Texas coach Mack Brown hopes to see his offense execute an old-school power game and his defense master the art of disguise in a season in which he apparently believes his team enters with restrained expectations.
We say apparently, because Brown has been in Texas long enough to know that UT fans aren't going to back off their demand that the Longhorns win the national championship. According to Brown, the Longhorns left spring workouts "not as good a team as we've been.
"We don't have as many seniors; we don't have as many stars," Brown said.
The Longhorns aren't exactly inexperienced -- they welcome back 13 returning starters -- but they are short on senior leadership, with only two seniors certain to start on each side of the ball.
But Brown found veteran help elsewhere. In the first major shakeup on his staff, defensive coordinator Carl Reese resigned, opening the door for former Kansas City Chiefs coordinator Greg Robinson. Brown also added longtime college coach Dick Tomey, putting him in charge of the defensive ends.
OffenseTexas will again play two quarterbacks, though this year Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis promise to run the same plays for both sophomore Vince Young and senior Chance Mock. Young is an exceptional runner who can throw a perfect fastball at times, but unfortunately often mixes in knucklers. Mock has a decent arm and is fairly accurate, but has a tendency to tap dance in the pocket and succumb to the rush.
Young opens things up for running back Cedric Benson and vice versa, so Texas will have one of the more potent running games in the country.
Wide receiver is a huge question mark, with a go-to guy having to emerge from a group in which most members are playing for the first time. More experienced tight ends David Thomas and Bo Scaife will have to take up the slack.
DefenseRobinson likes to talk about "controlled violence." He doesn't put emphasis on either word, but most observers feel it's the controlled part that is key.
Robinson, who spent the last 10 years as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, said there may not be a scheme the Longhorns won't run out of their base 4-3 set during the course of the season.
"We're going to do what we need to win each week," he said. "The thing we're going to be noted for is the way we fly to the football and the way we tackle."
Speedy linebacker Derrick Johnson, the best player on the unit, is learning to be more patient in his attack in Robinson's system.
Junior Rodrique Wright has developed into an honors-worthy force at defensive tackle, but UT has no proven partner for him. Starting defensive ends Tim Crowder and Mike Williams are an athletic pair, but the lack of quality depth behind them could be a problem.
The secondary, which returns three starters, may benefit from Robinson's use of disguised coverages compared to previous defensive coordinator Carl Reese's reliance on man-to-man.
SpecialistsWith three-year kicker Dusty Mangum and second-year punter Richmond McGee back, the Longhorns are solid in the kicking game. But neither is a lock to hold onto his spot, as UT tries to be better than solid. David Pino is pushing to take over for Mangum, and Greg Johnson, a freshman All-American at Vanderbilt in 2002, is after McGee's spot.
Junior Selvin Young will be the lead return man. He has returned only six punts, but two of them went for touchdowns.
Final AnalysisDefenses will have trouble slowing the running of Young and Benson, but if the passing game isn't good enough to keep teams honest, eventually the running game will be shut down. And if Mock is the key to a successful passing game, expect to hear what are perhaps a football season's two most damaging words: quarterback controversy.
Texas has enough talent to beat every team on its schedule, but the 'Horns have to find a way to beat Oklahoma. It's not an overstatement to say a successful season boils down to what happens in Dallas against the Sooners. A fifth straight loss to the hated Red River rivals would be painful.
After six sterling years under Brown, UT needs to put something of substance in the trophy case.