It’s an odd thing to call a 7-5 season a success — especially at Texas.
But, all things considered, this year was one.
Think about it. The Longhorns never found a quarterback out of their three candidates. They played 18 true freshmen. The heart of the team was lost for the season with three games left to play and the best receiver and two top running backs were hobbled for the final stretch.
2011 might not be the great wall the Longhorns wanted to build when they began their brick-by-brick mantra in early August, but it’s better than a mountain of rubble.
Let’s take a look back at the best — and worst — moments of one of the more interesting seasons in the Mack Brown era.
Best win: Texas 27, A&M 25. One for the record books, and the best game between two mediocre teams that you’ll ever see.
Best storyline: The comebacks of Blaine Irby and Fozzy Whittaker were most impressive. Irby’s was the most impressive — the tight end overcame a gruesome knee injury — as he opened camp as the starter and finished his season with a touchdown catch in the final three games, including a one-handed, toe-dragging score in the back of the end zone against Baylor. Whittaker didn’t have to battle through any awful knee injuries — although, sadly, he will soon have to — but shed his label as “injury-prone” and established himself as one of the more dynamic players in the nation, returning kickoffs for touchdowns in consecutive games, along with seven total scores on offense, in just a half a season of action.
Hero: Justin Tucker, who became the next famous Texas kicker with a 40-yard boot in the final seconds to beat Texas A&M in the last scheduled game between the two rivals.
Runner-up: The Texas defense, which kept the team afloat for most of the season.
Worst loss: The 17-5 loss to Mizzou never should have happened. And it was made possible by the crushing loss of Whittaker, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter of the game. If the Longhorns were given a do-over, they’d win that thing in their sleep. That sleepy game in Columbia is the difference between 7-5 and 8-4.
Best hire: Manny Diaz, and it’s not even close. Even though it had to go up against elite offenses in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Baylor, the Texas defense finished the regular season ranked the 14th best in the nation.
Best rehire: Duane Akina, who came back to Texas after a month at Arizona in the offseason, has developed his next great crop of defensive backs. Next year will be a very strong one for the Texas secondary.
Worst development: The ongoing quarterback saga, which was played out so long that Texas enters 2012 with no answer at the position. Garrett Gilbert gave way to Case McCoy, who gave way to David Ash, who gave way to Jay Leno, who gave way to Conan O’Brien, who gave way to McCoy, who gave way back to Leno. I’m so confused.
Goat(s): All involved in the creation and distribution (or lack thereof) of the Longhorn Network. It’s a shame that a TV channel has to overshadow the Longhorns’ efforts on the field and trigger a shift in conference realignments so drastic that the Big 12 lost two 100-year-old rivalries (Texas A&M-UT and Missouri-Kansas), but no column documenting the peaks and valleys of this year can go without mentioning the Longhorn Network.
Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: Recapping the ups and downs of 2011