The prediction is 10-3, but an improved 10-3 compared to last year's 10-3 record. Given Texas' unsettled situation at RB, DB and TE -- not to mention the lack of depth at DT -- it shapes up as a three-loss season against a tough schedule. We all know Texas faces the strength of the Big 12 North; Missouri will be a Top 10 team when it gets Texas the week after Oklahoma. The Sooners are a legitimate national title contender while Texas travels to Kansas (the only Big 12 team in 2007 to win a BCS game). Nationally-ranked Texas Tech is the chic pick in some circles to actually win the Big 12 and the Horns must travel to Lubbock the week after its annual Jekyll & Hyde game against Oklahoma State. Texas also faces four of the top 11 passers returning from last season, and that doesn't include Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford who led the nation in passing efficiency.
Still, I expect the spirited effort we saw in the Holiday Bowl to carry over into this season. I put a tremendous amount of stock in Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp and the emphases he placed this past spring not only on generating a pass rush but also on attitude and accountability. I don't expect to see a leaderless team implode against squads the caliber of Kansas State and Texas A&M as we saw in 2007. Part of the reason is senior DE Brian Orakpo, senior DT Roy Miller and third-year QB Colt McCoy have been flexing their leadership muscles. I love what McCoy told me right after the Spring Scrimmage: "This team is sick of going 10-3. We're hungry." Frankly, it's the most refreshing thing I've heard from anyone wearing the Burnt Orange in the post-Vince Young era.
OFFENSIVE MVP: QB Colt McCoy
McCoy is a two-time bowl game Offensive MVP and the pick, here, is the junior will complete his fourth year in the program as the team MVP. His 18 interceptions in 2007 were ugly, but his school-record 276 completions were all the more impressive considering he spent half the season running for his life. His ability to at least sell the Zone Read late in the year resulted in former RB Jamaal Charles late surge en route to the Big 12 rushing title. The offensive line was inexperienced and injury-riddled in 2007 but played its best game in the Holiday Bowl. The unit is loaded with talented sophomores and, when combined with true freshmen and the class that Texas is expected to sign, should emerge as the best O-line of the Mack Brown-era. This year, the group should do a much better job of maintaining the pocket and keeping McCoy upright.
DEFENSIVE MVP: DE Brian Orakpo
Orakpo would have been everybody's pre-season All-American had he not missed virtually the equivalent of five games in 2007, the victim of a chop block in the home-opener. He still lead the team with 5.5 sacks and was the Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP. When healthy, Orakpo is the most explosive DE that Brown has ever signed. I'd have 'Rak on my team over Cory Redding any day.
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: WR Malcolm Williams
The 6-3, 225-pounder has emerged as Texas' third receiver, joining Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley in the starting rotation. The First-Team 5A All-Stater from Garland probably could have played as a true freshman but now benefits from a redshirt year.
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: CB Earl Thomas
This is probably a long-shot. The RS-freshman will battle the Browns (Curtis, Chykie) for a backup CB spot, but Thomas generated the most buzz of any DB during spring football. Thomas is another one of those undersized 5-10 guys that have dotted the lineup as of late, but the all-stater from Orange is intensely focused, poised and brings the lumber when he lays the hit. It's also possible he ends up a safety and could be in a race for one of the starting spots there.
BIG IMPACT TRUE FRESHMAN, OFFENSE: WR Dan Buckner
Prep All-American. Texas 5A First-Team All-Stater. An average 19.1 ypc as a senior. Buckner was the offensive jewel of Texas' Class of 2008. Still, it was difficult not to select WR D.J. Grant, easily the steal of the group. But Buckner gets the nod because he enrolled early and coaches made it a point to try to get the ball to him late in the Spring Scrimmage. And how do you pick against a guy who stands 6-4 and plans on wearing No. 4?
BIG IMPACT TRUE FRESHMAN, DEFENSE: DT Jarvis Humphrey
Like Buckner, Humphrey was a Prep All-American. Texas 5A First-Team All-Stater. Obviously, building depth at DT is a priority at August Camp. The prediction here is Humphrey loses his' shirt in the season-opener against Florida Atlanta.
Big 12 South champ: Oklahoma (The Sooners will lose to Oklahoma State but represent the South by virtue of a win over Texas)
Big 12 North champ: Missouri (The Tigers' only regular season loss will be to Texas)
Big 12 Champion: Missouri (Chase Daniel gets it done this time at Arrowhead)
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
The old adage was that if a championship-caliber team is going to lose a game, it needs to lose early. Everything changed in 2007. Not only did both of the teams (Ohio State, LSU) that played January's BCS National Championship Game lose on Senior Day, the eventual national champ had two losses on its resume. Even so, the prediction here is the winner of USC-Ohio State will face the Georgia-Florida victor for college football's grand prize at season's end.
I won't have a dog in this fight, but I think the third time will be the charm for Ohio State. The Buckeyes will ride one of college football's top offensive lines and top secondaries to its third straight appearance in the BCS title game, and that will likely mean a Heisman for RB Beanie Wells. Road trips to Illinois and Wisconsin are the only real hurdles on the Buckeyes' conference schedule. Michigan will have the kind of dismal year in 2008 that Notre Dame suffered in 2007.
Those are IT lead writer Bill Frisbie's picks. Click HERE for Inside Texas Editor Ross Lucksinger's preseason awards for the 2008 Longhorns.
The preseason picks from the entire Inside Texas Staff will be available in the 2008 Football Preview Edition of Inside Texas Magazine. So what are yours? Click HERE to give your own picks on the Inside Texas Members Only message board.