Every so often the stars align. Everything gels and everyone is firing on all cylinders. And every so often the opposite of that happens. You have to replace your four year starter at QB, you lose your best wide-out, you only return a couple full time starters on your offensive line, and you have no clear breakout tailback. This is that year for the Longhorns' offense. But didn't you know? They're gonna run the ball more this year. They'll be okay.
I personally think the Texas defense will be good enough to carry the rebuilding offense through most of their schedule. I mean its not like the Longhorns have a really tough schedule this year. Oklahoma State lost most of one of the most talented squads they've had since their current coach played QB in front of Barry Sanders. Tech should be rebuilding with a new coach. A&M is, well A&M. And Nebraska... I'm still not convinced that they will live up to the hype. They have to lose a little bit of their greatness on defense, and they're returning pretty much the same awful offense from last year. We also know that hardly anybody will be picking the Bruins to come into Austin and win against the Longhorns. Although the 'Horns will most likely finish the season with another ten wins, the peices are there for them to struggle and have some growing pains with as few as eight or nine wins.
Let us ponder this: What was the last Longhorns team to beat the Sooners without a dual-threat QB? It won't take most fans of the rivalry to realize that for the better part of a decade the 'Horns have played with the philosophy of "when all else fails, tuck it and run". And not just against the Sooners, ladies and gents, I direct you to the 'Horns 2005 National Championship winning season. I mean who needs a running game when you've got Vince Young and Colt McCoy behind center. I honestly believe that Garrett Gilbert will do well. However, the horns are going to have to dust off a playbook that they really haven't used in a number of years, and lets face it, they weren't exactly known to be big game winners with that playbook. Say it with me: Growing Pains.
Last year the Longhorns ran the ball for 2,066 yards. Tre Newton accounted for 552, McCoy accounted for 348, Cody Johnson 335, Vondrell McGee 300, Foswhitt Whittaker 212, and D.J. Monroe had 143. A handful of other guys had less than 100 yards on the season. The 'Horns never really found their running game on their way to the Rose Bowl, and suffered for it with no run game to speak of and Garrett Gilbert was unable to carry the load against the Tide defense. The 2008 rushing numbers mirror last years with 2,177 yards on the season and Colt leading the way with 561. In 2007 Texas had a REAL running game. Jamaal Charles carried the ball for 1,619 of the 'Horns 2,698 yards and of course Colt followed with 510 yards. The Longhorns threw the ball for 3,320 yards, giving their offense some semblance of balance. That season stands as the lone season since the departure of Cedric Benson (who posted 1,834 yards in the 2004 campaign). In that same period the QB as been the best or second best ball carrier in every season. Apparently the Longhorns are going to manufacture a running game without an established running back while breaking in a new quarterback behing a relatively new offensive line (Texas has to replace three multi-year starters on the line, and has to do some juggling to cover the all important left tackle and center spots). The running game could go either way for the Longhorns, most likely it'll take time to develop.
Also gone is Colt McCoy's alter ego, WR Jordan Shipley. Shipley caught 116 passes for 1,485 yards, accounting for over half of the Longhorns' 3,831 receiving yards. Malcolm Williams appears to be the go to guy coming into this season with 550 yards on 39 receptions. James Kirkendoll had 461 yards while Dan Buckner had 442. Shipley's departure opens the door for the young guys, but leaves little room for error with no proven go-to receiver. Other than a proven line, a solid number one option at receiver is a new QB's best friend.
Texas has a load of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Rarely is the talent at the University of Texas so new at so many positions. The Longhorns have no stand out returning starter at the skill positions and will be working with a new rotation on the offensive line. But don't worry, they're going to go back to running the ball... and Gilbert is going to be AWESOME! And this could all work out for them. It's Texas. They could win the national championship this year. Realistically I think they'll go 10-2 in the regular season losing to Oklahoma and one game they shouldn't lose while things just aren't clicking. I think they'll win a nail-biter in Lincoln (I'll be pulling for the Huskers). However... things could get bad. The Horns could have a bunch of unexpected injuries. They could finish as bad as 6-6 with losses coming at Texas Tech, at home to UCLA, in Dallas to Oklahoma, at Nebraska, at Kansas State, and to A&M in Austin. That would require them to lose four in a row early in the season, which won't happen barring an outbreak of Avian Flu on the offensive line. I highly doubt they'd lose to this year's incarnation of Kansas State, but I thought that in 2006 and 2007 as well. But A&M... this is the year buddy! Right? Right? Riiiiiiight?
The truth is, with the type of schedule the Longhorns play they're pretty much a lock for ten wins even in rebuilding years. They rarely play more than one BCS opponent out of conference in a season, and unless A&M and Nebraska are really back, then this could very well be a down year for most of the Big 12. But if the Horns catch the injury bug early in the season or have off the field issues, then this is the year they fall short of ten wins.