Swoopes, in place of Ash, ended up posting a decent box score line in Texas’ spring game. But facing the Horns’ second-team defense, Swoopes’ first four drives ended with an interception, a punt, a three-and-out and a missed field goal after his first three offensive plays failed to net a single yard. Swoopes’ only first-quarter completion came on a screen pass.

There's no doubt, Swoopes has potential, with good mobility and a big arm. But he seems at least another year in the system away from realizing any of that potential.

That leaves Heard, who is the sixth-best incoming dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country. Heard is skilled and a winner, having led his high school team to a pair of state championships. But he'll also be a true freshman. And if Texas is forced to play a true freshman at quarterback, it will only further underscore its weakness at the position going into the season.
For the past two weeks, we’ve been ranking the best units in the Big 12 by position.

Now, in our weekly poll, we’re asking for your opinion: Who has the league’s best offensive unit regardless of position?

We’re going to exclude the quarterback position, since that’s more about one player than the collective strength of an entire unit.

Sorry, Bryce Petty.

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12's best overall offensive positional unit?

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    19%
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    24%
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    16%
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    19%
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    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,751)

Petty’s receivers at Baylor, though, have a strong claim as the best offensive unit in the league. The Bears return four players who finished with at least 30 receptions last season, including Antwan Goodley, who produced 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Baylor will also be adding arguably the deepest and most talented signing class at the position in the country, headlined by ESPN 300 receiver K.D. Cannon.

The Bears, however, aren’t the only ones loaded at receiver.

Texas Tech features the dynamic receiving trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. D.J. Polite-Bray emerged over the spring as a downfield burner on the outside. The Red Raiders have also added their top overall recruit from last year to the rotation in Devin Lauderdale, who was forced to attend junior college for a year after failing to initially qualify. Four-star slot receivers Byron Daniels and Ian Sadler will be joining the squad in the summer.

As deep as the Bears and Red Raiders are at receiver, there might not be a positional group in the Big 12 as deep as West Virginia’s running backs.

In their backfield, the Mountaineers have Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring in from Pitt, set Pennsylvania’s state high school career rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher from 2012) and Dustin Garrison, the team’s leading rusher from 2011 who had a tremendous spring following a string of injuries the previous three seasons. If that weren’t enough, four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams will be arriving in Morgantown this summer.

While not as deep, Texas’ three-headed monster in the backfield is more proven than West Virginia’s, though not without questions. Johnathan Gray is coming off an Achilles injury, and Joe Bergeron was barred from the team during the spring due to academics. But when together and healthy, the threesome of Malcolm Brown, Gray (both All-Big 12-caliber runners) and Bergeron is as fearsome as any in the country.

Last fall, the Texas backs ran behind the most experienced offensive line in the Big 12. This season, that distinction belongs to the Sooners, whose offensive line unit caps the poll.

All told, Oklahoma boasts 107 career starts along its offensive line, headlined by senior tackle Daryl Williams and guard Adam Shead, who have been starting since their redshirt freshman seasons. Guard/center Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson are also returning starters on an offense that placed second in the Big 12 in rushing last season.

So who does have the best offensive unit in the Big 12?

Baylor's or Texas Tech’s wide receivers? West Virginia's or Texas’ running backs? Or Oklahoma’s offensive line?
AUSTIN, Texas -- We continue our five-to-watch series this week with a look at a group of Texas players who missed some or all of the spring but will be important cogs in 2014. In the interest of mixing it up, we’ll focus on five Longhorns not named David Ash.

1. LB Jordan Hicks

Ideally, it would make sense for Texas to roll into Big 12 play with Hicks and Steve Edmond patrolling the middle of the defense. Having those two holding it down gives you all sorts of options. But it requires a healthy Hicks.

The senior has played in just one conference game in the past two years, felled by freak injuries in back-to-back seasons. He’d like nothing more than to take out that frustration on opposing offenses in 2014.

He’ll be relied upon, too, to help Quandre Diggs and Cedric Reed lead this defense in the locker room. Coach Charlie Strong is optimistic that Hicks can return sometime in June, which would have him ready to go for fall camp in August.

That would be a boon for a defense that has sorely missed Hicks. After all the missed time of the past two seasons, who knows how good this defense could be if he’s on the field and at his best.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray's status come fall camp will be a hot topic in Austin.
2. RB Johnathan Gray

There will be consternation among Texas fans over how Gray should be utilized this fall.

Some will say he can team with Malcolm Brown to form one of the Big 12 and even one of the nation’s best rushing duos. Others will argue that, whether or not he’s 100 percent recovered from his torn Achilles, Gray should redshirt in 2014 and led Brown carry the load.

It’s an interesting conundrum for Strong and his staff as they construct their offense this offseason, and one that can be ignored for now with a wait-and-see approach. But we at least know what Gray can do.

Over a six-game stretch in the middle of last season, Gray rushed for 628 yards and four scores and was the workhorse of the post-Ash run-heavy attack. If he does return sometime next month, as Strong hopes, there will reason for hope that he can play in the opener.

Don’t underestimate this: Gray is an absolute freak of an athlete. Normal recovery times might not apply to him. Let’s see how he looks in August before making any predictions about his junior year.

3. CB Sheroid Evans

Evans’ time is coming. The junior cornerback showed serious promise entering the 2013 season and played in five games before being lost for the year to a torn ACL.

After sitting out the spring to recover, Evans should get thrown right back into the mix to serve as Texas’ nickel corner, a job that’s good for a lot of playing time against Big 12 spread offenses. Bryson Echols and Antwuan Davis should provide good competition, but Evans is too good to stay sidelined.

He’s got all the tools, especially with his long arms and track speed, to develop into a Big 12 starting corner. Just depends on how he recovers and how he responds to his two new position coaches.

4. RB Joe Bergeron

Bergeron was held out for the final weeks of spring practice for undisclosed reasons -- reportedly academic issues -- but Strong expects him to come back. And he’ll need him back.

Behind Brown, you have a bunch of questions at running back in addition to Gray’s injury. Jalen Overstreet remains an unproven former quarterback, and a trio of freshmen arrive this summer of varying readiness. It’s entirely possible all three redshirt.

That would leave Bergeron, a thumper of a power back with nearly 1,400 career rushing yards.

Fumbling issues put him in the doghouse for a while last season, but Bergeron can be a lot more than a goal-line back when playing at his best. And the guy still scored 16 TDs in 2012. Texas’ backfield needs him on board.

5. OG Kent Perkins

Might Perkins be able to find a starting job on this Texas offensive line? Shawn Watson might have hinted at that late in spring ball by acknowledging that the right tackle had moved inside to guard in practice.

But Perkins went down with a minor knee injury that required surgery at the start of April, a setback that raises questions about what he can provide this fall. He’s expected to be healthy for spring practice, and the former top-100 recruit should have a major role on this line regardless of whether he starts.

With veteran Sedrick Flowers fairly entrenched at left guard, it’s possible Perkins’ best shot at starting will be on the right side competing with Taylor Doyle and Rami Hammad. He proved in his only start last season he’s good enough to back up Kennedy Estelle at right tackle, too.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.
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.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we're examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Wednesday with running backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

1. Texas: The three-headed monster of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron gives Texas the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. Whether this group goes from good to great hinges on a healthy return for Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury and will sit out spring drills. Either way, this will be the backbone of Charlie Strong’s first offense.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood showed breakaway ability as a Baylor reserve in 2013.
2. Baylor: Shock Linwood takes over in the backfield after a dynamic freshman season in which he finished seventh in the league in rushing despite being a third-team running back. The competition for carries after Linwood will be interesting. Devin Chafin is the favorite to be Linwood’s wing man, but he could be pressed by Johnny Jefferson and/or incoming four-star freshman Terence Williams, who is already on campus.

3. Oklahoma: The potential of this running back crop has no bounds. But it will be young and inexperienced after seniors Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams (until he was kicked off the team) hoarded the carries last season. Keith Ford, who was the nation’s No. 3 running back recruit in the 2013 class, will take over the starting role. Joe Mixon, this year’s No. 6 RB recruit, won’t get to Norman until the summer, but he should supply the lightning to Ford’s thunder. Alex Ross, who was the nation’s No. 7 RB recruit in the 2012 class, rounds out a fearsome threesome with tremendous pedigree.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims, but still claim a glut of capable rushers. Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood thrived playing behind Sims last year. West Virginia also has Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. (Buie is back after leaving school for a semester.) On top of all that, Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell figures to be in the mix. Shell was the No. 26 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school after becoming the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. If that weren’t enough, the gem of the incoming recruiting class, Donte Thomas-Williams, is also a running back. Suffice to say, the competition for carries will be fierce in the league’s deepest backfield.

5. Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland helped fuel Oklahoma State’s midseason turnaround after seizing a starting role. Roland was great in short yardage and led the Big 12 with 13 touchdowns, but he wasn’t a big-play runner, with an average of only 4.6 yards per carry (14th in the league). The Cowboys are banking that Rennie Childs can complement Roland as the breakaway back. Childs showed flashes as a true freshman. Roland and Childs can form a solid combo, but four-star freshman Devon Thomas, who is enrolled for the spring, should not be discounted, nor should Sione Palelei, who has the good hands that past Oklahoma State running backs also possessed.

6. Texas Tech: The returning trio of Kenny Williams, DeAndre Washington and Sadale Foster won’t do much damage between the tackles. All three, however, are excellent pass-catchers, making them supreme fits for Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack. Together they combined for 82 receptions, and that number should go up in 2014 as quarterback Davis Webb settles in as a sophomore.

7. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a disaster offensively last year, but the potential at running back is a reason why TCU could be equipped for a bounce-back season. Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks and incoming freshman Shaun Nixon were all ESPN 300 recruits. That doesn’t include B.J. Catalon, either, who led the Frogs with 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. With a new regime making the play calls, there’s reason to believe this could become one of the better units in the league.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIf Aaron Wimberly can stay healthy, Iowa State has a potentially dynamic returning running back.
8. Iowa State: When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a game-breaker. He torched Texas for 137 yards as the Cyclones nearly pulled off a Thursday night upset. Wimberly, however, was never really healthy the rest of the season, and never had the same impact. After Wimberly, though, the Cyclones don’t have much returning firepower. Firepower, however, could be on the way. Oklahoma native Michael Warren went overlooked in recruiting, but he can fly; he rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a high school senior.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks gradated their heart and soul in James Sims, who was an all-conference selection even though Kansas won only one Big 12 game. Tony Pierson returns as an electric playmaker, but he has never been a full-time running back, often flexing out as a receiver. It will be interesting to see who emerges in Sims’ shoes. Brandon Bourbon (191 yards) will have the first crack in the spring, but newcomers De'Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench could vie for time once they arrive in the summer.

10. Kansas State: It’s difficult to believe K-State will be at the bottom here once the season starts, but running back is a major hole for the Wildcats going into the spring. That’s because longtime starter John Hubert is gone. Hubert, senior backup Robert Rose and QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 492 carries last season. Nobody else had more than five. Rising senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has only 11 career carries, will probably be atop the depth chart going into the spring. It’s also possible that Sams will get a look at running back with Waters having nailed down the full-time QB job. But the player to watch here is freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns his final two seasons in Blue Springs, Mo. Warmack isn’t big at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. But his size fits the mold of past K-State running backs Hubert and Darren Sproles.

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.

Three keys for Texas in Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
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The Mack Brown era at Texas comes to a close Monday night during the Valero Alamo Bowl (5:45 p.m. CT, ESPN). Pac-12 power Oregon provides a stern test for the Longhorns as UT tries to send Brown out with a win.

Here are three keys for Texas:

Success on the ground. In Oregon’s two losses, to Arizona and Stanford, the Ducks allowed 289 rushing yards per game. In the Ducks' 10 wins, they allowed 139.4 rushing yards per contest. The Longhorns have a talented backfield with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, so Texas could try to take the Ducks’ explosive offense out of the game by ramming the ball down the throat of their West Coast opponent, much like Stanford did. UT’s chances of success can’t rest solely on the shoulders of Case McCoy.

Slow the Ducks' tempo. Few offenses can operate as quickly and efficiently as the Ducks. Oregon finished among the top five nationally in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. Texas must figure out a way to slow their offense. The best way would be getting consistent pressure on Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, so Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat will need to show why he earned that honor.

Big plays. UT’s destiny in this game depends on big plays, both creating them and preventing them. Texas must limit an Oregon offense which had 27.7 percent of its plays go for 10 yards or more, second in the FBS. Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas is a big-play machine and the rest of the attack is full of speed and athletes. Fortunately for UT, the Longhorns match better than most teams with their athletes on both sides of the ball. Only 16.9 of UT's plays went for 10 yards or more so if the Longhorns find a way to have more explosive plays than Oregon their chances of winning will skyrocket.

Stats that matter: Texas-Baylor

December, 4, 2013
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats & Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics that could make a big difference on Saturday. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ regular-season finale on the road against Baylor.

1. 235

What makes this Baylor offense so deadly and such a statistical juggernaut is its big-play ability.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMITexas QB Case McCoy is 6-2 as a starter on the road.
Baylor has gained 10 or more yards on 235 plays this season, which ranks fifth-best in FBS. The high-tempo offense Texas just shut down a week ago, Texas Tech, is No. 2 in that category.

Baylor’s 96 plays of 20-plus yards are second to only Oregon nationally. Nobody in FBS has more plays of 30-plus (53) and 40-plus (36) than the Bears.

Three teams have legitimately tested Baylor in 2013: Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State. It’s no coincidence those three allowed the fewest 10-plus plays of the Bears’ foes. TCU and KSU held Baylor to 13 and 12 plays of 10-plus, respectively. OSU kept it to 18.

Those three Big 12 teams were also the only ones to slow down Baylor’s run game. The Bears averaged 323.6 rushing yards per game against its other eight opponents but just 124 per game against this trio.

2. 53.8

Going into the Oklahoma game, Bryce Petty was one of the nation’s best passers in nearly every important category. The past month has been a different story.

Petty has completed 53.8 percent of his passes and averaged 7.7 yards per attempt in Baylor’s last four games. He ranks 21st nationally in Total QBR, 48th in passer efficiency and 93rd in completion percentage since the start of November. To his credit, Petty’s TD-INT ratio in those games was 10-1.

Facing better opponents plays a role here, as do injuries in the Baylor lineup. Also, Petty is facing more pressure. He has been sacked 10 times in his last four games, and only 13 FBS QBs have taken more sacks during that span.

Texas is coming off a nine-sack performance against the Red Raiders. Tight, physical coverage from the secondary and a consistent pass rush will get Petty out of a rhythm, and that’s probably a must in this matchup.

3. 45

Darrell Royal liked to say “dance with the one that brung ya.” What got Texas into this position, at 8-3 and 7-1 in the Big 12, was a physical offense that pounded the run and sprinkled in shots downfield in the passing game.

By that philosophy, Texas’ two most impressive offensive performances this season came against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Both were high-pressure, must-win games. In both, Texas had two backs surpass 100 rushing yards.

The last time Case McCoy played in Floyd Casey Stadium, he went full gunslinger and threw for three touchdowns along with a career-high four interceptions. He knows that’s not his job this weekend.

The Longhorns haven’t lost when they’ve run the ball more than 45 times this season. In their five closest games, they averaged 135 rushing yards. Ground and pound will have to win the day on Saturday if Texas wants to leave Waco with a Big 12 trophy.

Three more to remember

634.4: Baylor’s offense has put up 634.4 yards per game this season. The FBS single-season record is 624.9 per game, set by Houston in 1989.

56: The number of Baylor touchdowns drives that ended in 2:00 or less. That’s eight more than any other FBS team.

6-2: McCoy’s career record as a starter on the road. The two losses were both regular-season finales, against Baylor in 2011 and at Kansas State last season.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 14 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: After trailing by three scores for most of the game, Iowa State came roaring back with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and ultimately prevailed 52-44 in a stunning, triple-overtime comeback. Freshman QB Grant Rohach was terrific in his second career road start, accounting for five touchdowns, including the winning toss on the first play of the third overtime. The defense forced four turnovers to help spearhead the rally. And punter Kirby Van Der Kamp converted a fake punt into a huge first down, igniting the comeback early in the fourth quarter. As a result, Iowa State finished off an otherwise disappointing season with a thrilling road victory and a two-game winning streak to build on for 2014.

[+] EnlargeRyan Erxleben, David Brenner, Keenon Ward
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben (26) celebrated perhaps the Red Raiders' only highlight Thursday.
Disappointment of the week: After a fake punt touchdown gave them a 7-0 lead, the Red Raiders basically no-showed the rest of the way in a discouraging 41-16 loss at Texas. The Longhorns obliterated Tech up front, as both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron topped 100 yards on the ground. On the other side of the ball, Tech couldn't protect its quarterback, as Baker Mayfield was sacked seven times. As a result, a team that once was ranked 10th in the country ended its regular season with a thud -- and a five-game losing streak.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Kansas State running back John Hubert and Iowa State wide receivers Quenton Bundrage and Justin Coleman.

Hubert unleashed a monster performance in his final Sunflower Showdown. The senior rushed for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, as K-State defeated Kansas 31-10 for a fifth consecutive victory in the series.

Together with Rohach, Bundrage and Coleman fueled Iowa State's comeback with huge catches down the stretch. After Van Der Kamp's fake punt conversion, Bundrage hauled in a 62-yard touchdown grab to cut West Virginia's lead to 10. Later, Coleman's 19-yard scoring reception tied the game with a minute left in regulation. And on the first play of the third overtime, Coleman reeled in another touchdown, which proved to be the game winner.

All told, Bundrage and Coleman combined for 12 receptions, 184 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

Lackey played a hand in two turnovers that ultimately led to defensive touchdowns. With the Horned Frogs driving at the end of the second quarter with a chance to take the lead before halftime, Lackey charged up the middle and tagged TCU QB Casey Pachall's legs. The hit forced Pachall's pass to be behind his intended receiver, and Orion Stewart intercepted it and raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Then on TCU's first possession of the third quarter, Lackey picked off Pachall and dashed 54 yards for another score, putting the Bears up 34-17. Lackey added six tackles and a sack in Baylor's 41-38 win.

As good as Lackey was, no player was more dominant than Verrett. Matched up one-on-one with Baylor's Antwan Goodley the entire game, Verrett checked the Big 12's leading receiver to just one reception for 12 yards. As a result, Baylor finished with a season-low 206 passing yards.

Jeffcoat also flourished in his final home game, recording a game-high three sacks as Texas shut down Texas Tech's passing game. Jeffcoat also had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry, solidifying his candidacy as an All-Big 12 defensive end.

Special-teams player of the week: Tech punter Ryan Erxleben produced one of the special-teams plays of the year in the Big 12 in Austin. On Tech's second possession, Erxleben took off on a fake punt and raced 51 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving the Red Raiders an early 7-0 lead. After the game, coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Erxleben called the fake on his own. It proved to be Tech's longest rush of the season, but pretty much its only highlight in the lackluster loss to the Longhorns.

Play of the week: After falling behind 34-17 on two Baylor defensive touchdowns, TCU made a furious rally and drove into field goal range with a chance to either win or send the game to overtime. Instead, with 18 seconds to go, quarterback Pachall's pass to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl and into the arms of Terrell Burt for the game-clinching interception to seal Baylor's victory.

Stat of the week: By holding Baylor to 370 yards of offense, TCU snapped the Bears' 37-game streak of at least 400 yards of offense. Ball State now holds the longest FBS streak at 12 games.

Quote of the week: "Gary Patterson lives in Fort Worth. If he's got a problem with me, that's where I live."

-- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after a pair of heated exchanges with Baylor coach Art Briles

Week 14 helmet stickers

November, 29, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Three Longhorns who stood out in Texas' 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving:

DE Jackson Jeffcoat: Is Jeffcoat the Big 12 Defense Player of the Year? November is almost over and there's still no clear favorite, but you have to think he's in the running. He was downright unblockable at times on Thursday, racking up three sacks and tying for the team lead with seven tackles in his most creative role to date, as an end/linebacker hybrid who played all over the field, often times directly behind the defensive tackles. The new role fit Jeffcoat's talents well and helped make for a tough night for Baker Mayfield and his Red Raiders offensive line.

RBs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron: Texas ran the ball 60 times on Thursday knowing that meant putting the offense in the hands of the junior running backs, and both delivered. Brown rushed for 128 on 27 carries, and Bergeron gained 102 on 17 carries with a touchdown, the 25th of his career. They know Texas Tech's run defense was a major vulnerability and they attacked all night long, which set up some big pass plays as well.

DE Cedric Reed: If you want to make the case that Reed has been Texas' best defensive end this season, go right ahead. A legitimate case can be made for him, and he's becoming quite the freak as a junior. Reed picked up two more sacks on Thursday to hit nine on the season and recorded a team-high three quarterback hurries. If he stays another year, he'll be in for a special season.

WR Mike Davis: We're giving a bonus one this week to Davis, who shined on his final home game with four catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns. His scores came on a 47-yard bomb from Case McCoy to end the first quarter and a 7-yarder off a slant route to start the fourth. Davis is up to 46 catches for 701 yards and eight scores this season. He continues to be a dynamic deep threat, even against corners and safeties who know not to let him get past them.

Stats that matter: Texas Tech-Texas

November, 27, 2013
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats and Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics that could make a big difference this Thursday. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ home finale on Thanksgiving against Texas Tech.

No. 1: Minus-12

That’s Texas Tech’s turnover margin this season. The Red Raiders have 28 turnovers, 16 takeaways and are minus-10 in Big 12 play. They’ve lost nine of their 11 fumbles. They’ve played only one game (Kansas, plus 3) with a positive turnover margin, and that number has been negative in each of Tech’s last six games.

You just can’t beat good teams with those kinds of numbers, and that has played a role in Texas Tech dropping four games in a row. There’s no doubt freshman quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb have contributed to this bug; they’re responsible for 23 of the 28 turnovers.

But they’re not solely to blame, because turnovers have become a long-term issue for this program. Texas Tech has a minus-35 turnover margin in the last five years, which ranks fourth-worst nationally and dead last among BCS conference schools. What’s remarkable is they’ve still won 37 games during that span.

No. 2: 297.25

Another glaring weakness that has developed during Texas Tech’s four-game slide: Run defense. Tech is giving up 297.25 rushing yards per game in its last four, with no team gaining less than 277.

Those four opponents -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor -- have combined for 18 rushing touchdowns and 32 rushes of 10-plus yards. Good luck beating the best teams in the Big 12 when you give up 5.74 yards per carry and first downs on nearly 29 percent of your opponents’ rushes.

Texas will try to exploit that porous run D without its two most explosive rushers, Johnathan Gray and Daje Johnson. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron ran relatively well against Oklahoma State, but they quickly became non-factors once Texas fell behind big. The key this week? Time of possession and turnovers. The run should be there for the taking if the Longhorns can hold onto the ball.

No. 3: Zero

The zero signifies two Texas stats worth noting going into this game. First, the Longhorns have recorded zero sacks in their three losses this season. That’s a problem. Texas has 26 sacks in its seven wins this season, and its defense line has played at a consistently high level in those games. Their pass rush can’t disappear again against a Tech team with young quarterbacks who turn the ball over.

Another zero: Since 2010, Texas is 11-1 in games when its offense doesn’t turn the ball over. Texas players insist the blowout loss to Oklahoma State could’ve been a much more even affair if not for three costly turnovers.

Three more to remember

7-0: Texas’ record against Texas Tech in games played in Austin under Mack Brown

18.7: Points per game Texas Tech has allowed in its seven wins.

50.5: Points per game Texas Tech has allowed in its four losses.

Longhorn players not ready to give up yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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