Inside Texas Blog: Lucky 7

The official preseason football polls are still a ways off, but it's looking like the Longhorns will be a top five team. However, according to Texas head coach Mack Brown, all that matters is being in the Top 7.

Since college football opinion polls are exactly that, opinion, it would be nice to say they didn't matter. But the fact is that preseason rankings have always had an impact on the outcome of the season and will for the foreseeable future.

I'm sure you've heard this one: "How can a team drop in the polls after a win?" Unfortunately, there are many pollsters that follow this backwards philosophy. It's backwards because they have an issue with arbitrarily moving teams around in the polls...which were set arbitrarily to begin with. They create the polls before any games are played and then are unwilling to adjust them.

Teams almost never jump without another team in front of them losing and many have fallen victim to this principle. Take the 2004 Auburn Tigers, who went undefeated, in the SEC no less, and yet were locked out of the title game. Why? The pollsters talked about schedules and margin of victory, but the only thing that really mattered was Oklahoma and USC, that season's title participants (although one could argue that OU didn't really participate in that game), started the season at 1 and 2 and Auburn started No. 17.

Now, there have been a handful teams that have made the BCS title game and been outside the preseason Top 10, the lowest ranked being the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners, who started at No. 19, but there aren't many and they needed help. OU was the only team that went undefeated that season. If a couple of the teams that started the year in front of Oklahoma didn't suffer a loss, it's likely that the Sooners wouldn't have been celebrating a national championship. That's just the reality of college football.

What a team like Texas needs to be concerned with in preseason rankings is how high it needs to be to ensure that if they take care of business, they'll get their shot.

Last season, when the official preseason polls came out, the Texas Longhorns found themselves ranked No. 3 in the AP, but Mack Brown said he wasn't worried about being in the top two. He pointed out the Auburn team that was shut out after starting at 17 and said that really No. 7 is the target. Looking back at BCS history, as long as a team is in the top seven and takes care of business, things tend to work out.

Interestingly enough, the team ranked at No. 7 in the preseason last year? The National Champion Florida Gators. Michigan, who was locked out of the BCS title game? Seven spots back at No. 14.

In 2001, Nebraska barely squeezed into the title game over the Colordado Buffalos, who actually beat the Cornhuskers that year. When we take a look at the preseason polls, we find Nebraska at No. 4 and Colorado unranked (of course, Colorado being a two-loss team didn't help matters).

The point is that various publications have the 2007 Longhorns roughly ranked between No. 2 and No. 6, but where Texas falls in the Top 7 won't matter one single bit as long as the Horns take care of business.

What do you think?

It's Literally a Title 'Run'
by Bill Frisbie
Lead Writer
June 11, 2007

If Texas can run the ball in 2007, Texas will run the table. But that's a big 'if'.

The schedule is favorable. Nebraska, Texas Tech and TCU come to Austin while Oklahoma's QB situation is as unsettled as it's ever been during the Bob Stoops era. Texas A&M should finally have Texas' undivided attention, and a conference title should be on the line when the Horns visit Aggieland the day after Thanksgiving -- assuming the ground game is at least serviceable.

The 2006 Texas rushing offense managed 162.2 ypg. (NCAA No. 34), yet was virtually non-existent by season's end. Longhorn RBs accounted for just 31 rushing yards in a 26-24 Alamo Bowl win that was more cathartic than celebratory. Game before, Texas ran for just 70 yards in a 12-7 loss to Texas A&M. Throughout the season, head coach Mack Brown questioned why the rushing offense wasn't more explosive. Coaches insisted that the sputtering ground game had little to do with an east-west scheme in which a stationary running back was handed the ball five yards behind the LOS and then looked for daylight.

Even so, RB Jamaal Charles had just one run longer than 27 yards last season, and that was against Rice's hapless defense. His average ypc dipped from 7.4 as a freshman to 5.3 as a sophomore. And Texas' NCAA-leading string of consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher was snapped at 11. And that was behind what coaches considered the finest offensive line of the Mack Brown era. To be sure, the ground game wasn't entirely broke. But it was hardly consistent and just occasionally potent. Brown is determined that there will be a considerable upgrade in the ground game this season.

A team with a veteran defensive line, a mature-beyond-his-years QB, improved play in a young-but-talented secondary, a linebacking crew with (finally) some competitive depth and the finest group of receivers in program history has the makings for an undefeated regular season followed by a Big 12 title game in Horn-friendly San Antonio. Nearly all of the pre-season publications have Texas ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6, and most of the question marks center on a revamped secondary that replaces three starters from the most porous pas defense in program history.

It will still come down to whether Texas can consistently run the football. The question is whether it will require a Heisman-caliber campaign from Jamaal Charles. Consider this: in Mack Brown's perfect world, the Horns average 200 rushing ypg, but that's only happened when Texas has had either a Heisman winner (1998) or an eventual Heisman runner-up (2003-05) in its backfield. In other words, Texas has not averaged 200+ rushing ypg unless Ricky Williams or Vince Young was in the backfield. During the Ricky Williams/Vince Young years, Texas averaged 252.7 ypg on the ground. During the other years of the Mack Brown era, Texas has averaged just 150.2 rushing ypg.

If the Orange-White Game was a harbinger of things to come, we saw McCoy efficiently pass the team down the field on the opening series before OC Greg Davis dialed-up the running game inside the Red Zone. That's when the offense sputtered and settled for a FG attempt. Next series, Texas based primarily out of the 'I' but Charles' first three careers were on rocket pitches. Later, we were told that Charles 'tweaked' an ankle during the previous scrimmage and, consequently, was not called upon to pound the middle. (It represented a microcosm of Charles' career in which his go-the-distance explosiveness has been diminished by the occasional tweak and sprain. Now, coaches are looking for a mental toughness to complement his untapped potential).

Horns fans can expect the following from the rushing offense in 2007...

...the offense will be predicated upon McCoy rather than Charles. A beefed-up McCoy will get seven or eight designed running plays per game. Coaches are hopeful that establishing McCoy as a running threat will ignite the ground game.
...Charles will not start all 12 regular season games. (Unless, of course, he learns to play with nagging injuries).
...there won't be as much I formation as fans expect. The Horns lined up in the shotgun approximately 75 percent of the time last season, and the coaching rhetoric hasn't departed much from that alignment. ...there will be two-to-four trick plays per game.
... FL Jordan Shipley will average at least two end-arounds per game.
...backup QB John Chiles will razzle-dazzle, late in the game, against the weak sisters on the schedule. There is no evidence to suggest that Brown will insert Chiles, or RS-freshman Sherrod Harris, in mid-series (a la Chris Leak and Tim Tebow) to change the tempo.

Bottom line: if Texas averages 200 rushing ypg, it enjoys a 12-0 regular season (regardless of the concerns at linebacker and at DB). If Texas' ground game sputters like it did in 2006, we're staring at a three-loss season.

What do you think?

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