Inside Texas Blog: Comparing Champions

Heading into the Big 12 Tournament, Augie Garrido's Horns, at 42-14 overall, appear to be a virtual lock for one of the top eight national seeds in the NCAA Tournament, ensuring a 'home' path to a College World Series berth. But how does this Longhorn team compare to recent Texas teams of championship vintage?

Quite well, actually.

In some ways, this team resembles the 2005 national title squad, at least in terms of defense and pitching depth. The 2005 team finished with a .978 fielding percentage, exactly where this 2007 team stands heading into tournament play. That's several points above both the 2002 title team (.972) and the 2004 runner-up team (.974). The ERA for the 2005 staff (2.80) is a bit lower than the current bunch (3.33), but the 2005 and 2007 staffs Big 12 ERAs are almost identical (3.22 and 3.19, respectively). And just as the 2005 staff did under Tom Holliday's guidance, the 2007 staff under Skip Johnson relies heavily on just two middle relievers (leftie Joseph Krebs, rightie Pat McCrory) and a closer (Randy Boone) after the starters exit. Both the 2002 and 2004 bullpens were much deeper, with four heavily used and reliable middle relievers plus closer extraordinaire Huston Street.

Single season home run king Kyle Russell and the 2007 squad, with 62, has already out-homered all but the 2002 bunch with its 68 dingers, including Jeff Ontiveros' then-record 20 long balls. Post-season could easily push the Horns past that mark, and with a power-packed playoffs, Russell himself could equal or surpass UT's entire 2000 CWS team's home run output (32).

Despite dropping back a bit from its torrid hitting earlier in the season, this year's .316 team batting average bests all of Augie's teams in Austin, including 2002 (.304), 2004 (.289) and 2005 (.302). Like the 2002 and 2005 teams, the 2007 batting line-up features seven of nine spots with regulars averaging over .300 (in 2004 the number was just four of nine).

Although Garrido has juggled the batting order throughout the year, the 2007 line-up has remained more static than in 2002, 2004 or 2005, with shortstop (Chais Fuller and Josh Prince) and designated hitter (Russell Moldenhauer and others) the only two spots with much variety. Garrido has been masterful at picking situational substitutes in the past (think 2002 CWS title game hero Chris Carmichael), but will this bench, with less experienced depth than some in the past, have the ability to step up if called upon?

Along with starting pitching depth, that's one of the few concerns heading into the post-season. This team, like those in 2002, 2004 and 2005, looks built to make a run at another College World Series title.

What do you think?

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