College football has arrived.
The Texas Longhorns began their fall camp on Monday, becoming one of the last Big 12 teams to report for workouts, and already the hype for the 2013 college football season is building.
Not to say that it has not been snowballing since Texas' Alamo Bowl victory, but with the season looming closer than ever, the projections and predictions will begin to unfold.
Will Texas win the Big 12? Will the 'Horns reach the BCS? Will Texas' defense rebound after a horrendous 2013 campaign? How effective will Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks be after returning from their respective injuries? How will Major Applewhite fair as the new play-caller in Texas' freshly installed, up-tempo schematics?
These are all questions that should be answered as the season progresses, but the following bold predictions are on the table now.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Wide receiver Mike Davis will haul in more than 1,100 receiving yards.
Texas has not boasted a 1,000-yard receiver since 2009 when Jordan Shipley posted 1,485 yards with Colt McCoy throwing the rock.
Davis decided against leaving early for the NFL and instead returned for his senior season, a choice that could turn into landmark decision for Texas' offensive fortunes in 2013.
After two years of underwhelming production, Davis put up 939 yards receiving and seven touchdowns a year ago, encouraging numbers for a guy that is Texas' ultimate deep-threat.
Davis' connection with Ash has only improved over the course of the past season, and their chemistry and development this year likely will break new boundaries.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Quarterback David Ash will receive All-Big 12 First-Team honors.
All-in for Ash.
The junior signal-caller enters a crucial season on both individual and team bases. Ash had obvious highs and lows a year ago, but his fourth-quarter performance (9/11 ATT, 146 YDS, 2 TD) in the Alamo Bowl generated plenty of momentum going into the spring.
The expectations for Ash are unquestionably higher than ever, but the real challenge to see will be his leadership and confidence through the thick and thin. We saw some of it in the Alamo Bowl, but now we need to see it over a 12-game season during a year where the 'Horns have big plans.
Ash has the pieces in order: a veteran offensive line, a good trio of tailbacks and a great duo at receiver. It is up to him to deliver the offense to win football games.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Texas will field a Top 15 defense by year's end.
The Longhorns came in at No. 67 in total defense in 2012, way down from their No. 11 ranking in 2011.
Texas posted its worst statistical defense in its history last season, but those cloudy days did not come without the silver lining.
With all sorts of injury and performance problems down the middle of the Texas defense, the entire unit suffered. The Longhorns could not stop the run and look lost at times against the pass.
But with 2012 firmly in the past, Texas returns a wealth of experience and talent, although the losses of Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro will be painful.
Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks will return healthy at defensive end and linebacker, respectively, boosting the expectations at both positions.
But it will be the emergence of a few key guys like defensive tackle Malcom Brown, linebackers Peter Jinkens and Steve Edmond and safety Mykkele Thompson that ultimately fill out the rest of the Texas defense.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is coaching for his job this season. Third time is the charm?
Bold Prediction No. 4: Texas will finish the season 10-2.
No set of predictions is complete without a end-of-the-year tally, and the Longhorns are set for a strong campaign this season.
Offensively, the pieces are coming along nicely for a unit that returns every starter and is blessed with tremendous talent. Good -- almost great -- skill guys plus an offensive line that gets all five starters back, and even brings in a junior college player, has already created big expectations. Now, the production will have to follow.
Texas will be wary of matchups against Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, but with big transitions for teams like KSU, OU and BU, the Longhorns have to like where they stand as the likely favorites in all of their games this year.
Will 10-2 win the Big 12? It is hard to say, but Texas has to like its chances if it can reach that mark. Owning the head-to-head with a team like Oklahoma State could prove crucial as the Cowboys were selected by the media to win the conference.
If Texas can protect its home field against a transitioning Kansas State team and the favorite in OSU, then losing two out of TCU, Baylor (both on the road) and Oklahoma (in Dallas) may not seem so earth-shattering in the grand scheme.
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