IT Blog: Where's the 'Danger Zone' for Horns?

We're little more than two months away from the football home-opener, so it's not too soon to consult the Burnt Orange Crystal Ball: what date on the 2007 schedule looms as the trap door game for the Longhorns?

The Texas program has been rebuilt to where, year-in and year-out, it can legitimately be mentioned in the pre-season national title picture. But two years removed from a national championship, coach Mack Brown has correctly stated that the Horns will need to come-from-behind in at least three or four games annually to win a championship.

A quick glance at this year's slate suggests that every regular season game is certainly winnable, even for a team with a suspect running game and is thin at both the offensive line and in the secondary. But is there an undetected landmine, or a team that few are mentioning when surveying the field for a potential season-shattering 'L'. (a la Kansas State in 2006, Arkansas in 2003, Stanford in 2000 or even the bullets that were dodged against Oklahoma State in 2004-2005 and at Kansas in 2004)

The answer is: of course, but which opponent is most likely to post a season-defining upset?

Will this year's Kansas State be...Kansas State? Sophomore QB Josh Freeman is big (6-6, 255) and mobile; he proved last November 11 that he can trigger the upset. But his durability and accuracy (six TDs, 15 INTs in 2006) have been a bugaboo. The Wildcats are breaking in four new offensive linemen as well as a new 3-4 scheme to upgrade its once-proud defense (345.6 ypg in 2006, NCAA No. 70). K-State is the only program to boast a winning record (3-2) against Texas since the formation of the Big 12 Conference, but a focused herd of Horns won't stumble in consecutive year against the 'Cats. And you know Colt McCoy wants this game.

Is there a snowball's chance that Central Florida could spring the upset when it plays it's first-ever on-campus football game against Texas on September 15? Nah, not even with eight starters returning from its 106th ranked Mickey Mouse defense. Enjoy Disneyworld, Horns fans.

Could Oklahoma State be this year's spoiler? Senior WR Adarius Bowman could have a field day against Texas' DBs. Junior Bobby Reid may be the most dangerous dual-threat QB in the Big 12, but dangerous to whom? Reid is inexplicably inconsistent and looked like a deer-caught-in-the-headlights on a big stage against Texas last season. The Cowboys have been woeful on defense as of late (364.1 ypg in 2006, NCAA No. 89). It could a shootout in Stillwater, but Texas' D-line is the difference-maker.

How dangerous is Iowa State the week after Oklahoma? Cyclone coach Gene Chizik knows more about Texas' offensive scheme and personnel than any coach the Horns will face in 2007. But the former Longhorn Defensive Coordinator returns just four offensive starters from a 4-8 team; there are just five defensive starters returning from a unit that ranked No. 102 nationally (392.3 ypg) in 2006. Besides, Texas has not lost the game following OU during the Mack Brown era.

Could Texas Tech accomplish what no Red Raider squad has done during the Mack Brown era: win in Austin? It's Freak Show offense gives it a chance against Texas' pass defense, but this year's Big 12 quarterback controversy lives in Lubbock (junior Graham Harrell will be looking over his shoulder at fan-favorite Taylor Potts most of the season).

What about Texas A&M? The Horns know they have not played well against the Aggies during the past two seasons. The Farmers will Texas' undivided attention follow last season's upset. QB Stephen McGee gives his team a chance every time he steps on the field. But A&M's schedule (at Miami, at Oklahoma, at Nebraska, at Texas Tech, at Missouri) could mean the Aggies will be playing for pride come November 23. A&M has recruited better at RB than Texas the past couple of seasons, but the Horns still have superior talent and depth. And the Horns have not lost consecutive games in this series since 1993-94.

Bottom line: the scary team that pigskin pundits are scarcely mentioning is Texas' September 8 opponent. That would be TCU. Sure, the Horned Frogs are getting some mention in a few pre-season Top 25 polls. But no one is talking about TCU in the same breath as Texas' other 2007 opponents. Maybe we should take a deep breath and consider the fact that...

...this is the match-up that Horned Frogs have envisioned since the desolation of the Southwest Conference in 1995 when TCU was omitted from the short list of programs deemed worthy of the Big 12. The past two season, TCU has posted 'W's at Oklahoma, at Texas Tech and at Baylor. A shocker in Austin would be the final feather in TCU's bonnet.

...the Froggies will publicly downplay, but privately recall, that Mack Brown did not include TCU in his final Top 25 ballot last season.

...if TCU wins in Austin, it likely runs the table and garners its first-ever BCS bowl berth. In short, TCU shapes up as this year's Boise State (even though the Frogs have posted 11 wins in three of the past four seasons).

...the second Saturday in September has been unkind to Texas this past decade. That's when the Horns suffered consecutive losses against UCLA (1997-98), at home against Arkansas (2003), and last year against Ohio State

...this is a very good good Horned Frog team. It's ground game ranked No. 4 nationally (194.6 ypg) in 2006 but, more impressive, the Frogs return nine starters from the nation's No. 2 defense (234.9 ypg). TCU is replacing only a NT and a FS from a squad that held opponents to 60.9 rushing ypg (No. 2). In fact, TCU has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 games. We will know something at the Longhorn rushing offense after this one.

The flipside is TCU returns just four offensive starters and does not have an established WR threat. The Frogs will also be breaking in a new QB, either sophomore Marcus Jackson or RS-freshman Andy Dalton. And that may be the biggest difference in this one.

What do you think?

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