EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 19th in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
In many years, this would be a Texas team that many looked at as a national championship contender. The Longhorns have more returning starters (19) than any team in college football and are coming off a nine-win season and a bowl victory. Twenty returning starters at Texas? Watch out.
There's just one problem. The Longhorns' last three seasons (5-7, 8-5, 9-4; a combined 11-15 in Big 12 games and two embarrassingly lopsided losses to Oklahoma) have been disasters by Texas standards, and there are those wondering if Mack Brown has lost it. Once unthinkable, he actually might have to produce big this season or be fired or forced into retirement.
The pieces are certainly there. On offense, Texas will apparently join the crowd and begin playing more wide open and faster. If that's successful, watch out because the Longhorns have one of the few veteran quarterbacks in the Big 12 in David Ash (67 percent completion rate, 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns), future NFL backs in Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, five returning starters on the line (averaging 6-foot-5 and 306 pounds) and a deep receiving corps.
On defense, linebacker Jordan Hicks returns after missing most of last season to injury and that could be the stabilizing force this group needs. The line is so good that it can afford to lose Alex Okafor because Jackson Jeffcoat returns from injury. The secondary lost Kenny Vaccaro at safety, which is a big blow, but it is filled with former five-star recruits who have all the athleticism in the world but need to tackle better.
So the questions about Texas have nothing to do with talent or experience, but simply about whether or not Brown can put all of that together for the first time since playing for the 2009 national championship.
Perhaps the biggest question marks for Texas - other than playing to potential - revolve around the kicking game. Anthony Fera transferred just before the season started last season when Penn State opened the floodgates, but he fought a groin injury and made just one field goal (against WVU). Fera is back again, but he might just be the Longhorns' punter, not place-kicker.
Date Opponent 2012