Texas' Top 22 Difference Makers: Nos. 4-1

Texas needs a lot of things to go right in 2015 to have a chance to improve on a 6-7 record in a Big 12 that should have TCU and Baylor in the Top 10 to start the season.

Here's my Top 22 players by order of importance to the success of Texas' 2015 season and why beginning with Nos. 4-1.

  Nos. 22-19.


  Nos. 12-9.

  Nos. 8-5.

No. 4. Tyrone Swoopes, QB, junior

Swoopes didn't sulk about an up-and-down season in 2014 that finished firmly - down - after losses to TCU and Arkansas in which the offense was inept, in part, because of 6 turnovers by Swoopes - 5 vs TCU, 1 vs Ark. Swoopes, who was obviously thinking too much during games last year, slowing down his decision-making, charged into the spring determined to learn, grow and hang onto the starting QB job. If Swoopes indeed holds onto the job, his ranking on this list will go to No. 1. Swoopes says changes to the offense, spreading things out and going up-tempo, have already bolstered his confidence and will lead to improved play. Actions will speak louder than words.

No. 3. Desmond Jackson, DT, senior

When big guys suffer foot injuries, it's a scary thing, and Jackson suffered one of the most difficult to recover from - a lis franc injury. The reports are that Jackson is in line to make a full recovery, and that's great news for a defensive line that should be the strength of the Texas team. Jackson is a heart-and-soul player on this defense, who always gives max effort and makes a great 1-2 punch with the No. 2 player on my list.

No. 2. Hassan Ridgeway, DT, junior

If Ridgeway keeps figuring out how good he can be, he could end up as the most disruptive force on a defense that should have some capable disruptive forces. It's not out of the question for Ridgeway to play at an All-Big 12 level after posting 6 sacks last season. I expect Ridgeway to reach double-digit sacks in 2015, which is saying a lot from the DT position. That would be Casey Hampton-Shaun Rogers-type stuff. But Ridgeway is capable of that.

No. 1. Jerrod Heard, QB, redshirt freshman

Heard had the kind of spring the Texas team needed him to have. He showed great improvement (and still has a long way to go). But Heard had to prove to his teammates and coaches that he could warrant playing time in the 2015 season. And Heard, by completing his first nine passes against the No. 1 defense in the spring game, showed he's up for the challenge. Again, Notre Dame and TCU are going to turn Heard's world upside down in terms of disguising coverage and blitzes. But that's where Heard's elusiveness as a runner may give him an edge over Tyrone Swoopes if Heard continues to learn and grow in the offense and stops staring down receivers. When Shawn Watson said he told Heard that Heard's development was the biggest thing to happen for the team in the spring, he wasn't kidding. Perhaps most importantly, Heard has the alpha-male, love-of- the-big-stage attitude this team sorely needs on offense this season.


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