Frisbie -- If Im Iowa State coach Dan McCarney and Im staring at the toughest six-week stretch in college football (Iowa, Northern Illinois, OU, Texas Tech, Texas, Nebraska), Id look at Saturdays homecoming affair against the Longhorns and believe it represents my teams best chance for an upset.
If Im Mack Brown and I lose to the Big 12s worst defense, and to a freshman QB and RB, I hand in my resignation. Neither, of course, will happen. The Horns will start out ugly and pull away late. Brown will talk about how well his team responds after the annual Oklahoma loss. QB Vince Young will have a career rushing day and get at least 15 seconds of fame on SportsCenter. RB Cedric Benson reeled off 199 yards against the Cyclones last season and should duplicate that Saturday if his O-line is as improved as Brown says it is.
Personally, I hope the game becomes a blowout so up-and-coming studs like freshman LCB Aaron Ross and RCB Tarell Brown can break a sweat. Actually, what I hope is that Brown will play them while the outcome is still in doubt. A message needs to be sent to the D-backs that last Saturdays performance was completely unacceptable, and if thats the best that can be put on the field then its time to let some of the backups get experience. SLB Reed Boyd is an overachiever and does the best he can, but Id love to see freshman Eric Foreman given the opportunity to make his move against the relatively ineffective senior.
If Im defensive coordinator Carl Reese, Im keeping a close eye on DE Kalen Thornton and another on backup sophomore Mike Williams. Despite a heads-up game against Kansas State, Thornton has been the amazing disappearing man in this defense. Thornton is to be commended for overcoming his disappointing injuries and is probably the smartest guy on the team. But he is a fraction of the force that he was at the conclusion of his freshman year. There are three guys in the secondary that have more tackles this season than Thornton. With LDE Bryan Pickryl out for year (shoulder), inconsistency at DE has been a killer dating back to last Novembers loss at Tech. Thats why Texas pass rush is at half-throttle.
The important thing about the ISU game (in this "rebuilding year" as Benson dubbed it) is not to allow premature pronouncements that "were back on track" following a double-digit Longhorn win, but to develop game-experienced depth at key spots that have proven costly, resulting in three losses during the past nine games. (If FS Phillip Geiggar doesnt force that fumble against K-State, Texas would be 5-4 dating back to the Tech loss).
As it is, one of the only Iowa State players who could start for Texas would be punter Tony Yelk. Ideally, well be seeing a lot of him Saturday. Texas 38, Iowa State 16.
Pearle -- The conventional wisdom is that Texas, after its annual loss to OU, bounces back the next week and plays football like it is capable of. It has done that the last three years, in some hostile places where victories are hard to come by like Manhattan and Boulder. The Horns should rebound again Saturday in Ames against an Iowa State team that isnt of the caliber that Dan McCarney has lately been putting on the field.
But after the embarrassment of last Saturday, after the way that Texas played, making it a laughing stock across the country this week, I wonder just how focused the Horns will be. Surely losing to OU the way it did, with some players basically laying down and with Bob Stoops trying not to run it up at the end, has to have damaged the psyche of this team in a way that the past couple of losses in games that went to the fourth quarter did not. Didnt everybody, players included, think we were past all that?
But who knows with these Horns? Who knew that they could go into the Cotton Bowl last Saturday and play so horribly that they would get handed the worst loss in the long, bloody history of the series? Has getting blown out now just become acceptable, just another Mackovickian "blip on the screen"? Does anybody that is involved with this program even care?
I have no doubt that some proud players on the Texas team do care, and I expect that they will do enough for the Horns to notch another ho-hum win over the Cyclones. But I think its going to be closer than the disparity in talent levels would indicate. Iowa State is gonna believe after watching the tape of Oklahoma decimating the Horn D and seeing the Texas O fumbling and stumbling its way to six turnovers. They are going to be excited, while the Horns, still dazed from last week's destruction and possibly beginning to doubt each other, will just be showing up in this sleepy Midwest backwater of the Big 12. Make it Texas 38, Iowa State 24.
Ross -- I'm a bit conflicted. Under Mack Brown, Texas has always bounced back strongly after Oklahoma, but I'm with Michael that this year's loss in Big D is of a different breed than those that came before. Do the Horns snap back and beat a team they should beat 10 of 10 times, regardless of venue, or does a creeping lack of confidence, both in themselves and in the ability of the guys wearing the headsets, turn this contest into a horror show of lackadaisical effort, turnovers, and ultimately, a crushing, truly season-ending defeat?
I have to go with the former (partly because the latter is just too horrible to consider).
The Texas offense, with Vince Young under center, will continue to be inconsistent but dangerous (largely because of the freshman QB's feet rather than his arm), and will score big points on a bad ISU defense. Even Cedric Benson and the OL should have a strong performance now that the guys across the line of scrimmage aren't wearing the red of Oklahoma or Arkansas. (An aside: Given Benson's "issues", discussed in recent Inside Scoops, I would love to see sophomore Anthony Johnson given a real opportunity in this game to show what he can do. The kid deserves the chance, and frankly, I believe he'd bring an intensity and effort to the position that is lacking in the junior starter. I also hope the coaches give Chance Mock early, every-third-series opportunities similar to what Young received earlier in the season. The change-up can still be beneficial, even if Mock rather than Young is the guy coming off the bench providing the change-up.)
The thing I think every Orangeblood will be looking at, though, is the performance of a defensive unit that looked completely clueless and often uninspired vs. the Sooners. Despite talk from the head coach early in the week about potential personnel changes, the defensive starting line-up in Ames looks like it'll be the exact same one that took the field last Saturday in Dallas. What I hoped would happen is a switch at several positions to some younger and/or hungrier guys, a switch that could have elicited a newfound commitment and attitude from the talented guys forced to the bench. Instead, those guys apparently will simply have to find it in themselves to elevate their play while retaining their starting jobs. This week, failure should not be an option. Unfortunately, with this team, it's too often an option without consequence. Texas 42, Iowa State 17.