Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer – Texas' season-opener against Florida Atlantic flew under the national radar until Owls' coach Howard Schnellenberger labeled the Horns as a bunch of softies. He has since back peddled from his opening volley, yet served notice this week that he no longer views non-conference mismatches against the Texas' of the world as 'advanced training' for league play. In short, he expects his boys to hang around.
"I think we have enough experience now and enough talent to go out and play man-to-man, jaw-to-jaw, tooth-to-tooth and have a helluva contest and win our share," Schnellenberger said.
In all fairness, Schnellenberger should know. He revived programs at Louisville and at Miami. (His Jim Kelly-led Hurricanes dropped a 14-7 decision to Texas in September, 1981, during Schnelleberger's only other visit to Austin.) Now, FAU officials say Schnellenberger is ahead of schedule after capping a Sun Belt Conference title with a New Orleans Bowl win against Memphis.
Otherwise, the contrast between the Longhorn and Owls programs could not be more stark. The Boca Rotan program hopes to build an on-campus, 30,000 seat stadium (that's no misprint) and currently plays in a 20,000 seat facility shared by local high school teams. Meanwhile, the largest crowd to see a college football game in the southwestern U.S. will greet the Owls when the 98,000th person enters Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday. (It's nice to know that the UT Men's Athletics Sports Information directors counts journalists as people, too.)
The new school record for single-game attendance forms the backdrop for a most intriguing storyline: is coordinator Will Muschamp's defense ahead of schedule as well? Junior QB Rusty Smith is a pro-style pocket passer that many expect to play on Sundays in a couple of years. Smith represents a genuine litmus test for a Texas team looking to atone for the most porous pass defense in school history last season. The Owls averaged 30 points-per-game in 2007, and the Smith-to-WR Cortez Gent combo will move the ball on Texas' young secondary. Yet, Florida Atlantic's injury-thinned offensive line will be unable to consistently repel what appears to be a very angry defensive line and a considerably improved corps of linebackers.
"You can't let a guy like Rusty Smith just stand back there because he's too talented," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
This Saturday, there will be just too much talent standing on Texas' sideline. Texas 34, Florida Atlantic 13.
Ross Lucksinger, InsideTexas.com Editor – Make no mistake, Florida Atlantic is a good football team. The problem is the Texas Longhorns know it.
Because of the changes the Texas football program went through in the off-season, Longhorn fans are much more excited heading into this season than the last couple and the Texas players will be the same way. They won't come out flat, like they did in last year's opener, and will look to make a statement.
Oh, there will be mistakes. The young secondary will miss a couple of assignments and let one big touchdown through and FAU will move the ball enough for fifth-year senior kicker Warley Leroy to chip in a few field goals, but overall it will be a strong debut for Will Muschamp's defense. Florida Atlantic still has issues to take care of on the offensive line and quarterback Rusty Smith, although he will make some plays, will struggle to establish timing with his receivers and will have to relay on one- or two-read rollouts and a sliding pocket to make as much time as possible due to an effective pass rush led by Brian Orakpo.
The Texas offense will be clicking on all cylinders this time for the opener. The main reason will be a much-improved offensive line, which will give quarterback Colt McCoy time to get the ball to his weapons. He may not have a proven weapon at wide receiver past his top two starters, but he's developed great timing with seniors Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby and they'll be enough while the rest of the receiving corps works itself out.
Also helping will be a solid rushing attack. This will be more because of the offensive line than any singularly dominant rusher, but Texas has running backs who know how to hit the hole and those holes will be there on Saturday. Texas 45, Florida Atlantic 16.
Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor – Mercifully the games have returned.
And for Mack Brown, he'll finally get to find out who his starters will be, so he must be happy to see the beginning of the season, too. His "two-deep" released earlier this week left more questions than answers, and even he seemed unsure of who would start and who would relieve at various positions. At least Saturday, he and the rest of us will finally know.
Despite the mysteries surrounding this year's Texas Longhorns football team, there are some certainties that will become apparent once the ball is kicked off on Saturday:
One, despite all of the talk of FAU's "dangerous" passing attack versus Texas' inexperienced secondary, and all of the Appalachian State references, the Owls have absolutely no chance at winning this game. No chance. FAU won eight games last year, but Texas has a pretty fair history of success against teams that throw it all over the yard. Sorry, Howard.
Two, Will Muschamp will want to make a "wow" first impression in front of the home crowd, so he'll be at the top of his game. He'll have his young and enthusiastic defenders ready. He's probably already used the word "soft" with his defenders 100 times this week, so they will be eager to release some fury. With as much passing that will be going on, the Longhorns' defense might score a couple of touchdowns.
Three, Colt McCoy must be one unhappy and under-appreciated quarterback. His buddy, Chase Daniel, is the Sports Illustrated cover boy and a Heisman Trophy candidate to boot. Another 2008 competitor, Todd Reesing of Kansas, is being portrayed as a Jayhawk savior, and someone whom the Longhorns should have recruited. Sam Bradford, the OU signal caller, now has a Big 12 championship ring in his jewelry box. Graham Harrell, yet another Big 12 quarterback, is a record-breaking machine. In short, McCoy is often considered the third-best QB in his division, despite having completed more than 60 percent of his passes last season. He's in great shape, his accuracy in the fall has been uncanny (that's what we hear, since most practices are closed), and he ought to have multiple chips on his shoulder entering the season. He's ready to go, and he'll torch the Owls.
Four, Vondrell McGee will immediately establish himself as the most productive running back on the team. Before last season, you heard grumblings about Jamaal Charles (fumbles too much, can't carry a full load of work, etc.), and you also heard that McGee was looking great. The media being what it is, McGee has no such buzz surrounding him in the 2008 – the back-up is always the preferred option in many people's mind. Against FAU, though, McGee will step off 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and that will be that. McGee is a north-south slasher who doesn't have to be faster than Charles – he simply has to be faster than those trying to stop him, and he is.
FAU is simply not good enough to compete with Texas, despite the Longhorns' question marks. Texas will begin the game as it did in last year's Holiday Bowl, aided by the sound produced by the north end zone renovation. Texas will pounce and smother early. Maybe on another day, in another stadium, the Owls could compete with UT.
Not Saturday in Austin. Texas 46, Florida Atlantic 14.
Michael Pearle, co-Publisher: Howard Schnellenberger's questioning of Texas' manhood provides an immediate gauge of who this Longhorn team will be this season.
Last year, we all thought the Horns would come out smokin' mad against the likes of Kansas State and A&M, two teams which had dashed Texas' hopes for a BCS bowl and even a possible return to the national title game in 2006. And the Aggies had cheap-shotted Colt McCoy in that 2006 game, after which they thumped their chests about it for an entire year. But the Horns did not come out smokin' in those games, but instead got smoked. Not until the Holiday Bowl against Arizona State did the Horns seem to play with any sustained fire and intensity, taking out their anger and frustration on Sun Devil quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who had talked trash in the days leading up to the game.
So will Texas take up where it left off against Arizona State and devastate Florida Atlantic, or play like it did for most of 2007, sandwiching emasculating defeats between nail-biting victories?
My hunch for Saturday is that Texas is going to come out flying, making knockout hits on defense and special teams early to get themselves and the crowd whipped up, leading to some quick Texas points. They will then play solid football and win the game comfortably. Yes, Florida Atlantic is a decent football team with some nice players and a very experienced head coach, from a talent-rich and proud football state, but I feel the Horns have something to prove after the way they have faltered the last two seasons. With Will Muschamp guiding the defense and new blood in the offensive booth a la Major Applewhite, the 2008 Longhorns are a different team from the last two seasons, and will play that way starting Saturday night. Texas 34, Florida Atlantic 20.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher – Has a Longhorn season in the last decade started with less expectation and more question marks for the Orange and White than this 2008 campaign? Probably not since 1998, Mack Brown's first in Austin. That opener for the Horns resulted in a 66-36 score-fest that portended a season of offensive fireworks and defensive disasters. I suspect that we're going to see something if not opposite, at least substantially different in this one than we saw in game one of the Mack Brown era.
For starters, Will Muschamp is roaming the sidelines for the Horns as defensive coordinator, and I simply can't fathom his defense, even with an all-freshman safety corps, giving up anywhere in the neighborhood of 36 points. The front seven – yes, that includes the perennially underachieving linebacker position – is too good to allow that to happen. I expect that his unit will be aggressive, emotional, a bit angry (thanks, Schnellenberger!) and somewhat erratic, at least early, given the youthful secondary, but capable of keeping even a good Florida Atlantic offense from touching the end zone more than twice.
On offense, with an unsettled running back situation and with inexperienced wideouts behind Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, I also can't fathom an offensive output in the 40s, much less the 60s. I'm expecting more ball control than we're used to from a Greg Davis offense (Shipley, Cosby, TE Blaine Irby and even RB Chris Ogbonnaya should all have big days in terms of number of catches), but the offense could also benefit from the defensive aggression if that translates into turnovers created, as I'm expecting.
Overall, the Horns will take care of business. Not dominate, not squeak by, but turn in a solid season-opening performance. The way the schedule sets up, that should be plenty good for this week, and several weeks to come. Texas 31, Florida Atlantic 14.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 43, Florida Atlantic 16.