This shapes up as the hardest pick of the season; I can argue it either way. It almost comes down to a coin toss.
On one hand, Tech is the obvious choice. You've got the nation's most prolific passing offense, playing a night game in Lubbock, where it's put up 70 points in each of its past two home games. You've got Texas with its most inept passing attack in recent memory, a Longhorn senior FL insisting the younger WRs are pouters who care more about playing time than the final score, and a defense that ranks dead last in league play for quarterback sacks and has no lockdown cornerback for the first time in several years. You've got BCS implications written all over the outcome and a UT coaching staff that grips in big games. You've got a Longhorn head coach with a stellar road record but who has lost two-of-three at Texas Tech.
On the other hand, you've got the nation's leading rusher in RB Cedric Benson (164.7 ypg) and the nation's second-best rushing offense (293.5 ypg) going against a chronically porous rush defense (143.2 ypg, NCAA No. 63). You've got arguably the nation's best running QB who is good for six ypc. You've got a Texas defense, anchored by college football's best defensive player in WLB Derrick Johnson, that is finally showing a nasty attitude. You've got an experienced secondary that is ranked No. 10 nationally in pass defense (154.2 ypg). You've got a Texas team that, more often than not, plays its best when everyone picks against them. Besides, we're The University-of-by-God-Texas and they're not.
This much is certain: Saturday's contest cannot become the shootout it has been the past two seasons when the teams combined for 80.5 ppg (with Tech accounting for 41 of those points). That's a stark contrast from the three previous seasons whereby Texas outgunned the Red Raiders by an average score of 43.0 to 10.3 ppg.
Although Texas leads the overall series 38-14, the Horns hold just a 6-5 advantage during the past 11 years.
Both teams are thumping their chests over third-quarter dominance this season. Tech has outscored opponents 82-17 in that frame while the Horns have outscored foes, 34-3, during the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Benson must have at least 30-to-35 carries Saturday. Texas must find a way to get the ball into TE David Thomas' hands at least three or four times Saturday. I'm telling ya, this is the best TE you never saw. (He remains Texas' leading receiver with 228 yards, but one reception for five yards in the past two games? Geez Louise! That stat alone should get an OC canned.)
So, who to pick in this coin-toss of a football game? Heads, it's Texas. Tails, it's Tech.
I had to flip the coin three times before it came up 'heads'. Texas 38, Texas Tech 35.
Pearle -- I'm about equal parts terrified and excited to watch the UT-Tech game Saturday night. Terrified because the Red Raiders have scored a ridiculous 70 points in each of their previous two home games against good programs in TCU and Nebraska, and excited because I think the Horns are poised to show some offensive fireworks of their own.
I actually feel a little more optimistic about this game than I probably have any right to. I know that Tech plays Texas extremely tough, especially in Lubbock -- I have been on the field in Jones Stadium with Inside Texas as games wound down and man, the tortillas fly, the cow bells shatter the ears and the taunts and barbs are not 'G' rated. So it is going to be a huge challenge for the Horns to notch a 'W' in these conditions.
But as I say, I feel optimistic, because through six games, I believe this Texas defense is moving in the right direction under Greg Robinson. Sure, the Horns have given up a lot of yardage and their sack total on the season is pathetic, but when it comes to keeping folks out of the end zone, they have been pretty good. The Horns are currently 11th nationally in scoring defense, giving up only 13.2 points a game. Though Tech is beyond dangerous offensively, especially throwing the ball, the Horns proved they can defend the pass this season when they kept Jason White and the Sooners in check. Though they gave up a ton of yards on the ground in that game, the Sooners only punched it in once. Texas also did a decent job defending Brad Smith of Missouri and Matt Jones of Arkansas. Neither of those talented players went crazy against Texas. The fact is, if the Texas offense had done anything against OU, the Horns may well be 6-0 and possibly ranked number one.
So my feeling is that we are going to see a tough effort out of the Texas D Saturday night, with players like Phillip Geiggar, Michael Huff and Michael Griffin flying around and making the Tech receivers work for it. When Taurean Henderson runs it, he's gonna get a belly-full of Derrick Johnson and Aaron Harris. Tech will rack up the yards, but racking up the points will not be so easy.
Offensively, something makes me think that Cedric Benson and Vince Young are just itching to explode against the cocky Red Raiders, under the lights in a hostile environment. The conditions will be somewhat similar to those the Horns faced last season in Stillwater when they blew out Oklahoma State. Make no mistake -- Texas can play on the road, and Benson, from nearby Midland, will be focused and fast on the artificial turf. I think he will have a huge game Saturday.
As for Young, his struggles have been obvious and painful to watch this season, but the kid is a fighter, and a 6-5, 225 speed-burning fighter at that. It's time for Vince Young to put together a complete game, a game in which he runs the ball in the scary-confident way we saw last season, when every carry looked like it could go for six, and in which he takes care of the ball and hits the passes he needs to.
Call me deranged or deluded (but please don't call me a homer!) -- I like Texas in this one. If New Mexico can beat these Raiders, the Horns certainly can. Texas will have a huge night running the football and will get David Thomas back involved, and look for the young wideouts to make a few big grabs. The defense, as it has done all year, will bend, but it won't completely break down as other Horn Ds of recent vintage have against Tech. It will be agonizingly close, but the Horns plant the Burnt Orange flag in Lubbock this weekend. Texas 38, Texas Tech 35.
Ross -- This is by far the toughest pick of the season so far. A little over a month ago, I made the case for a Texas win in Fayetteville (in close fashion, but still a projected win) while two weeks ago, picking OU to beat the Horns was almost a no-brainer. This one is different.
I can make a reasonable and compelling case for either Tech or Texas to come out victorious Saturday night on the South Plains. I'd rate the likelihood of a Longhorn win at about 50 percent, which essentially makes this game a toss-up.
But the point of making a pick is, well, making a pick. So, here goes.
I've warmed up through the week to the possibility of a Texas win in Lubbock. If you would have asked me Monday, I would have taken Tech in a walk. The more I consider this one, though, the closer I've come to picking the Horns.
... I'm going with the Red Raiders. Bill Frisbie's rules of asking WWCD (What Would Culpepper Do) is a good one -- in this case, Tech over Texas 28-17 -- but there are very specific reasons aside from simply gut feel why the Horns will drop to fourth or fifth in the Big 12 South Saturday night, not least of which is the fact that Texas has shown little ability to pressure opposing QBs, particularly with just its front four. The single most important factor in successfully defending Tech's dink and dunk offense is putting pressure on the QB without resorting to blitzing (which the Raider offense is designed to exploit). I just don't see Texas doing that, which means Tech is going to consistently move the chains. The hope is that the Longhorn D can tighten up as the field shortens, and that is certainly a possibility, but Greg Robinson's bend-but-don't-break philosophy relies too much on the turnover. Without multiple turnovers, it will surely break.
On the offensive side of the ball, the hope is that Texas can consistently move the football and thus the clock, and keep the defense on the sideline rather than running all over the field trying to track down whichever of Tech's receivers caught the ball this time, wearing down as the game goes along. The key word in that previous sentence is hope. Because based on what we've seen so far this season against decent competition, hope, not consistency, is all we got. Twenty offensive points against Arkansas, none against Oklahoma and 21 against Missouri. A similar performance on the South Plains will get the Horns blown out.
Out of a sense of optimism, I'm thinking we'll see a solid offensive performance vs. Tech, enough to keep this from being a blowout. But this one-dimensional Texas offense, playing in Jones Stadium, can't pull off what last year's bunch did in Austin, which is out-score the Red Raiders. I'll add the usual caveat -- I hope like heck that I'm wrong -- but I see it Texas Tech 40, Texas 27.