Dallas Colleges: Kheeston Randall
The defensive cupboard was well-stocked and Mack Brown was talking up the squad, openly inviting high expectations for his defense and claiming they might be the best in his time in Austin.
With the Acho brothers up front and three future NFL draft picks in the secondary, who could blame him?
The Longhorns defense was good, but not good enough. It led the Big 12 in total defense, but forced just 18 turnovers for 11th in the Big 12.
Oh, and Texas went 5-7.
The Longhorns bounced back with eight wins in 2011, and in 2012 the hype is back for a defense loaded with NFL talent once again. There is talk that it might be among the nation's best, if not the nation's best.
"I want our defense to live up to those expectations," Brown said. "All of us sitting here in preseason have expectations, especially at a school like the University of Texas. But, until you produce on the field, and we’ll have a better idea of how they look on Saturday, then we’re not sure how good they will be."
Brown's tempering the expectations a bit this time around, but he knows what he has.
The league's No. 1 and No. 2 defensive ends are anything but an unknown commodity. Both Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor could hear their names called in the first round of next April's NFL draft, though Jeffcoat said this week he wants to stay and get his degree from Texas.
Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom morphed a question mark at cornerback into one of the team's strengths late in the season, and safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the best overall defender in the Big 12.
The one thing most closely resembling a question mark? The middle of the defense.
"I’ve consistently talked about the loss of the four seniors down the middle," Brown said, "and that we’ve got new, young guys in their places."
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the vocal leaders of the defense last season, but have been replaced by super recruits Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks, joining a speedster on the outside in linebacker Demarco Cobbs, who played quarterback, receiver, safety and returned kicks and punts in high school.
Tackle Kheeston Randall is gone, too, but the Longhorns look well suited to replace him by plugging juco transfer Brandon Moore and reformed running back Chris Whaley at the top of a rotation of five capable contributors in the middle of the defense.
Adrian Phillips moves up to replace four-year starter Blake Gideon at strong safety opposite Vaccaro.
"Until they prove it on Saturday that they’re ready to show that leadership and show that ability to handle Big 12 football at a fast pace, then we have to wait until they prove it before we can anoint them as a great defense," Brown said.
Here's guessing we won't wait long.
Texas is easily the wildest card in the Big 12 deck this season, but how do you see the Longhorns faring in 2010?
The defense returns six starters, and is the strength of the team, despite losing Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams to the NFL. The team's safeties, Kenny Vaccaro, Christian Scott and Blake Gideon are solid, though Scott will be sidelined the first three games because of a suspension.
The front seven is loaded with potential, and the Longhorns have two of the best linebackers in the league, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are exciting defensive ends offsetting Kheeston Randall, one of the league's best overall linemen.
Offensively, well, the Longhorns have a lot to prove. They're the only Big 12 team left that doesn't know its starting quarterback for the opening weekend. Eight starters from last year's offense return, but some of the team's biggest hype is coming from players new to campus.
Running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Jaxon Shipley showed up to campus this summer, but quarterback David Ash impressed coaches after enrolling early this spring.
The offensive line will have to be better, especially if any of those three will have success. Shipley should add some solid playmaking ability to a receiving corps depleted with the losses of Marquise Goodwin (Olympic track qualifying) and Malcolm Williams (personal issues), who won't be with the team this year. Mike Davis will likely be the team's go-to receiver, at least to start the season.
So how do the Longhorns stack up?
Here are the rest of the position rankings.
Now that we've finished ranking the complete units, we'll start ranking the top 10 at each position very soon leading into the 2011 season.
This is a decent position for the Big 12 this season, and the top half of the league should feel pretty good about their group. There aren't many studs in this group, but there are a whole lot of solid players.
2. Oklahoma -- Oklahoma's defensive tackles are somewhat suspect, but the defensive end combo of Ronnell Lewis (provided he is eligible come fall camp) and Frank Alexander is on par with the best in the Big 12. Both were preseason All-Big 12 selections, but Jamarkus McFarland needs to make good on his potential. Stacy McGee and Casey Walker should both get time at the other tackle spot.
3. Texas -- Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is loaded with potential as the nation's former No. 1 recruit. He had a big impact early last season before being slowed by an ankle injury. Alex Okafor moved outside from defensive tackle just before spring and had five sacks in the spring game. Inside, Kheeston Randall is an All-Big 12 favorite, but Ashton Dorsey had a strong spring and could help out with Reggie Wilson opposite Randall.
4. Texas A&M -- The Aggies have one of the best linemen in the league in Tony Jerod-Eddie, but Jonathan Mathis, Eddie Brown Jr. and Ben Bass have a lot to prove around him after the loss of Lucas Patterson, who was outstanding in 2010.
5. Texas Tech -- Sam Fehoko has moved to defensive end from middle linebacker, and should provide some good speed to the front line. Scott Smith looked on his way to an All-Big 12 campaign last season, but was suspended for the remainder of the season by coach Tommy Tuberville and has yet to be officially reinstated. For now, Dartwan Bush and Aundrey Barr will help out at defensive end, outside of Donald Langley, Kerry Hyder and Pearlie Graves. The Red Raiders did snatch a big pickup from departed UNC signee Delvon Simmons, a defensive tackle that could have an impact immediately.
6. Oklahoma State -- Defensive line is the biggest weak spot for the Cowboys, who have a decent set of ends in Jamie Blatnick and former heralded recruit Richetti Jones, but an even bigger question mark at defensive tackle where Christian Littlehead and Nigel Nicholas enter fall camp as starters.
7. Kansas -- Top rusher turned defensive end Toben Opurum came on strong late last season and should be one of the most exciting Jayhawks to watch in 2011, but the rest of the line leaves a bit to be desired. Keba Agostino has the other starting spot at defensive end ahead of Pat Lewandowski, who had a great spring. Patrick Dorsey and John Williams enter fall camp as starters at defensive tackles.
8. Kansas State -- K-State recruited this position hard in its 2011 class. For now, defensive end Brandon Harold will try to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 after a promising 2009. Lance Dunbar and Taylor Martinez think this group is ranked too high, but Meshak Williams could start opposite Harold, while Ray Kibble and Raphael Guidry should be the tackles inside.
9. Baylor -- Tevin Elliott was limited this spring because of offseason shoulder surgery, and Terrance Lloyd exited spring practice as the starter, but I'd expect Elliott to regain the spot by the time the season arrives. Phil Taylor, a first-round pick, is a big loss, but Gary Mason Jr. will try to fill his spot next to Nicolas Jean-Baptiste.
10. Iowa State -- Having a pair of linebackers combine for 241 tackles is a good and bad thing. They've got outstanding linebackers, but the defensive line was the Big 12's worst last season for a unit that ranked 10th in rush defense and had just 11 sacks. That was the fewest sacks in the Big 12 and more than just three teams in all of college football. The good news is all four starters return, but for now, this is where the Cyclones start. Stephen Ruempolhamer has some promise, but Cleyon Laing, Jake McDonough and ends Patrick Neal and Roosevelt Maggitt have a lot to prove. Jacob Lattimer ran into offseason trouble, but re-appeared atop the depth chart released by the Cyclones on Wednesday.
Here's my ballot, for reference.
And here's the preseason team, in all its glory.
QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Bryce Brown, Kansas State
RB: Roy Finch, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Blake Gideon, Texas
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU
Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas
Selections by team: Oklahoma (9), Oklahoma State (4), Texas A&M (4), Missouri (3), Texas (3), Iowa State (2), Kansas State (1)
And a few thoughts:
- Generally, I agree with most of the selections. Nothing was really shocking. Brandon Weeden vs. Landry Jones is pretty close to a coin flip, and let's not act surprised that the quarterback from the bigger program got the nod. Perception is reality, even if the numbers are so, so close. Jones has the Heisman hype coming into the season, certainly more than Weeden, based on little more than the possibility his team runs the table.
- Running back is going to get a lot of attention, but let's not get riled up. This is going to sound bad, but believe me when I say I don't mean it to: Bryce Brown's selection is more an indictment of the returning talent at running back in the Big 12 than an endorsement of the hype surrounding Brown, who isn't even the clear-cut starter at K-State just yet. Here's what I wrote when I posted my ballot earlier this month. "The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for James Sims, Eric Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team!" Well, there you go. For the record, I voted for Christine Michael, and still feel good about it.
- Finch and Brown tied for votes, giving the Big 12 three running backs. There weren't three spots on the ballot. And it also explains how Malcolm Brown got Newcomer of the Year and Bryce Brown got first-team All-Big 12 running back, despite both being newcomers. It's a little confusing, I suppose, and maybe not everyone did it, but my guess is a lot of ballots had Finch as the first-team running back and Malcolm Brown as the Newcomer of the Year. Not all that surprising.
- I originally had Luke Joeckel on my ballot, but took him off for Missouri's Elvis Fisher. I think Joeckel will end up being better, and maybe even by the end of this year, but right now, Fisher is the better lineman, and that's how I define the ballot. Perhaps others see it differently. There's no concrete rubric for this.
- I'm not very surprised to see Ronnell Lewis and Blake Gideon grab spots on the team, though I voted for Tony Jerod-Eddie and Trent Hunter in those spots on my ballot. Second safety and defensive line were pretty tough for me to fill out. Neither spot is very deep in this league, and both Lewis and Gideon have two of the biggest names, which matters in a media vote.
- Quite a huge gap between Oklahoma and the rest of the league. The Sooners had a lot of guys on my ballot that were close, but five more selections than anyone else in the league? That's impressive, and if ballot deadlines had been after Jamell Fleming's reinstatement, Oklahoma might have had 10 guys on the team. My ballot had Oklahoma State leading the way with seven selections, followed by Texas A&M with six and Oklahoma with five. My ballot also only had six teams represented. The media's Bryce Brown vote put Kansas State on the board, making it seven teams represented on the official team.
With the college football season just around the corner, the Maxwell Football Club announced watch lists for two of its awards Tuesday.
The Maxwell Award has been presented to the country's top collegiate football player since 1937. The Bednarik Award, which has been around since 1995, goes to the nation's top defensive player.
The lists include 15 candidates from Big 12 South and DFW schools. Returning Maxwell semifinalists include Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin.
The Big 12 South landed 11 players on the lists. TCU has three representatives on the list: running back Ed Wesley and linebackers Tanner Brock and Tank Carder. SMU running back Zach Line is also up for the Maxwell.
Semifinalists for the awards will be announced Oct. 31st, and the three finalists for each will be revealed Nov. 21. Winners will be announced as part of the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show on Dec. 8.
Watch lists for the Biletnikoff and Mackey Awards will be released Wednesday.
What season? Didn't Texas cancel 2010? You might hear something along those lines from Texas fans after a shocking 5-7 season that featured five home losses, with the only wins coming over ... wait for it ... Wyoming and Florida Atlantic. Ouch.
Most -- myself included -- figured Texas' defense would be good enough to carry the Longhorns to at least 8-9 wins while the offense suffered through what eventually became an identity crisis. Statistically, it was a great defense, but lapses against UCLA and Oklahoma turned into losses, and suddenly one-dimensional offenses like Kansas State looked just as dominant against the Longhorns as Oklahoma State's powerful, balanced attack.
Texas shuffled featured backs almost weekly, but no part of Texas running game was powerful, a stated spring goal that, to their credit, Texas tried to achieve for most of the season. It was a futile effort, and eventually cost the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator their jobs. Comically bad, recurrent punt-fielding decisions helped send special teams coordinator Mike Tolleson on his way, too.
Regardless, it was a year of losing in Texas that the program hasn't seen since the days of John Mackovic. Lucky for the Longhorns, by the end of the season, there was nobody left in the stands to see it.
Offensive MVP: Mike Davis, WR. There wasn't much to pick from, but Davis' 47 catches and were a Texas freshman record, and give the Longhorns hope for the future for whoever is brought in to run the offense.
Defensive MVP: Sam Acho, DL. Despite the disappointing showing from the defense as a whole, Acho put in an All-American effort and production every time he took the field. The senior led the nation with five forced fumbles, and was second in the Big 12 with 15.5 tackles for loss. He also had eight sacks and made 58 tackles.
Turning point: UCLA's 34-12 win in Austin. It looked like a shocking upset at the time. The Bruins were an early disappointment, and Texas was 3-0 and ranked No. 7. It ended up just being a tussle between two mediocre teams who combined to finish 9-15. Texas extended its curious dominance over Nebraska with a win over the Huskers in Lincoln, but that win was more of an aberration produced by excellent game-planning from the Longhorns, rather than a second turning point.
What's next: Good question. Who knows? Texas should field another excellent defense next season under Will Muschamp with plenty of new leaders like Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Kenny Vaccaro, as well as Kheeston Randall and Blake Gideon, but offensively, anything could happen. I subscribe to the school of thought that, while Garrett Gilbert's numbers were average at best, he didn't have a lot of help. He wasn't the main problem. If Davis can continue to develop, and the running game can be a factor in 2011, he'll look like more of what most people thought he'd be. But much of that will depend on who Texas gets to replace offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
And coach Mack Brown didn't sugarcoat what he needs from the 6-foot-5, 295-pound junior from Beaumont.
"It's our true key on defense," Brown said. "He needs to step up and play like Roy Miller and like Lamarr Houston from last year. we've got numbers at that position, but we do not have quality experience. We have to look at look at a number of guys to see what fits."
Brown said he has the option of going to a 3-4 scheme and moving defensive end Sam Acho in, but Brown said he'd prefer not to go that route.
"All of a sudden you're looking at Calvin Howell, Tyrell Higgins, Kyle Kriegel," Brown said. "You're looking at freshmen. That's one of the keys for us to determine in preseason."
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