Hope springs eternal for Longhorns

Coming off a 9-4 season, Mack Brown thinks the Longhorns will be significantly improved in 2013. Cooper Neill/Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas -- While so many have been pointing at Mack Brown as the source of Texas' ills and, quite frankly, their personal ire, the Texas coach has been pointing to 2013.

By then Texas would be back on track and in a better position to compete on a national level, the Longhorns' coach has contended more than a time or two.

Well, 2013 arrived with the opening of spring practice Thursday. And despite all of Brown's self- and team-imposed expectations, the coach said that pressure has yet to touch him or the team.

"I think that there is, I would say, excitement more than pressure," Brown said. "Got 19 of 22 starters back. We have got a chance to get the program back to a top-level program. And with what's happening right now, keep it there.

"We had to go through a process here of getting it back, and I think we are headed back in the right direction and we have shown that over the last two years, and I think we'll see more progress this year," he added.

As for winning more than nine games and the ramifications if his team does not, Brown said, "We try and win every game. That's what we try to do."

Thing is, that is not what Texas has done, particularly when it comes to Oklahoma or any other team with equal or slightly lesser talent. Now Texas did get a quality win at Oklahoma State, its first since beating Nebraska in 2010, and finished the season with a win against Oregon State, which probably was ranked too high in comparison with its talent level. Those two games, and a selective memory, could provide a modicum of hope. And that is the way Brown has elected to view things.

"We feel like we are taking a lot of momentum and excitement in the spring practice after the comeback win at Oregon State," Brown said. "Guys came back really pumped up in January for the offseason program. And I do feel like it's been the best offseason program we've had in the last four."

Considering the results following the previous three -- 5-7, back-to-back losses to OU by a combined 80 points -- it had better be the best offseason program Texas has had in the past four, or next offseason might be rampant with change.

As for changes this spring, the biggest is the switch to an up-tempo offense. Oh yeah, and the fact that Texas has decided to go ahead and name a starting quarterback.

"I think we are seeing David Ash as the clear-cut starting quarterback going into spring," Brown said.

Brown brushed past Ash's deficiencies and instead relayed that Ash had won 10 of his past 13 games as a starter. True enough, and two of those wins were over Associated Press-ranked teams. Brown also placed the blame for the TCU game on the coaches for not recognizing Ash's injury, a revised stance from four months ago.

So it is clear that Brown has decided to fully support Ash, a move that should allow the offense to progress at a more rapid pace than it did the previous two years.

As for the pace with which that offense will play, Brown said he would like to see Texas snap the ball around 85 times a game. Texas averaged 68.5 snaps per game in 2012.

And as for attaining such offensive proficiency in such a short period of time, well, Brown went all Alfred E. Neuman again, refusing to worry and instead pointing out that Texas has been down this road before.

"We did it with Vince [Young] in one offseason," Brown said. "The other thing we have done is we have done it a lot. We really planned on doing it the whole game at Oregon State, couldn't run the ball to start the game, and what we did, we ended up doing it at the end of the game."

It was extremely effective at the end of that game, as Texas scored 21 second-half points in the win. But the maturation at which Brown gauged the spread offense Feb. 21 is slightly different from where he gauged it just 15 days ago.

"We wanted to do tempo most of the Oregon State game, but we couldn't because we weren't ready for it," he said Feb. 6. "We only had five or six plays. Our coaches were limited in that package."

But now apparently Texas is ready for the spread, Ash as the unquestioned starter and spring. Just as Texas and Brown are ready to fulfill the expectations they have been placing on themselves the past two seasons.