With conference realignment talk over (for the most part) we can get back to previewing Oklahoma's 2010 opponents. The Sooners won't have a conference warm up game before taking on the Texas Longhorns in Dallas this season as the annual Red River Shootout has moved up to October 2nd this year.
I we have to take the time to explain the importance of this game on recruiting, conference standings and recruiting then I'd challenge you're not real familiar with either school or the Big 12 Conference for that matter. Depending on which side of the Red River you're on, the Sooners are looking for their seventh win in the last 11 seasons (2000 - `04, `07) or the Longhorns are looking for their fifth in the last six seasons (2005-06, 2008-09).
Texas learned the hard way in January that BCS Championship games aren't as easy to win as they thought they were and just making it college football's biggest stage should be appreciated and savored. Now that the Texas version of the Golden Boy is gone to Cleveland the Longhorns are reloading their offense (4 returning starters) and will have to try and win their third in a row against Oklahoma with a new cast of characters. Let's take a look!
In 2000 the Longhorns led the Big 12 in scoring offense with an average of 40.7 points per game. They were third in passing offense with 279.7 yards per game and fifth in rushing offense with 152.7 yards per game.
Garrett Gilbert received a baptism by fire in the BCS Championship Game and while the jury is still very much out on what his legacy will be he's touted as being bigger and stronger than McCoy. After struggling against Alabama he shined in the spring game which generated even more buzz. Perhaps an even bigger loss than Colt McCoy (3,521 yards/27 TDs) is the departure of Jordan Shipley. Last season he hauled in 116 passes for 1,485 yards (Both single season records) with 13 scores and that doesn't even take into account what he provided in the special teams department.
The losses to the offensive line are huge but there are still four seniors expected to start along the guard and tackle positions and a non-conference schedule that includes Rice (2-10), Wyoming (7-6) and UCLA (7-6) they'll have plenty of time to gel.
Tre' Newton led the team in rushing yards last season with 552 and a 4.8 yards per carry average. He inserted himself as the primary option in a running back by committee offense that featured as many as four backs at times. Gilbert showed his inexperience in the BCS Championship but he's sure to get better in time. Helping him out will be left tackle Kyle Hix and left guard Michael Huey returning to protect him from one side of the line and James Kirkendoll who was third on the team in receptions last year with 48 for 461 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The Texas defense only allowed 15.2 points per game last season which placed them third, behind Nebraska and Oklahoma, in the Big 12 in scoring defense. They were also third in the conference against the pass, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 55.6% of their passes for just 188.9 yards per game. They were the best in the conference against the rush allowing opponents to rush for just 2.0 yards per carry and a team average of only 62.9 yards per game.
The Longhorns have six returning starters on defense but among the players they're looking to replace are their top two leading tacklers, their leaders in tackles for loss and their leader in interceptions. Roddrick Muckelroy led the team in total tackles last season with 102 while also recording 2 sacks. He'll be replaced by Emmanuel Acho who recorded 49 tackles himself, including 10 for loss and two sacks. Lamarr Houston and Sergio Kindle tied in tackles for loss with a team high 22 while Houston was also second on the squad in sacks with 8. Calvin Howell will step in to fill Houston's shoes. He recorded 4 tackles last season with 1 sack. Alex Okafor becomes the full-time starter at the defensive end position opposite Sam Acho now that the Sergio Kindle experiment is over. Safety Earl Thomas led the team in interception last season with 8 and was second in total tackles with 77. Stepping in to fill his shoes will most likely be junior Christian Scott.
Texas has key players returning on all three levels of their defense but the most solid unit on the field may be the secondary with three returning starters. Sam Acho was sixth on the team in tackles with 63 but led the way in sacks by recording 10. Keenan Robinson recorded 74 tackles which placed him third on the team. Cornerbacks Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown combined for 97 tackles and 3 interceptions. The key player returning in the secondary in free safety Blake Gideon. In `09 Gideon recorded 62 tackles and finished behind Thomas for second on the team in picks with six.