The outlook for the Big 12 this season has zigged and zagged like a Vince Young broken-field run ever since the Texas quarterback sprinted into the end zone to win the national championship.
Winners of 20 straight games, the Longhorns would've been a certain preseason No. 1 in the country, not just the conference had Young stuck around Austin for his senior season. After months of saying he would, Young turned pro, leaving Texas without an experienced quarterback and lowering expectations for 2006.
They weren't even picked to win their own division, the Big 12 South.
Oklahoma got the nod, in part because the Sooners went through the growing pains of breaking in a young quarterback last season. Sophomore Rhett Bomar won six of his last seven games and was only expected to get better, especially with running back Adrian Peterson returning to full strength.
Then, last week, Bomar was kicked off the team for violating NCAA rules.
So, ready or not, the Longhorns became the Big 12 favorites again.
Years of highly ranked recruiting classes have left Texas loaded with talent. Coach Mack Brown has 16 returning starters, including sophomore running back Jamaal Charles, and depth at nearly every position except the most important one.
It was tough recruiting anyone to back up Young. Brown didn't fret over it because he wasn't expecting to need a replacement until 2007.
"I thought Vince would come back, very honestly; I might have been the only one in America that did," said Brown, quickly adding that he believes Young made the right decision.
The next decision is Brown's. Does he go with redshirt freshman Colt McCoy or Jevan Snead, who finished high school a semester early and began college in January?
"Both of those young guys exceeded our expectations in the spring," Brown said. "They've shown great leadership ... But we also will not know who they are in practice. We'll have to wait until we put them in a pressure situation, in a ballgame, to learn more about them."
If he hadn't just won a national championship, detractors would be accusing Brown of making excuses. Not anymore.
He ripped off his "can't win the big one" label by leading Texas on a run that's featured the school's first national title since 1969, the first conference title of his coaching career, two Rose Bowl victories and the end of a five-game losing streak to Oklahoma.
Young's departure gives Brown some leeway this season, especially with Ohio State coming to Austin on Sept. 9. The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge a loss on their home turf last season and they'll be chasing a freshman quarterback. Or two.
Conference favorite: Texas
Surprise team: Colorado
Best game: Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 7)
Deseret Morning News staff