Longhorn football debuts this Saturday, and uncertainty abounds both on and off the field. In the past, the questions going into opening weekend were along the lines of, “Will UT be ready for OU?” Or “Which bowl game should I start trying to get tickets for?” Or, after looking at a typical schedule, “Who the hell is Florida International?”
This year, the unanswered questions are much more pressing. The issue at the front of every fan’s mind and the tip of every sports commentator’s tongue is what the future holds at the UT quarterback position. It wasn’t so long ago that Gilbert first laced up his cleats against Rice, bolstered by his generally competent debut in the preceding year’s BCS Championship loss to Alabama. One year later, Gilbert takes the field as a soured investment. After passing for 10 touchdowns and a whopping 17 interceptions last year, Longhorn fans everywhere are wondering if the passing offense will devolve into a game of “jackpot.” Add to this the looming presence of heir-apparent and chronic mouth-breather Case McCoy, and you’ve got the makings for an interesting opener. The plot thickens further now that true freshmen and four-star recruit Connor Wood has announced his transfer to Colorado after his relegation to third on the depth chart.
The concerns over who will lead the Longhorns on the field have recently taken a back seat top the $300 million PR debacle that is the Longhorn Network. The UT-ESPN partnership might have looked like a lucrative quick fix to preserve the Big 12 back when it was first dreamed up, but it has since morphed into a black eye for the university as a whole. Fans are unable to see most of the coverage due to the network being shunned so far by major cable providers. Conference rivals are upset that UT, the most lucrative athletic program in the nation, much less the Big 12, is getting even richer thanks to the deal. The Aggies were angry enough to want to join the SEC. Even the Corps crazies must realize A&M’s indignant departure puts them in a conference that can easily outplay them and even more easily out-recruit them.
Pre-existing distractions aside, the upcoming UT vs. Rice game should be a fun game to watch simply due to the match up. The game serves as a litmus test for this year’s squad, as last year’s less-than-impressive showing against Rice was indicative of the season as a whole. Jaxon Shipley has the rare starting slot for a true freshmen and can hopefully develop a rapport with Gilbert. If they can’t get it together against a Rice defense that allowed an average of 38.5 points per game last year, it could be a long hear for the ‘Horns. Other players to watch include the dual backfield options of Fozzy Whitaker and Cody Johnson, two skill positions that have yet to prove themselves as consistently reliable options. On the other side of the ball, Emmanuel Acho has a pair of large cleats to fill with the departure of brother and defensive dynamo Sam Acho.
If things go as expected, Rice should prove no match for a UT team with strong advantages in talent and depth. Yet the Owls are still quite capable of putting on a great show with their surprisingly strong offense. Rice boasts a running back that hurdles opponents, a quarterback that tested UT’s mettle last year, and a receiver/tight ends trio made up of players that all surpass 6’5″.
Any true fan knows a pregame tailgate is in order before heading over to one of the more important opening games for UT in recent memory. The folks over at Horn-Ball Texas Tailgaters always make for a good choice to fill up on free BBQ, check up on the rest of the Top 25 on HD tvs, and watch the steady stream of burnt orange parade down MLK. If you aren’t one of the lucky 90,000+ that will be in the stadium, you can always catch the game amongst the longhorn faithful cheering at the Horn-Ball encampment in lot 7.
Whether you’re the type that painstakingly paints a longhorn across your chest, or you just like games as an excuse to start drinking on Saturday, this weekend should have great times in store for both devotee and casual observer alike.