Inside Texas Blog: It's the Lines, Stupid!

At the Big XII Media Days in Kansas City, the media released their preseason poll and ranked Texas behind Oklahoma. Inside Texas' Clendon Ross offers his opinion on who should be the top team in the Big 12 and what the most important factor should be in that choice.

Not to sound like a broken record, because those of you that are long-time IT subscribers will have heard this before from me, but I am a firm believer that the team that is best in the trenches is going to win the vast majority of its games vs. teams inferior in that area, regardless of the advantages the other team may have at other positions on the field. That's why the recently announced media pick of Oklahoma to win the Big 12 South is puzzling.

Well, scratch that. It's not really all that puzzling when you consider the likely thought process that led so many media types to pick the Sooners. How can I justify picking a Vince Young-less Texas, they certainly asked, particularly when his replacement is some kid named McCoySneadHarris. And if not Texas, who? Bob Stoops says this is going to be his best defense ever, Adrian Peterson's back healthy, and Rhett Bomar's gotta be better than he was last year, right? Texas, with its freshman QB, is in the same position as OU last year, and we all saw what happened in Norman. So, it's gotta be the Sooners, right?



Just like last year, Texas will out-class every team in the Big 12 in the trenches. And that includes Oklahoma. (UT, with 13, also has more returning starters than OU, with 12.) Any belief that the Sooners will be any better on the offensive line this fall than last fall when the unit consistently struggled is, at this point, pure wishful thinking. And that throws into question any perceived advantage to OU of having Bomar with a year of experience over his freshman Texas counterpart. Experience certainly matters, but the experience factor can't be looked at in vacuum. Whoever starts for the Horns will have an easier time easing into his role -- which won't be to win games with his arms or his feet, but to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, of which there are many -- behind Tony Hills, Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein and Justin Blalock than Bomar had last year behind a patchwork line, and could have this year behind another, well, patchwork line. This is not the slam-dunk advantage to OU that some in the media apparently see, particularly when you add in the chemistry issues resulting from last year's benching of Paul Thompson in favor of Bomar, a move that didn't remotely have universal acceptance on the Sooner team, and Rhett's dad's public meddling and me-over-team comments. (The fruit seldom falls far from the tree.)

OU's line troubles also throw into question the ability of Peterson to be the force he was as a true freshman and to stay healthy all season, both prerequisites for another Sooner title. It actually points to a year far more like '05 (nagging injuries, 220 carries, 1,108 yards) than '04 (339 carries, 1,925 yards) for the Palestine native.

The Oklahoma pick is not ridiculous on its face. The Sooners should be a solid football team. And Texas is not without questions, some of them similar to the Sooners'. (Like, can Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles stay healthy? But I'd put my money on Young and Charles over Peterson any day, because of the guys up front.) But look deeper, and Texas projects to be pretty clearly superior, cumulatively, in the trenches, and OU doesn't have big enough advantages, if advantages at all, at other spots in the line-up. (And this is a topic for another day, but Mack Brown has upgraded his staff significantly over the last few years, while OU's staff strength has deteriorated, which I believe gives Texas the coaching advantage as well.) To me, that gives the advantage to Texas on Oct. 7, and in the Big 12 South race overall.

What do you think?

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