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CHARLIE STRONG, VANCE BEDFORD AND THE BIG-MONEY CRITICS
Could a game against Oklahoma State really mean this much?
Is Charlie Strong really in a week-to-week relationship with a powerful force at Texas - the group I call the Big-Money Critics?
Texas president Greg Fenves is still firmly in Strong's corner. You ask people close to Fenves - and Strong is fine.
"He's not getting fired," said one such source. "Not even close."
But ask those who write big checks at UT and have the ability to get Fenves' attention when they really want to - and Saturday's game in Stillwater is a referendum on Strong's ability to impose his will on a critical situation and improve it.
All anyone wants at UT from this football program, the sources said, is for it to get better every week.
That's it. Improvement from week to week.
"If you get better after beating Notre Dame, then get better after beating UTEP, you shouldn't go out to Cal and face a team that couldn't protect its quarterback in a loss to San Diego State and look like you have no clue how to stop an Air Raid offense," said one Big-Money Critic who has been involved in every coaching change at Texas since John Mackovic was fired in 1997 (the last year Oklahoma State beat Texas in Stillwater).
"If you can't stop an Air Raid offense in the Big 12, and you're a defensive guru, then you're not a defensive guru. Either that, or you have hired the wrong people to carry out the very job that made you head-coaching material - and we're in trouble. Because the offense was God-awful the first two years under Charlie, and the defense has been God-awful the last two years. Now that the offense is fixed, we're realizing just how bad the defense has been.
"And that's the last thing you'd expect from a Charlie Strong team - for Christ's sake."
How bad is the Texas defense right now? Giving up 34.7 points per game, it's on pace to be the worst scoring defense in school history (replacing the previous school-record worst 33.3 ppg given up by John Mackovic's team during the Goal-Post Tear Down Tour of 1997).
Yes, it's only three games. But three games is enough for influential power brokers who wanted Nick Saban to replace Mack Brown and now want Tom Herman - if Strong can't fix things quickly - to lose their patience.
"The problem with Charlie is," said another Big-Money Critic, "right when you think he's making progress and showing you he can out-coach the best in the business - like Bob Stoops and Brian Kelly - his team will look clueless against a coach who got fired at the end of the season at Iowa State or against a Cal team that had a doorstop at left tackle, and we couldn't see it."
Were most in agreement before the season that eight wins in 2016 would be good enough to keep the wolves away from Strong?
On Wednesday, I was told by one Big-Money Critic:
"If Strong wins seven games, he's fired. Fenves will be forced to fire him. Trust me. Our conference is winnable with our talent. And Strong deserves the credit for bringing in the talent. And I love what Charlie stands for in life with his core values. It's clear that resonates with recruits and their families. But what's killing Charlie right now is Tom Herman. The sense is Herman has gone 13-1 with a win over Florida State and then beat Oklahoma with less talent. And the sense about Charlie is, right when you think he's kickin' ass and taking names, like against OU and Kansas State last year or against Notre Dame this year, he serves you a sh*t sandwich. And too many people right now think Herman, a former graduate assistant at Texas, is the next Urban Meyer or Nick Saban."
So there you have it. LSU fired Les Miles with $10 million left on his contract with the hope that it can land Herman. The Texas Big-Money Critics - many of whom still want Strong to show he's a national championship caliber coach - are nervous Strong is showing one too many times he isn't that guy.
The nine losses by 18 points or more in his first two years, including the 24-0 loss at Iowa State. And now a clueless defensive performance - 18 plays of 11 yards or more given up - by the Longhorns in a loss at 2-2 Cal.
For shrewd businessmen who probably care too much about the fate and fortunes of Texas football, those are fundamentals that raise their red flag.
The bottom line is - it doesn't matter what Vance Bedford said Wednesday. It doesn't matter what Strong said Monday. It doesn't matter that folks close to Greg Fenves are saying Strong is safe right now - no matter what. To the Big-Money Critics, it's show-me, don't-tell-me. They want Strong to show he's on top of his program and can get Texas' defense to play like his defenses at Florida that won national titles in 2006 and 2008. And they want it now - starting Saturday in Stillwater, where Texas has won 8 straight games against Oklahoma State.
Looking at the Numbers: How can Texas Improve its Defense?
*****PSA: Before I get into what this portion of HD Only is about, I want to preface it with this: In NO WAY is what I am about to say an attempt to make excuses for the Texas defensive woes three games into the season. It is simply a statistical look into a challenge the defense has been struggling with, and something fans may want to consider before jumping off the ledge when looking at the defense's numbers each week.*****
There has been a lot of talk - or outrage, depending on who's leading the conversation - about the Longhorns' defensive struggles. Texas finished 2015 with one of the worst statistical defenses in school history, and if nothing changes, could have a similar outcome at the end of this season.
I understand the frustration people have when looking at the Longhorns' defensive numbers. Texas ranks in the bottom half of most statistical defensive categories for the second consecutive season.
But how much of the story is being told by simply looking at the numbers? And how high should the expectations truly be for the defense this season?
In taking a step back and looking at the broader picture, the outrage over the numbers may be a little exaggerated three games into the season because of one significant factor: The speed of the new offense.
The Texas offense has seen success in Year 1 of Sterlin Gilbert's time in Austin. The Longhorns nationally rank No. 22 in total offense, No. 13 in scoring offense and No. 23 in rushing offense - not bad numbers for a 2-1 team.
But a stat that tells a big part of the story in 2016 is one not too many people consider when looking at the numbers: Time of possession.
The old adage is the best defense is one that is not on the field. So I started looking into how much the Texas defense has been on the field with Gilbert's faced-paced, high-scoring offense.
I then compared those numbers to the Top 5 total defenses in the country from 2009 to 2015.
The results were impossible to overlook.
Over the last seven seasons, the Top 5 defenses had offenses that, for the most part, controlled the time of possession.
32-out-of-35 Top 5 defensive teams since 2009 also ranked in the top half of time of possession in the country.
Let's compare that to Texas in 2016.
Charlie Strong's unit ranks No. 66 in total defense after three games. The Longhorns' No. 22 total offense is averaging 28:22 possession minutes per game, ranking No. 83 in time of possession.
If the best defense is one not on the field, and the Longhorns D is on the field more than 50 percent of the time during the 4+ hour long games, how much better can the defense's numbers truly get?
Better yet, how can the defense help this team win games when it may be spending the brunt of its time on the field?
Knowing you have an offense that will score quickly, the biggest area of improvement for the defense is turnovers. Texas has only one turnover gained this season. ... ONE! And that ranks, you guessed it, dead last in FBS at No. 127.
Defensive turnovers are so essential for teams running uptempo, quick-scoring offense. Without turnovers, the defense will be on the field for much longer, and consequently, will tire much quicker leading to big plays and points given up to its opponents.
Texas has given up an average 34.7 points per game, which ranks No. 107 in the country. Without turnovers, this number is unlikely to get any better, and could very likely get worse in facing the other high-powered offenses in the Big 12.
So here's to hoping the Longhorns focused on turnovers during the bye week (**cough**and gave some of the young talent the opportunity for playing time over the veteran "smart" players**cough**) because without it, there's a solid chance the numbers may not get any better through conference play.
The Latest with 4-Star CB Kary Vincent Jr.
I caught up with Port Arthur Memorial cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. earlier this week to hear if anything has changed with his commitment status after LSU terminated head coach Les Miles.
Vincent Jr. confirmed he is still solid in his status with LSU, claiming he is "LSU forever" and is planning to OV to Baton Rouge.
In addition to his LSU official, Vincent intends to unofficially visit Texas Oct. 29 to see the Longhorns take on Baylor, and plans to return for an official visit - possibly sometime in December. He is also looking into "maybe" using official visits to see Arizona State and Ohio State, but nothing is yet set in stone.
I don't expect Vincent to publicly change his commitment status with LSU in the near future, but I have been told this is one to watch for Texas fans.
Vincent has developed good relationships with the Longhorns staff, and the fact he is planning to take two trips to Austin - one for an official visit - is a positive sign for Charlie Strong and his staff.
TEXAS HOOPS RECRUITING: FOCUS ON FEBRES
Shaka Smart went to visit shooting guard extraordinaire Jase Febres this week (so did Baylor coach Scott Drew), and it’s looking like a Texas, Houston and Baylor battle for Febres at this point.
And I think Texas likes where it stands with Febres. Smart and Co. covet Febrese’s shooting ability, which is a desperate need for the Longhorns in the 2017 class.
Losing Febres would be a huge hit. Texas is sort of counting on him in the 2017 class.
Texas put its eggs in the point guard basket on Matt Coleman, and it looks like UT’s eggs were put in the wrong basket. The smart money right now is on Coleman going elsewhere (probably Duke).
KAREN ASTON GETTING AFTER IT IN RECRUITING
Texas women’s hoops coach Karen Aston got a three-year contract extension through August 31, 2020, from the Texas Board of Regents last week.
And it appears Aston is trying to earn it all (as well as a total, guaranteed compensation of $770,000 with an additional $220,000 available in performance-based incentives) on the recruiting trail right now.
Aston was in home with the nation’s No. 1 2017 recruit - Megan Walker - tonight and could know by the end of the week if the Longhorns are landing the 6-foot-1 wing from Monacan (Va.).
Walker’s list is down to Texas, UConn and Notre Dame.
Texas already has a commitment from the nation’s No. 1 point guard for 2017 - 5-foot-6 Chasity Patterson of North Shore - and is still actively recruiting the nation’s No. 3 player - 6-foot-1 F Rellah Boothe of the IMG Academy in Bradenton (Fla.).
Last weekend, Aston got a commitment from 2018 5-star, 6-foot-7 center Sedona Prince of Liberty Hill.
Under her new contract at Texas, the Honey Badger received $158,187 increase in guaranteed compensation from last season. Appears to be money well spent for what appears to be a Final Four-bound team in the very near future.
TIME FOR FOOTBALL ANALYTICS WITH ZACH FAULISE
One of our HD contributors (and members) - Zach Faulise - did some digging at Football Insiders into their S&P Rankings to take a look at where Texas is right now as a program and where the Longhorns stack up with their opponents.
From Football Insiders:
The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play and drive data of all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays).
The components for S&P+ reflect opponent-adjusted components of four of what Bill Connelly has deemed the Five Factors of college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, and finishing drives. (A fifth factor, turnovers, is informed marginally by sack rates, the only quality-based statistic that has a consistent relationship with turnover margins.)
2016: Through week 4 of the 2016 season, Texas is ranked 29th overall in the S&P, with wins against Notre Dame and UTEP and a loss to Cal.
Texas still has to face Oklahoma St, Oklahoma, Iowa St, Kansas St, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas, and TCU.
Notre Dame is ranked 46th overall in the S&P.
UTEP is ranked 123rd overall in the S&P.
Cal is ranked 54th overall in the S&P.
This means Texas is 2-1 against teams with a significantly worse S&P. Cal is the first team since 2012 to be significantly worse than Texas and have beaten them. Keep in mind that these stats are subject to change as the season progresses. The rest of the teams left on the schedule are ranked as follows:
Oklahoma St (2-2) is ranked 49th overall and is considered significantly worse than Texas.
Oklahoma (1-2) is ranked 21st overall and is considered comparable to Texas.
Iowa State (1-3) is ranked 85th overall and is considered significantly worse than Texas.
Kansas State (2-1) is ranked 31st overall and is considered comparable to Texas.
Baylor (4-0) is ranked 12th overall and is considered significantly better than Texas.
Texas Tech (2-1) is ranked 49th overall and is considered significantly worse than Texas.
West Virginia (3-0) is ranked 48th overall and is considered significantly worse than Texas.
Kansas (1-2) is ranked 109th and is considered significantly worse than Texas.
TCU (3-1) is ranked 22nd and is considered comparable to Texas.
Texas’ Record against teams significantly better in the S&P since 2010: 2-16 (.111) (2-10 under Strong).
Texas’ record against teams significantly worse in the S&P since 2010: 26-4 (.866) (7-0 under Strong)
Texas’ record against comparable teams in the S&P since 2010: 11-15 (.423) (2-4 under Strong)
Texas’ has 1 team considered significantly better, 5 considered significantly worse, and 3 which are considered comparable. Using the averages above, Texas should beat every team worse than us, lose to Baylor, and win 1 to 3 comparable games. This puts us at an 8-4 record on the season.
From the data I’ve presented above, the S&P stat is a fantastic predictor for how well a team is playing.
It essentially measures how efficient each team is, whether or not they’re forcing turnovers, and their overall effectiveness when they take the field.
Texas is at a crossroads as it relates to this 2016 season, and the Oklahoma State game will be the determinant of where exactly this season takes us.
To beat Oklahoma State means that this Texas team can take down team’s that it should, and our ranking of 29th is an accurate representation of what to expect from our season.
To lose means we might be staring a 6-6, 7-5 season right in the face, and more than likely a coaching change at the top.
To clarify, I am the biggest Charlie Strong fan you will meet, and I believe his impact on young men stretches far beyond the football field. However, with the talent we have accumulated, the relative weakness of our conference this year, and the expectations of the Texas football fan base, anything less than 7 wins is inexcusable.
By beating Oklahoma State we move to 3-1 and most importantly maintain an advantage over other teams in our conference deemed significantly worse (with a .866 win percentage accompanying games against said competition).
Obviously a team can pick up steam on its own and move up and down the S&P as it wishes, but as it stands today an 8 win season can be predicted with the S&P ranking as a data source to back up my subjective opinion.
A young, improving team, an offensive coordinator in his first year who should get more creative, and pure talent should mean this team gets better week to week. By the time we play TCU, and eventually our bowl game, we should look like a team ready to compete for a national championship and Big 12 title next year.
If these factors increase enough, we could see that Big 12 title this year, and a possible New Year 6 appearance. A young, inexperienced team, a defensive coordinator who seems to underperform with better talent, and head scratching personnel decisions could also derail a young team with a loss at Oklahoma St, followed by a loss to Oklahoma.
Quite literally, a win or loss by Charlie Strong in this next game could end up defining his tenure at UT.
Considering how well Charlie recruits, and his on the field success at Louisville and Florida, I truly believe he can be in the upper-echelon of coaching in the modern era by the time he’s gone from Texas.
I have no doubt in my mind that we come out and kick Oklahoma State’s butt, and I predict the final score to be 45-31. I will update this ranking weekly, explain the variation of the rankings, and give you some armchair coach analysis for the games that follow.