Texas is looking to climb back into the national championship conversation behind a new up-tempo offense.
The Longhorns’ fate may rest in the hands of David Ash, who is hoping to take the next step in his third season under center.
Ash tries to lead No. 15 Texas to a 14th consecutive season-opening victory Saturday night against visiting New Mexico State.
While the Longhorns have posted a solid - but not great - 22-16 record in three seasons since losing the 2009 BCS championship game to Alabama, they are aiming to take a big step forward this year.
“I’m more confident this team will be the best one we’ve had in the last two years or three years,” said coach Mack Brown, who led Texas to the 2005 BCS national championship.
The Longhorns, who return 19 starters from last season’s 9-4 team, will likely go as far as Ash can take them. He threw for 2,699 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2012, posting a 153.3 passer rating to finish fourth in the Big 12.
“There’s kind of a buzz in the air. Everybody is all excited, all the hard work we put in,” said Ash, who has made 18 career starts. “Now we get to go out and play the game, show what we’ve been working on, show the hard work we put in in the summer.
“I feel more optimism than I’ve had going into any football season since I’ve been here.”
Ash would appear to have a good chance to shine with Brown hoping to average 80 or more plays. The Longhorns gave fans a taste of their no-huddle offense in last season’s come-from-behind 31-27 win over then-No. 15 Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.
“We had two weeks of practice for the Alamo Bowl,” Ash said. “We’ve had a whole lot more now.”
After averaging 35.7 points to rank 23rd in the FBS last year, Texas could become all the more dangerous.
“I think the actual playing of the tempo offense is what I want to see, see us manage it,” Brown said. “We’ve done everything that we can do to simulate it in practice. … I want to see how much we have improved.
“The most important thing is you win the game because everybody talks about what they want to see. What we need to be is 1-0, and we need to have learned who we are so we can improve on this going to Brigham Young the next week.”
The Longhorns will first need to take care of business against the Aggies, whom they have outscored by an average of 39.3 points in taking all four matchups in the series. Texas most recently cruised to a 66-7 victory Aug. 31, 2003.
New Mexico State is hoping to turn things around under new coach Doug Martin. The Aggies dropped their final 11 games by an average of 25.4 points after beating Sacramento State 49-19 in last year’s opener.
Quarterback Andrew Manley transfered to Eastern Illinois, allowing Andrew McDonald to win the starting job. Germi Morrison returns for his senior year after rushing for 767 yards.
“What we’ve got to be is as fast as we can possibly be when we play Texas - we’re playing an elite football team,” Martin said. “So the main thing now is to make sure our guys are as fresh as they can possibly be, that mentally they’re as sharp as they can possibly be.”
New Mexico is 2-16 all-time against current Big 12 teams, with its last win coming 42-29 at Kansas on Oct. 1, 1988. The Aggies have been outscored by an average of 35.5 points during an 18-game losing streak versus ranked opponents.