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Texas Longhorns Open Season Against Rice Owls

The Texas Longhorns open their 2010 season today at Reliant Stadium in Houston against the unranked University of Rice Owls. Sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert will make his first career collegiate start, replacing the now Cleveland Brown quarterback Colt McCoy.

McCoy's departure could bring a change of gameplan to the Longhorns offense. Jeff Caplan expects to see more of a rushing attack:

Texas Longhorns coach Mack Brown has promised a scheme change that puts more emphasis on the rushing attack. Yet, in 2009, Texas averaged 36.6 carries a game and 39.1 carries in 2008. Hardly small rushing numbers. 

Those numbers, however, are wildly skewed when talking a bona fide rushing game. In each of the last two seasons, quarterback Colt McCoy has led Texas in both carries and rushing yards. Texas finished 2009 ranked 61st in the nation in rushing, averaging 147.6 yards a game. 

If first-year quarterback Garrett Gilbert winds up as the Horns' leading rusher this season, bet that Texas will have had an awful season. The plan is to utilize three running backs. A slimmed-down Cody Johnson won the starting job for Saturday's opener at Reliant Stadium against Rice. Behind him are Tre' Newton and Fozzy Whittaker. 

Burnt Orange Nation has posted five things to watch for in today's game.

The beginning of the Garrett Gilbert era. Since the national championship game, there have only been brief viewings of Gilbert by the Longhorn faithful -- the spring open practices, the spring game, and the fall open practices, as well as this author spotting Gilbert at the 7-on-7 state championships watching his younger brother play and tossing the ball around with a friend.

Will Cody Johnson seize the day? It feels like a nearly over-analyzed subject already only five days from the release of the depth chart. Cody Johnson worked hard to reduce his body fat. Cody Johnson started paying attention during meetings. Cody Johnson wanted to finally maximize his remarkable combination of size and speed, instead of settling for being a short-yardage, situational tailback. All that is well known at this point.

What impact will the H-back position have? Relatedly, who will spend more time at H-back, EBS or Barrett Matthews? It's a new position for the offense this season and a key to sparking the running game. How often will the Longhorns employ both the H-back and tight end? How will EBS/Matthews perform as lead blockers? Will either one be able to split out effectively and create mismatches against linebackers?

How will the special teams units perform? Last season was marked by special teams/defensive touchdowns and the hope is that the combination of dynamic return men, strong punt blocking unit, and big leg of John Gold will help Texas maintain that major advantage in the third phase of the game.How will the young defensive tackles perform? Kheeston Randall is as much of a known quantity as anyone on the team, despite his less-than-spectacular numbers from last season (fewer than 30 tackles). However, as has been much discussed around these parts, after Randall, everything is a question mark.

How will the young defensive tackles perform? Kheeston Randall is as much of a known quantity as anyone on the team, despite his less-than-spectacular numbers from last season (fewer than 30 tackles). However, as has been much discussed around these parts, after Randall, everything is a question mark.

Head over to Burnt Orange Nation for expanded commentary on the five most important things to watch in today's game.

Coverage of the Longhorns season opener will begin at 2:30 CDT on ESPN and ESPN3.com.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.