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CONFERENCE: BIG 12
THE OFFENSIVE LINE WILL BEAR THE WEIGHT OF VINCE YOUNG'S DEPARTURE, AND IT SHOULD BE UP TO THE TASK
2005 RECORD 13-0 (8-0 in Big 12 South)
RETURNING STARTERS 16
KEY RETURNEES DT Frank Okam (Jr.) NFL scouts are already drooling over his size (6'5", 315) and explosiveness DE Brian Robison (Sr.) Big 12 shot put champ led team in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (15) in '05 WR Billy Pittman (Jr.) Emerged as a big-play receiver, averaging 22.1 yards a catch
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS With a sprinter's speed-he finished fifth in the 100 meters at the NCAA outdoor championships (10.27)-and the ability to break clear of tacklers, sophomore Jamaal Charles has an outside shot at the Heisman Trophy. Last year the 6'1", 190-pound running back was on his way to a 1,000-yard rushing season before an ankle injury in the fifth game slowed him for three games. He still wound up with 878 yards on 119 carries, a 7.4-yard average.
Longhorns fans were still celebrating their team's national championship victory over USC-11 days after the Rose Bowl-when Justin Blalock gave them another reason to raise their bottles of Shiner Bock. Before a crowd of more than 50,000 at Texas's official victory party in Royal Memorial Stadium, Blalock, the normally reserved right tackle, hammed it up. Holding the Sears Trophy in his left hand and a camera phone in his right, he went to the mike and declared, "I will be returning for my senior year."
As everyone from sea to shining USC knows, Texas's other All-America junior on offense, quarterback Vince Young, chose not to come back for his final college season, making Blalock's return crucial to the Longhorns' chances of repeating. They have depth everywhere but at quarterback, where Young's successor will be either redshirt freshman Colt McCoy or true freshman Jevan Snead, both of whom lack not only Young's experience but also his running skills. For Texas's 20-game winning streak to continue, its offensive linemen will have to provide extra protection for the QB and work harder to clear a path on rushing plays.
No lineman at Texas, and perhaps in the country, does those things better than Blalock, a physical 6'4" 329-pounder who's so light on his feet, he has earned the nickname Dancing Bear. Versatile enough to play guard or tackle, he was projected as a late first-round or a second-round pick had he entered the NFL draft. It was his block on fourth-and-five against blitzing USC cornerback Josh Pinkard that sprang Young for the winning touchdown in the Rose Bowl. "Going into every snap, my mind-set is, The guy on the other side of me will not make this play," says Blalock.
He anchors a line that, despite losing All-Americas Jonathan Scott and Will Allen, rivals any in the nation. Still, the unit will be hard-pressed to match the performance of last year's line, which helped the Longhorns average 50.2 points and 274.9 rushing yards per game. Says Blalock of this year's front five, "What we have to do is communicate like we did last year and play like five fingers making a fist."