I've spent the last couple of days looking at what I believe to be the flawed reasoning in the Big 12 media's pick of OU to win the South, and the seemingly inherent contradiction of doing so while also acknowledging UT's talent advantage, at least among top tier talent, over the Sooners.
On the Members board, I've also mentioned that I don't believe we here at Inside Texas, by unanimously picking the Horns to win the South (and also the league title), are simply being blind homers. We've got a pretty good track record of picking both the OU game (picked it right four of the last five, and that of course includes four Sooner wins) and the South champ (two of two in the only two years we've picked it; Oklahoma in '04 and Texas in '05). In other words, we don't blindly pick the Horns each year. We study the teams, the talent, the coaching, the intangibles, everything to make our picks. Sometimes that's pointed to OU and sometimes to UT. This year, we unanimously think those things add up to a Texas win on both Oct. 7 and overall in the South.
Now, we reserve the right to reevaluate our picks for the game based on the first few weeks of the season -- we'll formally pick the game the week of Oct. 7 here at InsideTexas.com -- so I thought today I would look at the things that could possibly change the dynamic between now and then and give the Sooners the advantage:
*A QB controversy in Austin. If there's a question about who should start, that will almost certainly mean that none of the freshman signal callers have stepped up and earned the starting job. If by late September the Texas coaches are saying they have "two starters", it probably means they don't even have one. And that spells trouble heading to Dallas. Not so much because I think the QBs will be incapable of playing well enough for Texas to win, but because of the disruptive nature of a controversy, and what that can do to a team's chemistry and confidence. The Horns need to retain the swagger that accompanied them down the Tunnel last year, and uncertainty at QB is a quick way to lose it.
*Injuries. There are several players that Texas simply can not afford to lose and still play at a consistent championship level: Jamaal Charles, Justin Blalock, Tony Hills, Frank Okam, Michael Griffin. Plus, losing multiple guys at certain spots (say, at quarterback, on the offensive line, or in the defensive backfield) could be devastating because of depth issues, and thus give OU an edge.
*OU really is as good on offense as some of the pundits predict. The Oklahoma OL gels, allowing Rhett Bomar to be the best quarterback in the Big 12 and Adrian Peterson to rush for almost 200 yards per game. This alone could give the Sooners an advantage. A slight one if the Texas QB play is solid, a bigger one if it's not, or if either or both of the other scenarios above come to pass.
When is 2 > 6
Clendon Ross - Jul 27, 2006
This didn't get near as much play as the media poll which gave the Sooners the nod in the Big 12 South over defending champ Texas, but the league media also released its 2006 Preseason All-Big 12 Football Team last Friday. As you would expect, the team was dominated by the projected champ Sooners... wait, what's that? Longhorns dominated the team?
UT players grabbed six of the 22 first-team positional spots. On offense, Longhorn OLs Justin Blalock and Kasey Studdard plus running back Jamaal Charles earned mention, as did defenders Tim Crowder, Frank Okam and Michael Griffin. Texas true freshman LB Sergio Kindle nabbed the media's Newcomer of the Year pick. RB Adrian Peterson and LB Rufus Alexander represented OU, while also garnering Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year honors, respectively. The breakdown of other conference teams for the 26 overall spots (including place kicker, punter, punt returner and kickoff returner) went like this: five for Iowa State, three for Colorado and Nebraska, two for Missouri and Texas Tech, one each for Oklahoma State, Kansas and Baylor, and none for Texas A&M and Kansas State.
Now, picking a league-winning team is not solely a matter of measuring the all-conference caliber players in preseason, but it is telling, and reinforces the point I made in yesterday's blog entry (see below, or click here, that the same media members who think Oklahoma is going to win the South believe that Texas' has more proven top tier talent than the Sooners (including, importantly, on the OL). And it's not even close.
So, these voters must have either put a huge amount of weight on the respective QB positions, or they think that, aside from those six first-teamers, Texas is thin at the other positions vis a vis the Sooners. Or maybe they think both of those are the case.
Well, I'm here to tell you, the Horns are not destitute across the other 16 positions. We talked about the OL yesterday. But let's consider wide receiver, where Texas returns two receivers -- Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman -- more prolific last fall than OU's only proven returning threat -- Malcolm Kelly. Let's look at the defensive line, where picking OU's unit over UT's would require one to believe that Brian Robison and Derek Lokey/Roy Miller are so inferior to their Sooner counterparts as to overcome the advantage Texas has at the other two spots with all Big 12 first-teamers Frank Okam and Tim Crowder. (For more on the DL, see this thread on the Members board.)
Tight end, linebackers, the secondary... based on proven talent, they're nothing more than a slight advantage either way. So...
A quick aside: I'm listening to my IPod on shuffle as I write this, and what just came through the headphones? Craig Way's choked up intro, "Let's bring you a national championship version of The Eyes of Texas," followed by the loudest Eyes ever! Still chokes me up to this day!
... So, it all comes back to the QB position, and perhaps the lingering belief that Mack Brown can't beat Bob Stoops without Superman in the Orange and White. Hey, perhaps the pick of the Sooners will prove to be a good one. Maybe the Superman this year will wear the Crimson and Cream. But to me, that's what it's going to take for the Sooners to out-class a Longhorn team that apparently is being severely punished by pundits for one position out of 22, and without looking at the factors (It's the Lines, Stupid!) that mitigate its potential for trouble.
It's the Lines, Stupid!
Clendon Ross - Jul 26, 2006
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.