Texas Longhorns season preview

Previewing the 2014 season for the Texas Longhorns:

Key returners: DE Cedric Reed, RB Malcolm Brown, CB Quandre Diggs, DT Malcom Brown, RB Johnathan Gray.

Key losses: DE Jackson Jeffcoat, K/P Anthony Fera, WR Mike Davis, OG Trey Hopkins, QB Case McCoy.

Most important 2014 games: Sept 6. vs. BYU, Sept. 13 vs. UCLA (AT&T Stadium), Oct. 4 vs. Baylor, Oct 11 vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl)

Projected win percentage: 57.5 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 7½ wins

Instant-impact newcomers: RB Donald Catalon, WR Armanti Foreman, DT Poona Ford. Texas will count on several freshmen to shore up depth in key spots. Foreman should be one of several young wideouts who play early on, and Catalon is the clear No. 3 option at running back. QB Jerrod Heard isn't listed here simply because, as the current third-string QB, there's no guarantee he plays.

High point from 2013: Defeating Oklahoma 36-20 last season in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns were two-touchdown underdogs, a loss away from 3-3 and facing an undefeated, No. 12 Sooners squad that had whipped them for three consecutive seasons. But Texas owned the line of scrimmage, Brown and Gray each rushed for more than 100 yards and Mack Brown got the last laugh.

Low point from 2013: Losing to Oregon 30-10 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Ducks didn't bring their "A" game that night, but Marcus Mariota was masterful. After a crazy, emotional final month, the Longhorns failed to send Brown off with a victory in his final night in burnt orange.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Texas figures out it's really good at two things -- playing defense and running the ball -- and Charlie Strong coaxes more toughness out of his team, especially up front. The Longhorns get 12 healthy, solid games out of David Ash and the pieces all come together. They rally and regroup after a tough loss to UCLA, beat either Baylor or Oklahoma and win five of their final six games to finish 9-3, good for a share of the Big 12 title.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: A few injuries to critical veterans (including Ash) and some tough breaks in tight games makes 2014 a rebuilding year. Strong gets the buy-in he demands and this team isn't lacking for talent, but the schedule does no favors and an oh-fer against the trio of top-10 foes is a real setback. Road losses in nail-biters against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State leave the Longhorns at 6-6.

X factor: Coaching. What advantages can Strong and his staff create for this team? The head coach and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford are fine-tuning their aggressive defensive philosophy to fit their personnel and their conference. Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline must mesh their respective styles to create a cohesive plan on offense while also sharing play-calling duties. How quickly can this staff begin to maximize the potential of a roster full of former four-star and five-star recruits?

They said it: "It's all about each and every day just getting better and working hard. Just staying hungry and staying humble. That's what we have to do. That whole attitude has to change; we know that as a football team. This program will never change -- the culture won't change -- until the attitude of the players change. That's what we're seeking to do each and every day." -- Strong