|Mack Brown and Texas struggled in the Big 12 the last two seasons, but the Longhorns look strong this year. (AP)|
After two years that were well below the lofty standard of success expected at Texas, it appears coach Mack Brown may have the Longhorns back on track in 2012.
"I know we're headed in the right direction," Brown said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "I'm not anointing us as a team that is going to win all the games. I do think last year we didn't have a chance to win all the games. The year before we were poor. Now, nobody's going to say absolutely that we don't have a chance. We got hope. We got more confidence. Our fan base has got more confidence. We know that we got the right coaches in place. I feel like we got some really good players in place. We're headed at a good place for us. We're about to get back to where we need to be."
The latest evidence of that improvement came last Saturday, when Texas throttled Ole Miss 66-31 in Oxford. The Longhorns were never tested, jumping out to a 38-10 lead early in the third quarter.
It's apparent Brown made the right choice when he picked David Ash to be his starting quarterback this season at the end of a long battle between Ash and Case McCoy. After a difficult 2011 season, Ash finally looks comfortable at the controls, throwing for 326 yards and four touchdowns -- on only 23 attempts -- against Ole Miss.
Yes, choosing a starting quarterback is an important task for any head coach, but it was particularly vital for Texas, which was lethargic offensively a year ago as Ash and McCoy alternately claimed the position. With Ash looking steady calling the shots, the Longhorns' running game has opened up, with both Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown rushing for more than 200 yards thus far this season. Each has exactly 37 carries and three touchdowns to his credit, combining to anchor the 16th-best rushing offense in the nation (258.7 ypg).
The offense seems to be hitting its stride, registering 37 points in the opener against Wyoming, 45 in a shutout win over New Mexico the following week, and 66 against an SEC opponent last Saturday. Maintaining that sort of production will be vital in Big 12 play, as No. 12 Texas will have to contend with high-powered offenses at Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor in the next four games.
It helps that UT's defense is also looking reasonably strong. Brown and company boast the 32nd-ranked total defense (328.3 yards per game allowed) and the 28th-best scoring defense (16 ppg). Texas has forced seven turnovers, tied for 15th in the nation.
It's a combination that could bring about better days in Austin, as fans have been frustrated after the Longhorns finished with a losing Big 12 record in each of the last two seasons. It's still early this year, fortunes could change quickly and it should be noted Ole Miss went 2-10 last season, but Texas' performance in that win was just the latest sign that 2012 could see Brown lead UT back to status as a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12 and national championship pictures.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12 on Twitter. You can also follow C.J. (@cjmoore4) and Patrick (@patricksouthern).