Running over non-conference foes Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss in the first three weeks of the campaign wasn't at all surprising, but winning at Oklahoma State (41-36) in the Big 12 opener had many thinking UT could be for real.
A 48-45 loss at home to West Virginia was heartbreaking, and Brown's club followed that up with its most embarrassing effort of the season as it was rolled by rival Oklahoma in a 63-21 final. The Longhorns weren't about to pack it in though, as they would go on to win their next four games, albeit against Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
Back-to-back losses to TCU and Kansas State closed the regular season, and at 8-4 (5-4 in conference) Texas was relegated to second-tier bowl status -- a date with Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. The Longhorns got past the Beavers, 31-27, but with a record of 22-16 (11-15 Big 12) over the past three years, the time is now for Brown to restore the 'Horns to their former glory.
OFFENSE: Texas returns eight starters on offense, including the entire line, an experienced quarterback, and a talented receiving corps, and that suits Brown just fine as the team transitions back to a spread formation.
David Ash enters his junior year hoping his becomes a household name, but in order to do so he will need to improve upon the 2,699 yards, 19 TDs and eight interceptions he accounted for a season ago. Having receivers Jaxon Shipley (59 receptions, 737 yards, six TDs) and Mike Davis (57 recs., 939 yards, seven TDs) back will certainly help, and having a huge target in sophomore tight end M.J. McFarland will be a bonus as well as the big man (6-foot-6) can expect to hear his number called quite often.
At the Big 12 media event in late July, Brown remarked about how important it is to have a veteran quarterback on which to rely.
"When you think about the importance of that player at all levels of our game, it is really, really key, and that's why we're so excited to have David with experience, with maturity, with confidence not only in himself but in his team. He's leading the team much better, and they believe in him right now."
The UT run game will feature last year's top gainer in Johnathan Gray, who rumbled his way to 701 yards and three TDs, and the 16 rushing scores produced by Joe Bergeron (127 carries, 567 yards) gave the team a major boost as well. Also figuring in the backfield mix is Malcolm Brown (61 carries, 324 yards, four TDs).
DEFENSE: The Longhorns were solid against the pass (212.0 ypg, 36th nationally) last season, but had a difficult time defending the run (192.2 ypg, 88th nationally, 29 rushing TDs allowed, worst in the Big 12). As a result, the unit allowed more yards (5,244) than any Texas defense in history.
The hope is that having as many as nine guys back with starting experience will help with continuity, but plain and simple ... the guys up front need to do a better job of getting off the ball and clogging holes quickly, while those in the defensive backfield need to lock down their man with greater consistency.
Guys to keep an eye on include senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (11 TFL, four sacks), junior linebacker Steve Edmond (103 tackles), junior cornerback Quandre Diggs (club-best four interceptions) and senior corner Carrington Byndom (three picks). Still others who could make major strides this season include linebackers Jordan Hicks and Peter Jinkins, the former of whom is battling his way back from a major hip injury suffered early last season.
Brown acknowledged the need to play better on defense, "We've got to change who we are across the league defensively. You're just trying to keep them from scoring more points than you're getting, come up with some turnovers and keep them out of the end zone."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Former Penn State Nittany Lion Anthony Fera appears to be the man Brown will turn to as his punter, and while he is also an accomplished placekicker, a previous groin injury may keep him out of that role for the most part this season. If that holds true, expect to see a guy like sophomore Nick Rose handling that chore. With regard to the return game, there is no shortage on speedsters capable of taking one the distance.
OUTLOOK: This very well could be a make or break season for Brown, and if the 'Horns don't get off to a fast start, the pressure will likely boil over rather quickly.
Opening at home against New Mexico State should certainly result in victory, but a trip to BYU in week two could be difficult. Playing SEC foe Ole Miss seven days later won't be a picnic either, and the Big 12 opener versus Kansas State, whether played in Austin or not, has trouble written all over it.
A visit to Iowa State is next, followed by the annual rivalry matchup with Oklahoma and a trip to TCU. The remainder of the schedule has the Longhorns hitting the road to battle West Virginia and Baylor, and back home against Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Needless to say, it's anyone's guess as to how well Texas will do this year, but with a slew of returning talent, and some changes in terms of offensive schemes, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see the 'Horns playing meaningful games late into the season.