1) David Ash playing well
Simply put, no player is more important to the Longhorns' chances this season than Ash, something that was proven true a year ago when Texas was talented seemingly everywhere but at quarterback when Ash went down. His injury turned the Longhorns one-dimensional on offense, and didn't allow them to take advantage of a deep and talented group of receivers. The good news? Texas appears to be deep and talented at wideout yet again, and the addition of Blake Whiteley adds a more athletic receiving target at tight end. In short, the receivers are there, and Texas needs decent-to-good quarterback play to take advantage. Ash had a strong scrimmage and according to reports, has emerged as the No. 1 quarterback. If he stays healthy and plays well, Texas should be good offensively.
2) Chevoski Collins making a leap
Adrian Phillips really had an underrated senior year where he was moved all over the place by then-coordinator Greg Robinson hoping to make use of Phillips's versatility and intelligence. While it will be difficult for Texas to replace Phillips's leadership ability and instincts, Collins provides something that Phillips didn't have as a more dynamic athlete and a taller, longer player. Phillips measured just under 5-10 at Texas's Pro Day. Collins is just shy of 6-feet tall and was a standout all-round athlete at Livingston. He's also more of a physical presence, and earned rave reviews during his redshirt season as one of the Longhorns' top young players. True, a lot of players will bounce up and down between the first and second teams in Charlie Strong's first spring as head coach as they try to find the right players and combinations of players. But picking Collins would be a nod to his talent over some more experienced, but ultimately less exciting, options at the position.
3) Specialization of defense
One of the advantages of being Texas from a recruiting standpoint is that the Longhorns don't necessarily have to choose between a big or fast player as some other schools without Texas's recruiting profile often do. So Texas can often land a do-it-all type who has the talent to play in every phase. But there's only one thing: that's not always the most efficient way to do it. Check out the NFL, which has become somewhat of a specialist's league. Sure, if you have J.J. Watt, you're playing him every down. But your average team still rotates guys through depending on situation, putting its best pass-rushers on the field in passing situations and most stout run stoppers in on run-heavy ones. That's why it's exciting to hear that Texas was experimenting with situational substitutions like Naashon Hughes and Peter Jinkens on pass-rushing downs. Even with every-down talents like Cedric Reed, Texas can find other spots to optimize performance by rotating through guys who excel in specific situations. With Texas's depth at linebacker, the odds of Hughes being an every-down player are close to nil. But that doesn't meant the Longhorns shouldn't be able to take advantage of his raw athleticism as a pass-rusher.