I-A College Football News
Texas hosts Arkansas State to kick off season
Aug 29, 2007, 15:26 GMT
Austin, TX - The fourth-ranked Texas Longhorns begin another season with hopes of winning the national championship, and they are heavily favored against the Arkansas State Indians in this non-conference clash.
Arkansas State won the Sun Belt Conference title two years ago and entered the 2006 campaign with lofty expectations. Last season ended in disappointment, however, as the club's 6-6 overall record fell short of the goal. With 12 returning starters between the offense and the defense, the hope is that ASU can return to the top of the SBC standings.
The Longhorns are coming off a three-loss season, a fine accomplishment for most programs, but a disappointment these days in Austin. With a big game against TCU coming up next week, the goal for Texas in the opener will be to stay focused and execute. Mack Brown's team will play Texas Tech, Nebraska and aforementioned TCU at home, and the biggest challenge of all will come October 6th against Oklahoma in the annual rivalry game. The Longhorns have won at least 10 games the last six seasons, as they are the only Football Bowl Subdivision school to accomplish that feat.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between Texas and Arkansas State in football.
Arkansas State ranked an impressive 29th in the nation in rushing yards (167.7 ypg) last season and they have the weapons to be just as successful in '07. Leading the charge once again will be sophomore tailback Reggie Arnold, who burst on the scene last year. The 5-9, 217-pound Arnold has blazing speed and could contend for SBC Player of the Year honors after rushing for 1,076 yards behind a 5.1 ypc average in '06. Finding that level of success against Texas, however, will be difficult. Fellow sophomore Corey Leonard also has a great deal of potential and he should benefit significantly from the experience gained during his rookie campaign. The speedy quarterback rushed for 331 yards and two scores last season, but struggled with his passing, completing just 49 percent of his tosses for 1,321 yards. It will be interesting to see if he can use his athleticism to avoid Texas pass rushers on Saturday.
The Indians were outstanding against the pass (160.9 ypg) last season, and with three starters welcomed back in the secondary, a repeat performance is expected. Highlighting the secondary are senior safeties Tyrell Johnson and Khayyam Burns. Johnson led the squad with 63 tackles last season, while Burns finished second with 60 stops to go along with a team-high four interceptions. The secondary will have to be especially strong this season, as the Indians return just two starters from the front seven. Senior Koby McKinnon is the lone returning starter at linebacker. The 6-3, 215-pound McKinnon is a playmaker and could be ready for a breakout campaign after posting 57 stops, three sacks and 5.5 TFLs a year ago. The only other returning starter up front is defensive tackle Prince Hickman. The 6-1, 290-pound senior posted 21 tackles last season, and while he lacks some size, he does have the quickness to get into the backfield on a regular basis.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy etched his name into the Longhorns' annals in his first season, setting freshman records with 10 wins and 2,570 passing yards en route to earning national Freshman of the Year honors. His 29 touchdowns were more than any other quarterback in school history. So now, with a year under his belt and a few extra pounds on his frame, the sky is the limit for McCoy. Limas Sweed (41 catches, 801 yards, 12 TDs) and Billy Pittman (35 catches, four TDs) are both back on the roster, but the talented targets are injured and will almost certainly miss this opener. Sweed has a wrist problem that isn't considered too serious, but Pittman has a slightly more serious shoulder problem. In the backfield, Jamaal Charles (831 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, seven TDs) has the potential to be one of the top backs in the Big 12 Conference. However, he will be running behind an offensive line that graduated three All-Big 12 selections.
The Longhorns have had to replace a pair of All-Americans and a three-year starter in the secondary this offseason, the biggest area of concern. Senior Marcus Griffin, who was second on the team with 90 tackles last year, leads the charge at free safety. Drew Kelson makes the move to safety from linebacker, while seniors Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer may take over at cornerback. Up front, there are not as many question marks, as the Longhorns return a pair of defensive tackles and a trio of linebackers from a unit that ranked third in the nation against the run. Senior defensive tackles Frank Okam (6-6, 320) and Derek Lokey (6-2, 280) anchor the line. At linebacker, the team returns all three starters in Robert Killebrew, Rashad Bobino and Scott Derry.
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