Inside Texas Holiday Bowl Picks

IT's Bill Frisbie, Ross Lucksinger, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and their reasoning for the picks, for Thursday's match-up in San Diego in the Holiday Bowl between Texas and Arizona State.

Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer – How does anyone pick Texas to win a school-record fourth-straight bowl game with the memory of the A&M meltdown seared into the collective Burnt Orange psyche? Sunshine-pumping Texas coach Mack Brown actually located a black cloud in his post-season silver lining. While noting that Texas' bowl game practices have been outstanding, he cautioned that they were also terrific the week of the A&M game. At the same time, he harkened back to the 2003 Holiday Bowl loss to Washington State:: "We had great practices in Austin, but two days before the game I could tell the players were ready to go home."

In other words, you don't need a sportswriter to assess the 2007 Longhorns. You need a shrink.

The players have said all the right things since the A&M game. They appear properly penitent, speaking in terms of 'accountability' and returning to the lofty 'standard' of the Texas program. But I doubt the Horns have learned how to tackle during the past two weeks. Nor do I expect its undersized DBs to grow three inches by Thursday.

ASU's offensive line is guilty of allowing 51 sacks this season. Of course, Texas has struggled to manufacture a consistent pass rush the past six years. Now, Brown insists DEs Brian Orakpo and Aaron Lewis are finally healthy after sustaining early injuries. The DEs have got to bring the heat, DTs Derek Lokey and Frank Okam have got to flex the muscle of senior leadership, and the backup linebackers have got to get the lion's share of the snaps or QB Rudy Carpenter will pick-apart a Texas pass defense that has become an oxymoron.

At the same time, the Texas offense has produced more turnovers than Betty Crocker. The Horns are negative-three in turnovers this season, the worst mark in Brown's tenure. The Horns were negative-six in turnovers against K-State and OU. It was the difference in those ballgames and will likely be the difference in San Diego. How can you predict the number of give-aways, other than to survey the past. ASU leads the nation in Time of Possession (33:56). Just one Longhorn turnover keeps your defense on the field for what will seem like an eternity against that type of ball-control, passing offense. If Texas wins the turnover battle, it has a good shot Thursday. If not, ASU wins by at least 10 points.

Oddsmakers have made Texas a slight favorite (1.5 points), but that's based more on tradition than what the Horns have fielded this season. Texas has more across-the-board talent than ASU but, last time I checked, Texas also out-talented Kansas State and Texas A&M. The Horns certainly have the tools to win what appears to be another wild Holiday Bowl shootout. And I sincerely hope Texas does. But the only way I can pick Texas after what I've seen this season is to swallow more of the Mack Brown Kool-Aid. And I've had my fill of it for one year. Arizona State 31, Texas 27.

Ross Lucksinger, Editor – The Texas football team has spent the better part of this month attempting to reignite a fire that fizzled in College Station back on Nov. 23rd.

Coaches and players have spoken about how all starting positions are open and how Not Our Standard up-downs and tough 6 a.m. practices and more hitting have changed the direction of the team. But all the NOSs in the world don't make for a better gameplan, don't make for a better pass defense and don't fix team chemistry problems that have existed since the start of the season.

The problems that Texas is dealing with are not the kind that are handled with a few weeks of speeches and a trip to Sea World. There was a significant disconnect on this team that existed throughout the entire year and it will take an entire off-season of work to handle it. And it will be handled, but not in time for the Holiday Bowl.

That being said, there are plenty of reasons for hope and plenty of reasons why Texas can win this game. It starts, as all football seems to, up front. The Arizona State offensive line is just not that good. It isn't. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter has done an impressive job of throwing on the run, throwing while being hit and throwing in every manner of positions a quarterback should not be in. But while his accuracy under fire is notable, the fact is Carpenter has spent a lot of time getting familiar with the turf at Sun Devil Stadium.

Unfortunately for Texas, rushing the QB has been yet another problem in this really good/really bad/who knows what season. But for all the passing and rushing numbers Arizona State has put up, there's one statistic from this season held by the Sun Devils that spells doom for Texas: time of possession. Despite its offensive attack being rather pass-centric, Arizona State has maintained control over the ball, and thus the game, better than any team in the county. Both teams will light up the scoreboard (it is a Holiday Bowl, after all), but in the end, when the game is on the line, ASU is the one that will be in control and dictate the clock.

It'll be a hard-fought, close effort by Texas, indicative of a team that will play tough and begin moving back in the right direction, but against Arizona State, it'll be too little, too late. Arizona State 38, Texas 34.

Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher – [Note: Michael and his wife just welcomed to this world their second child, so as you can imagine, Michael is a bit "frazzled," as he put it. He passes along his holiday wishes to everyone, and in the spirit of (re)birth, predicts a Longhorn victory. Texas 45, Arizona State 41.]

Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher -- I've literally waited till the last minute to write this pick because, since the announcement of the match-up back in early December, I haven't had a strong feeling one way or the other about which of the two disappointed teams in the Holiday Bowl would manage to find inspiration in San Diego.

The Sun Devils hoped for a virtual BCS home game in Glendale at the Fiesta Bowl, but instead ended up in the Holiday Bowl, a letdown which has often been the bane of teams in similar situations (see the 2003 Texas Longhorns and 2004 Cal Bears, for example). But the Horns' lack of inspiration in even more critical games earlier this season doesn't inspire confidence that they'll suddenly come out breathing fire at Qualcomm, regardless of 5 a.m. wake-up calls and talk of accountability (which may be nothing more than lip-service if Mack's indication yesterday that there will be no major changes in the starting line-up turns out to be true).

For Texas, there's also that little issue of pass defense, which Duane Akina hasn't been able to solve through 12 games (matter of fact, things got worse over the final four games of the regular season). Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter and a bevy of Sun Devil wideouts are perfectly capable of equaling or even bettering what the Huskers, Cowboys, Red Raiders and Aggies did to the Horns down the stretch.

That means that the onus will be on Greg Davis' offense to keep pace with the points piled up by ASU's offense. To do that, the margin for error, in terms of both play-calling and in execution, will be close to nil. And based on this season's results there is little reason for hope that either Davis (with his, charitably put, inconsistent preparation, scheming and play-calling) or the Colt McCoy-led offense (which turned the ball over 25 times in ‘07) can live up to that standard.

One thing I fully expect to see is a Texas team that won't give up until the final gun, but one that will again be out-scored when the clock ticks to zero to put an exclamation point on this mediocre season. Arizona State 42, Texas 34.

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