In assessing the "raw" talent (that acquired from the prep ranks) of each team, well reduce the margin of error of that inexact science and use a ratings system composed of several of the most followed recruiting services from various sections of the country. Phil Steele, who puts out a pre-season magazine second to none (rated the most accurate of all the last four years) performs a great service by compiling all this data.
Using Texas and Oklahomas regular-season ending two-deeps, heres a unit-by-unit comparison of each teams talent, with occasional comments added to indicate various experience levels and how those may affect the teams overall performances.
OU has the senior in all-Big 12 signal-caller Jason White, but one who barely saw the field prior to this season due to injuries that have relegated him to the pocketopposite of his prior strength as a runner. He ranked compositely as the 40th QB nationally coming out of HS. Though suffering a season-first meltdown the other night, hes a front-running Heisman candidate on the strength of his aerial assaults. His success as a thrower and not a runner is an enormous tribute to the Sooners staff. Paul Thompson, his backup, was ranked higher, though still a non-elite 29th.
From what would be considered a raw talent standpoint (coming out of HS), neither hold a candle to either of Texas QBs, Vince Young and Chance Mock. Mock is a fourth year junior, minimal age difference than White and, despite being solely a backup prior to this year, still had only a few starts less than the OU Heisman candidate entering 2003. VY, the redshirt freshman sensation, supplanted Mock at mid-season. VY was rated the No. 2 quarterback in the country before arriving in Austin, while Mock was rated No. 6.
Since Quentin Griffin graduated last year, Texas now possesses the experience edge to go with its prep talent advantage among backs. [Amazingly, though, Q was the closest thing to Barry Sanders, being buried as the #331 running back out of high school.] UTs third-year tailback Cedric Benson holds several Texas high school records, and received a cumulative rating as the nations No. 5 running back out of high school. His second half season rushing has justified such expectations. Bensons understudy, Selvin Young, had a rating of No. 19.
Though the fullbacks see a lot less action, particularly in terms of ball-handling, Texas has Will Matthews (Phil Steele opted not to list the fullback position this year, so I dont have his ranking) and Albert Hardy (#18 running back). OU counters with J.D. Runnels (#15 as a tight end).
You might not know it based on comparing productivity this fall, but Texas top trio of receivers is rated the best in the biz and clearly higher than Oklahomas out of HS, though the Sooners obviously have considerable talent at the flanks.
OU, in contrast, counters with Mark Clayton, who was rated only the 85th-best receiver in the nation. He was named 1st team all-Big 12. Brandon Jones (#13) and Jejuan Rankins (#7) are the two highest touted Sooners at end and bring the "raw talent" quotient back to a competitive level at least. Whats scary for opposing coordinators is, barring early exits for the NFL, all of these guys return next year!
If the wideout spot has been underutilized in Austin this year, the tight end one has been virtually vacated (excepting a couple of wonderful plays vs. the Ags). Texas has accumulated a most impressive array of tight end talent, making it even more disgraceful to ignore. Starter David Thomas ranked No. 6, while Bo Scaife grabbed the No. 2 spot out of high school. Brock Edwards, even more ghost-like, was "merely" the seventh-rated at his position in the prep ranks.
OUs top-flight players up front have accumulated a bit more PT at this stage. I expect this to change in time, as many of UTs best are only sophomores. Having said that, ratings-wise, Texas again holds the higher hand.
UT boasts several highly-ranked linemen, including starting left tackle Jonathan Scott, dubbed the No. 6 offensive lineman in the nation, which is akin to being the No. 2 quarterback, considering the number of linemen thru the ranks. Will Allen, at right guard, is rated a strong 34th (almost equivalent to a top five signal-caller), and Justin Blalock, at right tackle, is among the very elite (like Scott), at No. 7. The two lower-rated starters, Jason Glynn (#79) and all-Big 12 guard Tillman Holloway (#107 DL), are upperclassmen, which buffers the talent drop there.
For second-teamers, Texas trots out Neale Tweedie (#16 offensive lineman), Terrance Young (#39), Lyle Sendlein (#35), Mike Garcia (#35 alsodifferent year than Sendlein), and William Winston (#26). No matter how you analyze it, thats a lot of excellent raw material arriving in Austin.
OU has considerably less overall high-level talent in its two-deep, but it makes up for the deficit with front-line experience at a few spots. Wes Sims, the left tackle, finished rated No. 2 in the country, Davin Joseph, at right guard, came in at a lofty No. 24, and center Vince Carter at a still-standout No. 58. Jammal Brown, Bob Stoops best offensive lineman and an all-Big 12 selection, entered as the 68th ranked defensive lineman before making the change. The Sooners relative lack of highly-rated depth is where Texas holds the edge. Only true freshman Akim Millington (19th) gives OU a highly-rated backup.
Neither team loses much offensively, with the Horns only graduating Holloway, and the Sooners none.
Based on performance, especially in Dallas, its probably assumedat least by manythat OU owns a significant edge in raw talent at this position. Its front four gets tremendous pressure on the passer and helps stifle the run equally well. Texas, in comparative contrast, rarely hassles the opponents quarterback and has shown too much civility versus the run too. Dont be sure, though, the Stoops have hoarded most of the talent along the defensive front.
Starting with the title-bound Sooners, Tommie Harris (all-Big 12) is the most-touted (though some would argue hes not their best lineman), and he earned the No. 2 ranking of all defensive line prepsters. Not surprisingly, Jonathan Jackson, the standout defensive end, also rated highly (12th linebacker in the nation). For backup excellence, Lynn McGruder, the Vols transfer, compiled the No. 7 DL rating.
But how bout beyond that? Here it surprises. Two other guys whove stifled opponents for seemingly eternity, Dusty Dvoracek (starter) and Kory Klein, were far from five-star types, rating #86 and #103 respectively, yet Dvoracek was named to the first team all-Big 12 AP squad. Perhaps the most stunning of all is emerging superstar DE Dan Cody, who entered Norman as the 77th-rated quarterback, yet who was tabbed first-team all-Big 12. We know recruitings an inexact science, but this OU staff is doing a lot more right than not in developing its resources.
Texas starters are very competitive in terms of talent: Rod Wright, like Tommie Harris, earned the No. 2 cumulative ranking among DLs the year following his Sooner counterpart. Wrights backed by Larry Dibbles, rated No. 8; notice the similarity so far at defensive tackle? DE Kalen Thornton came in as the 8th-ranked tight end, despite playing for a private school. Marcus Tubbs (#51 at tight end) is the only starter on the front four not highly-esteemed; and keep in mind he had only played a couple years of football by then. Tim Crowder, a true freshman, sparkles at No. 17 and has already justified his rating. Backup support beyond Dibbles includes Stevie Lee (#17) and Austin Sendlein (#21 at LB).
Another area where OU, as a unit, rules on the field but not in the estimation of recruiting ratings. Though losing highly-talented Lance Mitchell (23rd-rated JUCO overall) to injury, Mike Stoops saw no drop-off in dominance with the insertion of Gayron Allen, way down the page at No. 131 among backers. Other starters include award-winning Teddy Lehman (#66good, but certainly not highly touted) and Pasha Jackson (46th-rated JUCO overall). Low-rated Gayron also backs up at the weakside LB spot, while second-teamers at the other two include Russell Dennison (#75) and more highly-esteemed Wayne Chambers (#34).
Here come the Longhorns: starters include all-America WLB Derrick Johnson, considered the sixth-best LB in the nation (equivalent to about the #2 QB), Aaron Harris at an equally superb No. 7, and then UTs own version of Gayron Allen, Reed Boyd (#112). Backing them up is Aurmon Satchell (#19keep in mind the Huskers coveted him big-time when the Blackshirts still dominated), Brian Robison (#84), and Eric Foreman (#48 QB).
Overall, at least in terms of what all the top services around the nation assessed, the incoming talent at this spot fails to favor OU, despite what we see most weeks on the turf.
With three first-team A-As, we finally expect to find an area where OU actually holds an overall edge in raw talent, but thats again not the case.
Looking first at the those three garnering all-America honors: cornerback Antonio Perkins, rated the No. 44 wide receiver, fellow corner Derrick Strait, rated a modest 99th, and free safety Brandon Everage, assessed as the #57 quarterback. The other starting DB, newcomer Donte Nicholson, was tabbed the #51 Juco overall. Backups include Brodney Pool (#46), Eric Bassey (#62), and Jowahn Poteat (#100). The experience factor though, with Everage and Strait as seniors, is huge.
Again, Texas has plenty of talent to counter with. Cornerback Nathan Vasher finished as the 54th-rated defensive back after really coming on late in his high school career; Cedric Griffin (an impressive 24th) holds the other corner spot, and Phillip Geiggar (#34) and Michael Huff (#134) man the starting safety positions.
It should be added that, beyond pure ratings, the Longhorns garner more sigs from Parade and USA Today all-America teams. From bios on OUs official site, only Tommie Harris and Wes Sims were listed as all-USA (by USA Today) award winners, while UT lists many Parade and/or USA Today A-As. On offense, theres B.J. Johnson, Bo Scaife, Justin Blalock, Jonathan Scott, Cedric Benson, and Vince Young. On defense, its Rod Wright, Larry Dibbles, Aaron Harris, and Derrick Johnson! (Not sure about Tarell Brown or any other true freshman, as the UT official site doesnt provide their bios).
OU, for all its dominance of Texas and nationally, does not possess one unit advantage over the Horns in the rankings of incoming talent, and even trails in a few areas. Just what the heck are those guys north of the Red River doing, and whats going to happen as more and more top-notch players venture that way? The recent loss of Mike Stoops, defensive coordinator, to Arizona may give Texas fans some hope, but Brent Venables, Mikes co-coordinator, appears more than ready to assume further control of that all-star defense.
After watching their highly uncharacteristic performance Saturday night in the Big 12 Championship Game, it begs a question: is the younger Stoops that important, or were the Sooners just disinterested? Longhorn fans hope for the former, since the elder Stoops will always have his playerswhether more or less touted than their Cotton Bowl counterpartsrevved for Texas.
Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears occasionally on InsideTexas.com and in the Inside Texas magazine.