February 20, 2011

Which perennial power will recover from 2010

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Clemson, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and UCLA each had losing records last season. Who is the first to get back to the 10-win level -- and will it happen this fall?

Texas will be the first to return to the 10-win level. It could happen this fall, though I think the Longhorns could be really strong in 2012. Texas has had three highly rated recruiting classes, so there is a lot of talent on the roster. But a lot of the most talented players are sophomores, redshirt freshmen and freshmen. If junior QB Garrett Gilbert makes progress in taking care of the ball and making better decisions (especially in the red zone) and the run defense gets better, the Longhorns could re-emerge as Big 12 championship contenders this season. They need to improve the running game, but they have some good young linemen and star RB prospect Malcolm Brown coming in. The revamped coaching staff probably will be a plus, too. Texas' coaching staff seemed to have gotten stale. They needed new ideas and new approaches. Also, the schedule isn't overly demanding. One other factor to consider: Last season, coach Mack Brown said there may have been a sense of entitlement, which may have negatively affected Texas. Surely, after a 5-7 season that won't be an issue anymore. But it does make you wonder why there was a sense of entitlement and why that never seems to be an issue at Oklahoma.

I think Texas will be the first to get back to the 10-win level. The Longhorns have plenty of talent returning from a disappointing 5-7 team, but the team still needs to boost its ground game, improve at quarterback and fill some holes in the middle of the defense. Motivation shouldn't be an issue for a program coming off its first losing record since 1997. I think the overhauled coaching staff will pay off, particularly the hiring of new coordinators Manny Diaz (defense) and Bryan Harsin (offense). And the schedule is manageable, with only the Red River Shootout vs. Oklahoma, a visit to Oklahoma State and trips to Missouri and Texas A&M looking perilous. Win the other eight games -- which should happen -- and split the aforementioned four, and Texas is back to double-digit victories.

Of those teams, Texas would be my pick to make it back to 10 wins first. With the right breaks, it could happen this season, but double-digit wins in Austin is probably more realistic for 2012. I'm a believer in the Longhorns' young coordinators, Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz, and I'm not going to doubt the Longhorns' ability to recruit in their talent-rich home state (ranked third in the 2011 team rankings). I can see Tennessee and Georgia following Texas back to 10-win status, though I'm not sure whether Mark Richt will be leading the Bulldogs at the time. What of Clemson? The Tigers brought in a strong recruiting class, and they should be able to put together a 10-win season in the ACC. Then again, we've been saying that since their last 10-win season -- in 1990.

This one is easy -- it's Texas, with Georgia next on the list. I'm really unsure on the other three, and it seems as if Clemson is the ringer here. The Tigers haven't won 10 since 1990, when they were coached by Ken Hatfield; they recruited extremely well this year, but I don't have much faith in the current coaching staff. As for Texas, the Longhorns were the nation's biggest underachiever this past season, and they could get back to the 10-win plateau this fall, though I think it's more legitimate to count on eight or nine victories this fall, then at least 10 in 2012. I think it's all on the offense. New coordinator Bryan Harsin arrives from Boise State, and while the Broncos are known for all their trick plays, that has been an offense that values downhill running most of all. I think Harsin will get Texas on the right running path this fall, and his hiring really will pay off in 2012. It looks as if Oklahoma might be down a bit in '12, which would open the door for Texas to win the Big 12 again.

Texas will be the first of those teams to get back to the 10-win mark, and it could happen as early as this season. Texas had won at least 10 games for nine consecutive seasons before last season's collapse, so I have to think the Longhorns' 2010 struggles were a bit of an anomaly. While the Longhorns' defense might struggle to adapt to life without Will Muschamp, the offense should benefit from an overhaul of the coaching staff. I don't think Garrett Gilbert's dreadful 2010 numbers reflect his abilities as a quarterback. Even if he doesn't live up to his billing as a five-star prospect, Gilbert should develop into a solid Big 12 quarterback. He ought to benefit from all the adversity he encountered last season. The arrival of Malcolm Brown -- the No. 10 overall recruit in the 2011 class -- finally should give Texas some semblance of a rushing attack. While I think Texas is at least a year away from seriously contending for a national title again, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Longhorns go 9-3 in the regular season and win a second-tier bowl to finish 10-3. If enough things fall their way, they might even go 10-2 and contend for a BCS berth.


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