AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -A bad finish to 2006 made that championship season of '05 seem like a long time ago for Texas.
The Longhorns lost their final two regular season games and blew a chance to play in the Big 12 title game, leaving this year's team with the empty feeling that comes when a good doesn't make it to great.
Ah, but that's what always makes the start of a new season so enticing at Texas. So much talent, so much hype and such high expectations of championships.
Even coach Mack Brown has passed the point of settling for anything but perfection.
``It used to be we'd win 11 games and everyone was griping and I didn't understand,'' Brown said. ``Now we don't win all the games and I'm the one griping.''
Texas had its chances last season. The Longhorns were still in the national title hunt in November. Quarterback Colt McCoy was better than anyone expected, and the defense hung together despite giving up way too many big plays.
Then came a neck injury to McCoy, a two-game losing skid and a fall to the Alamo Bowl. Texas beat Iowa in San Antonio, but the hated Oklahoma Sooners won the Big 12.
``It was really frustrating because the two teams in the Big 12 championship were teams that we beat,'' McCoy said, also referring to Nebraska. ``It really didn't make sense to us.''
McCoy is a big reason the Longhorns are favored to win the South Division. He tied the NCAA freshman record for touchdown passes with 29, and all of his top targets return. The leader among them is senior Limas Sweed, who tied a school record with 12 TD catches last season.
``All the veterans, every one of our skill position guys are back,'' McCoy said. ``We didn't lose anybody. They can only be better than last year.''
The biggest question is the offensive line, where Texas must replace three starters. The running game dropped off sharply last season as Texas failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 1994.
Jamaal Charles, hailed as the next great Texas tailback after gaining 878 yards as a freshman on the national championship team, tailed off to 831 yards and scored only seven rushing TDs. He bulked up in the weight room in the offseason to get over 200 pounds, hoping to better withstand a long season of punishing tackles.
Charles has the speed of a world-class sprinter, but Brown wants him to be a tougher runner between the tackles and in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the running game will be the return of defensive tackle Derek Lokey, who was the blocking back in short-yardage situations. When Lokey broke his leg in the win over Nebraska, Texas seemed to lose its ability to gain tough ground.
On defense, the Longhorns have their third new coordinator in four years now that Gene Chizik is the head coach at Iowa State. Defensive backs coach Duane Akina, who was co-coordinator, will call the plays and has promised to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with blitzes and pass rushers.
Still, the defense will be without two key players for the first three games. Linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive end Henry Melton were suspended after drunken driving arrests over the summer.
Texas opens the season Sept. 1 at home against Arkansas State before hosting old Southwest Conference rival TCU. The first conference game is Sept. 29 against Kansas State.
M.
M's first win in the series since 1999.
``We had a good season, going 10-3,'' McCoy said. ``But that's not what we expect.''
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