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Season Predictions

If you look at the current state of the Texas football program, the Longhorns are in the middle of the Rocky film series.

Does Mack Brown mirror Rocky Balboa entering the 2013 season?

Everybody likes to draw their own analogies for things; but looking closely, this one fits.

The course of the 2010 season might as well have been Mickey telling Rocky, in Rocky III, that he'll be beaten and embarrassed by a younger, hungrier and better Clubber Lang. By the time the 2010 season ended – just as the Longhorns were left to pick up the pieces after 5-7 – Rocky was beaten badly, his title was gone and Mickey died of a heart attack.

With everything around him in shambles Mack Brown, like Rocky, has to figure out what happened. Both admit than complacency and feeling fat and happy at the top of the heap left them vulnerable to the young up-and-coming tiger being able to knock them off of the perch.

Like Rocky, Mack needed to find the eye of the tiger. He had to reinvent himself. Whereas Rocky decided to head to Los Angeles to train with one-time arch rival Apollo Creed, Mack got rid of Greg Davis, brought in Bennie Wylie to help the strength program and hired some younger, hungry assistant coaches.

Not everything just fell into place from there though. It's a process that had to take place.

For all intents and purposes, the Oklahoma game last season for Mack was the scene in the movie where Apollo, frustrated at Rocky's lack of dedication and focus, wonders how bad he really wants to be back on top. Is he willing to fight and claw as hard as he did before? Does the fire still burn?

Eventually Rocky gets over Mickey's death, pulls himself together and wins the rematch with Lang. Mack pulled himself together and has talked all offseason about how he's ready for this program to make another run.

Well, we know what happened to Rocky. Now, it's Mack Brown's turn to climb into the ring for the first round of a 13-round season of what the Longhorns hope is championship football.

Can David Ash be a quarterback capable of being a championship winner for the Longhorns?

In one final look at this team prior to the start of the season, I'll lay out my preseason predictions in this special edition of The 2-4-7.

2: Reasons why I feel the Longhorns will go 10-2

1. The improvement of David Ash and the offense
My colleague Rod Babers hit the nail on the head in regards to Ash in his pregame thoughts leading up to the opener.

“If Johnathan Gray is moving the chains and Daje Johnson and Mike Davis are changing the game, then all Ash has to do is manage the game.”

Don't take game manager to mean someone who won't take risks. Ash will have to have outings like he had against Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and the second half of the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State if the Longhorns are going to hit their ceiling.

Major Applewhite has geared this offense to where Ash's job is to get the ball out quickly to his space playmakers or tuck the ball under his arm and get yards with his legs. It's an offense where Ash should succeed as he has a complete cast of playmakers that can be trusted to make plays.

The Longhorns enter this season with few unknowns on the offensive side of the ball. As good as the Longhorns were at times last season, the ceiling for this group is that it could be one of the better offenses in the country if the playmakers make plays and Ash has grown to where his mistakes don't come in bunches.

2. The presence of Jordan Hicks
One last time, let me state that the defensive front seven I saw in practice is untold times better than what we saw during the bad stretches last season with Hicks on the field. Whether it's communication, pursuit to the ball, energy, everything if being done at a much higher level with Hicks on the field.

Jordan Hicks' presence and healthy is hugely important to the Longhorns' success this season.

Hicks and Ash are the two guys this team can't afford to lose for long stretches due to injuries. Simply because Ash is a rock solid presence at quarterback and with Hicks' prowess in the middle, I feel like this team is much more likely to be 10-2 or possibly 11-1 than they are to be 8-4.

If those two go down or aren't in the lineup for long stretches of time this season, then all bets are off as to what this team will or won't be able to do. With both on the field, this is a team capable of winning the Big 12.

4: Games that will make or break this season

1. Oklahoma in Dallas, Oct. 12
Do I really need to say more? If the Longhorns go 11-1 but the one loss is to Oklahoma there's going to be a healthy portion of the fanbase unhappy with the results.

That happens when you have two straight losses to your biggest rival by a combined 80 points. This is without question the biggest game of the season for the Longhorns and a series Texas needs to get turned back in the right direction.

2. At BYU, Sept. 7
BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy might be the best defensive player the Longhorns see all season. For a team that's had it's toughness questioned all offseason, this game will be a good measuring stick for where the Longhorns stand against an opponent that will hit them in the mouth and keep charging all day long.

With this game preceding a first-half stretch that includes Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU, this game could go a long way towards telling how well the Longhorns will fare in a game where they'll need to come prepared for a street fight and wait for the football game to break out.

The fact that the Longhorns have spent some offseason time training with aid of altitude masks speaks how pivotal this game is on the schedule.

Johnathan Gray seems poised for a big year in his sophomore campaign.

3. Ole Miss, Sept. 14
I struggled between this game and TCU, but for the Texas defense they'll be able to return to the scene of the crime. Last year's win in Oxford provided the first tangible signs that something was amiss with the Longhorn stoppers.

The Rebels have experience, talent and they've already been tested after a thrilling come-from-behind win on Thursday night against Vanderbilt. It's quite possible that Ole Miss will have the most future NFL talent of anyone Texas sees this season.

4. Oklahoma State, Nov. 16
The games in the series are almost always close, including last season's win for Texas in Stillwater. It's also important because the Longhorns are a Joe Bergeron faux fumble away from possibly being in the midst of a three-game series skid to the Cowboys.

Aside from the opponent itself, this game ends a four-game stretch that includes road trips TCU and West Virginia. I personally don't believe there's a team in this Big 12 that can withstand a four-game stretch in consecutive weekends without suffering a loss.

The Longhorns will put that theory to the test.

7: Predictions for the 2013 season

1. Johnathan Gray will be the first Longhorn running back since Jamaal Charles in 2007 to go over 1,000 yards in a season. I'm not expecting him to go crazy and lead the nation in rushing or anything of that nature, but I think an 1,100-yard season is feasible based on what I saw in practice. The Longhorns don't have any superstars on offense, but Gray is the closest thing to one the way I see it.

2. By the Oklahoma game Desmond Harrison will work his way into the starting lineup. It'll take him some time to get acclimated, but the first line the Longhorns will run onto the field against the Sooners will feature Trey Hopkins at center, Donald Hawkins at left guard and Harrison at left tackle.

3. Jackson Jeffcoat will finish the regular season with 10.5 sacks. The next closest man to him on the tally sheet will be Cedric Reed at six, followed by Malcolm Brown at 4.5 and both Jordan Hicks and Chris Whaley with 3.5. The Longhorns as a team will lead the Big 12 in sacks for the second straight season.

4. Jordan Hicks will be a first team All-Big 12 selection, get some All-America recognition and be a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. If he's healthy the entire season then he's shown that his play when healthy can be tremendous. He'll be the heart and soul of the Longhorn defense.

5. Texas will either lose, or be in a pickle in a game because of shoddy placekicking. Anthony Fera will get his shot, but at some point he'll struggle and Nick Jordan will get another shot. For the second year in a row placekicking will be an issue.

6. At some point in the year we'll see Carrington Byndom supplant Mykkele Thompson as a starter at safety. It's not that Thompson will be bad, but the coaches will feel at some point as though having Byndom, Sheroid Evans and Duke Thomas on the field at the time in a base package makes them a better defensive team.

7. The Longhorns will be the Big 12 representative in the Fiesta Bowl and will face Oregon as an at-large team. Manny Diaz's spring visit to Stanford pays off as Texas knocks off the Ducks to finish the season at 11-2 and ranked in the top five in the country.

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