State of the Hogs: Texas

Here's what publisher Clay Henry thinks of this week's matchup with Texas. He's got three reasons why the the favored Longhorns will lose.

Don't throw anything at me, but I picked Texas to win in our prediction column in this week's Hawgs Illustrated. Did that at 6 a.m. Sunday. The score: 21-17.

I was in the minority, as I was last year when I picked Texas and in 1999 when I picked UT in the Cotton Bowl when Arkansas won both times. This time, of our nine pickers, five took Arkansas.

My reason was simple. Any Texas team should be able to beat any Arkansas team with this much inexperience.

Looking back at last year's Texas game and those who played key roles for Arkansas in a 38-28 win, I can find only Matt Jones, Clarke Moore and Jeb Huckeba. That's just three players.

Brandon Kennedy played some at fullback, but Mark Pierce played more. Arrion Dixon had a gimpy knee, although he played quite a bit. Elliott Harris started and played well, but is not in the first unit now. Jared Hicks played some, but he's doubtful this week with a shoulder separation.

Now, that doesn't mean this Arkansas team is without talent. It may be just as talented, perhaps more talented, than last year's squad. I just can't go with these Hogs in a big game this early in the season. Texas is favored by anywhere from 10 to 12 points. That's a fair assessment of the difference in experience.

All of our HI pickers thought the point spread would be in that range and acknowledged that Texas would be favored. Craig O'Neill and Robbie Niewswanger had the widest margins, both picking Texas by 27-17.

O'Neill said, "Texas has been waiting on this one."

Nieswanger's simple thought went along with mine. He said, "Texas is a little more experienced, a little more talented and looking for revenge."

Having said all of that, now I'm going to tell you how the Hogs can win Saturday night and extend their winning streak to four in a row over the Longhorns. See, I may be picking with my brain, but there is part of me which thinks we'll all be celebrating on Dickson Street until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

I've got a couch in storage, once red, but now faded to orange, which we can set afire. Yes, it will then be burnt orange when fire consumes it Saturday night. In modern times, a great victory celebration should include a burning couch. I can help with that.

Back to the game, it's like always. Texas is more gifted and should triumph. There's a reason the ‘Horns have won 44 of 65 meetings in the series. They usually have better players and they do this time, too.

But there are some reasons, three to be exact, that point to an Arkansas upset. Chief among them is the Texas brain trust.

Somehow, Mack Brown, the Texas coach, doesn't seem to get it done in big games. He's 0-2 against Houston Nutt. He's lost four straight to Oklahoma. Texas is also 0-2 in the Big 12 title game under Brown.

I like Brown. Got to know him in 1984 when he coached quarterback Danny Bradley during a one-year stint at Oklahoma. He's a likable guy and a great recruiter.

But there is a quote in the Texas media guide that says a lot about him. In big, bold, italic type set to the side, Brown says, "Our goal is to win championships with nice kids who are graduating. We may be in the entertainment business on the weekends, but we are in the education business during the week."

He's right about all of that, but wrong, too. His job is to win football games, not recruit nice players. If you don't win at Texas, nothing else matters. You get too many nice ones, you will lose and be fired. That might happen to Brown.

Brown may realize all of this and be in the process of changing. The word out of Austin is that this is his toughest, most physical team. My sources say there is nothing nice (or soft) about these Longhorns. My guess is that his players won't be as easy to block or tackle as they've been the last two times Arkansas has seen them.

But I'll believe that when I see it. You can paint a zebra all you want, but the stripes still show at the first good rain.

It's said that the changes Brown made in his coaching staff and the style of their practices has toughened this Texas team considerably. Nutt and his coaches say they saw it in the film from the North Texas game. We'll see.

The next reason, and just as likely as coaching to play a big role in the game, is the play of the quarterbacks. I've been taught to lean heavily to a team with a proven quarterback. It's not that Texas' Vince Young isn't experienced. He played a lot last year as a freshman, more than Matt Jones did his freshman year. It's just that nothing compares to a senior starter with three years of experience under the center.

Jones is coming off a wonderful summer/fall camp. He has been as good as any quarterback I've seen at Arkansas in practice over the last six weeks, and you could extend that period well into the summer when the players were in voluntary workouts.

He's bought into practice and given a lot to his team and his coaches when in the past he's been excused to rest a sore shoulder, or to keep it from becoming sore.

The final reason starts with Arkansas' defensive line. It appears to be solid, perhaps the best since the Randy Garner-led front which controlled Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Arrion Dixon is an All-SEC type and he's got plenty of help both around and behind him.

I've been taught that big games are won with quarterbacks and a defensive front. Texas should win despite these areas which might favor Arkansas. The Longhorns are better. But there are plenty of reasons not to bet against these Hogs.

It may rain Saturday night on the Longhorns. We may see their stripes again.

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