Charles Kano, senior writer for truebluecougars.com spoke with Texas Longhorn insiders Mike Barnes, of KVUE TV in Austin, and Peter Bean, co-founder and editor at Burnt Orange Nation blog. We asked them a series of questions to help Cougar fans get familiar with the University of Texas and its football team in anticipation for the matchup against the Longhorns in Austin this weekend.
What is the buzz around campus and the community about the matchup against BYU?
Barnes: Everyone is just excited about the win (against Rice) after the disappointing season they had last year. No one is really looking forward to BYU just yet.
Bean: Longhorn fans are encouraged by the opening-week win. There were problems with execution, but the new approach was refreshing. Most fans have not seen a lot of BYU over the last little while. This team may not be equal to the great BYU teams of past, but it should be a good test for the Longhorns.
Coming off a 5-7 season, what are Longhorn fan expectations for the season?
Barnes: Hopeful. Head coach Mack Brown brought in a couple of new coordinators in Manny Diaz and Bryan Harsin. Those two are changing all the things that led Longhorn fans to boo last season.
Bean: Texas fans always expect to win 10 games and the conference, but I think they are realistic and understand we have a new staff and young talent. Eight wins would be good, but most fans will just expect that the team will get better each game a have a strong finish.
What do Longhorn fans know about the Cougars? How familiar are they with BYU?
Barnes: Texas fans know about the great quarterbacks, (Jim) McMahon, Gifford Nielson, Steve Young and Ty Detmer. It has been a while since the teams have played, I believe since the back-to-back seasons in '87 and '88. Most fans don’t know much about the current BYU program.
Bean: Longhorn fans don’t know much about this BYU team. They are aware they have a promising young quarter back in Jake Heaps. They also know that they have a defense that seems to be coming together. Most of all, they know that a Bronco Mendenhall-coached team will be very physical and will not be intimidated by playing Texas.
What is something BYU fans should know about the game day experience in Austin?
Barnes: It's hot. Things have cooled down a bit the last week, so they might catch a bit of a break.
Texas also has one of the biggest stadiums a team can play in. It seats 101,000. It has two decks almost all the way around, which means visiting teams feel like the fans are right on top of them. It is a just a massive structure, so it can be very intimidating.
Texas fans love to tailgate and can be found tailgating for miles around the stadium. Some Longhorn tailgaters have been in the same spot for years and years.
Texas fans are known for being very hospitable to visiting fans. Now, if Texas should lose, it might be a little different story for fans after the game.
Bean: Texas fans want opposing teams to leave saying that they loved Austin and loved UT. Fans are extremely friendly and welcoming. Visiting fans should expect to be invited to join in on the tailgating experience. On game days the entire town goes Burnt Orange, and the fans are very knowledgeable fans, not loud and rowdy like what you get at LSU.
What is the latest surrounding Texas and the Big 12?
Barnes: Things aren’t looking good, and a lot of it has to do with the Longhorn Network. The network is really dividing the conference. Most other conferences don’t want a team with their own network either, so it really limits options. Some people are saying Pac-12, Big Ten and now the ACC. In short, the situation is very combustible.
Bean: Texas would like to cobble together a patchwork solution to keep the Big 12 together. What we are finding out is, they are not the ones driving the timeline. Most likely, a Pac-16 or independent scenario is going to happen. I could even see an alliance of independent teams with Notre Dame, BYU and Texas working in a cooperative rather than a conference.
What, if anything, are you hearing about BYU in conference realignment discussions?
Barnes: The old school or supporters of the Big 12 are looking at BYU as the simplest solution for keeping the Big 12 together. Most of that has to do with them already being independent. I think BYU would fit in fine in the Bif 12. This is no longer the old Southwest conference or just a Texas/Oklahoma conference, and BYU would positively increase the footprint of the Big 12.
Bean: BYU would fit in well with the Big 12. However, I think BYU likes what they have as a independent. I think they (would) turn down an offer to the Big 12, as everyone see it as a dying conference.
What has been learned about this Texas team after their 34-9 win over Rice?
Barnes: Texas is still in a transition period. Texas certainly did not dominate, and Rice was not good. Other Big 12 teams went out and dominated in their games. Some fans found the outcome eerily similar to the beginning of last year where Texas won at Rice 34-17 and then went on to finish 5-7.
Bean: Texas has a way to go in terms of execution. There are signs they can be good, as they have four excellent running backs that all bring different things to the table.
Texas also has a stout defense. They are fast, especially around the edges, although teams that run up the middle might have some success against Texas.
What is the Longhorns' biggest strength coming into the game?
Barnes: Texas has two solid senior linebackers in 6-foot-3, 240 pound Keenan Robinson and 6-foot-2, 245 pound Emmanuel Acho. These two are the key to the Longhorn defense and its success. On offense they have two running backs, senior Fozzy Whittaker and freshman Malcolm Brown. (Brown) was the most highly-recruited running back coming out last year.
Bean: Ability to take away a team's outside run game. They will make Heaps win it on his own in the air. The overall speed of the Longhorn defense should give them an advantage.
What is the Longhorns' biggest perceived weakness?
Barnes: Offensive line is the biggest perceived weakness. In their title run years, the Longhorns enjoyed some great offensive lines. Since then, the line has been young and not particularly strong. That might be changing as freshman center Dominic Espinoza was named the most valuable offensive lineman against Rice.
Bean: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert is shaky and having trouble with even the short and intermediate routes. He continues to demonstrate that he is a one-read quarter that doesn’t have a ton of confidence.
On defense, the secondary is green with cornerbacks that will make mistakes and have trouble covering the outside routes and passes. They were not tested at all by Rice.
Who are the Longhorns’ playmakers and team leaders?
Barnes: On defense, senior safety Blake Gideon leads the team and is very solid in the secondary. On offense, quarterback Garrett Gilbert is the leader with the playmakers being his receivers Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley.
Bean: Malcom Brown is the playmaker on offense. He is phenomenally gifted and has incredible vision. Mike Davis, a senior receiver, will be used by former Boise State coordinator Bryan Harsin, similarly to the way he used Titus Young at Boise State. Davis cannot be guarded one-on-one, and if you try he will beat you deep.
What are the keys to the game for Texas to be successful?
Barnes: Texas needs to be two-dimensional on offense with a nice mix of rushing and passing. They need to avoid turnovers against the BYU defense. They can’t give up any big plays against the BYU offense.
Bean: Texas has to stop the run and make BYU one dimensional. They need to put pressure on Heaps and make him beat Texas by himself. Texas needs Garrett Gilbert to have a good start keep the BYU defense honest so they can’t key on the run.
Texas has to protect the ball. They were atrocious last year, giving up a lot of turnovers. This game should be close so turning the ball over, and giving Heaps and his offense a short field could be a big deal.
Who do you think wins and give us a score?
Barnes: Texas, because it is a home game. If it where in Utah, I might go BYU. Based on last week's games I would say this will be a low-scoring affair with Texas winning 24-23.
Bean: I will say Texas because they are at home. I see this a low-scoring game with Texas winning 24-23.
Who do you think will be the game MVP?
Barnes: Malcolm Brown. Brown was the leading rusher last week. Fans knew when he was in the game, and there was electricity in the air.
Bean: Malcom Brown. He is the kind of back that will wear you out over an entire game. He can carry the ball 20 times in the second half and pound out a win.
Charles Kano is a senior writer for truebluecougars.com, a Deseret News partner. He is an avid sports fan with a particular interest in high school and college athletics.