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September 8, 2009

College Football Fix: Is Texas BCS bulletproof?

Normally, I'd say when one of the best teams, if not THE best team on Texas' schedule, goes down, it's bad news for the Longhorns' schedule strength. Especially in a year when Texas is playing ULM, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida in the non-conference.

But I'm not sure OU losing to BYU makes all that much difference to UT at this point. Let me tell you why: Texas probably has no shot at the BCS national title game this season with a single loss. So with no margin for error to begin with, there's little reason to worry about the records of your opponents at this point - unless the top half of the Big 12 South suddenly starts tanking.

UT WON'T BE JENNIFER ANISTON

Texas had a knack for finding its way into the role of Jennifer Aniston last year (picture Brad Pitt/Vince Vaughn/Bradley Cooper all passing over Aniston for some other babe as the BCS picking OU over UT last season). But Texas has two aces in its hand this season:

Colt McCoy and a blue-collar attitude originating from its hard-hitting defense.

These two things are the reasons why I think Texas will stay at No. 2 if the Longhorns go undefeated and find themselves in the company of a couple other undefeated teams.

TEXAS HAS NAME ID THIS SEASON

Last season, no one was prepared for Texas quite yet. And college football is a bit like electoral politics. You have to have name ID. You have to have voter familiarity. (Why else does college football have all those Watch Lists for awards candidates?)

Last year at this time, Texas was coming off a Holiday Bowl victory against an overrated Arizona State team in a season in which Colt McCoy threw nearly as many interceptions (18) as TD passes (22). This season, he's the Heisman Trophy runner-up and someone many feel was wrongfully denied the Heisman after leading his team in rushing AND setting the NCAA record for completion percentage AND beating Oklahoma head-to-head in a 12-1 season.

HEISMAN IS MCCOY'S TO LOSE

If McCoy plays well, he will put up bigger numbers than Tim Tebow. Last season, Colt had nearly the same rushing numbers (561 yards, 11 TDs, 4.1 ypc) as Tebow (673, 12 TDs, 3.8 ypc) and put up 3,859 passing yards and 34 TDs with 8 picks with an NCAA record for accuracy to Tebow's 2,746, 30 TDs and 4 picks. Just like big-name stars carry a movie, Colt McCoy can carry Texas to the big show.

So let's say Texas, Florida, USC and Penn State are all undefeated at the end of the year. I think the voters will keep Florida and Texas in the BCS game because those teams have more KNOWNS.

USC would be a sexy story and a clear flavor of the month with a freshman QB. But I think the voters would reward Texas and McCoy (who were overlooked last year) over a USC team that would have beaten up on the Pac-10 - AGAIN - and an Ohio State team clearly rebuilding on the offensive line and at key positions on the defense. And ahead of a Penn State team that comes from a league widely seen as one of the weakest BCS conferences.

This race would undoubtedly be closer than people probably want to realize. In fact, I think USC is the only team that could make this a debate. It's early, but never too early to speculate about the potential sways of the BCS electoral process.

THREE THINGS

… THAT GOT BETTER

1. D.J. Monroe -
Wow. His stop-and-start shiftiness fits the gun-run game perfectly, he's electric as a return guy, and he can catch the football, which was not even part of the mix Saturday night. Maybe the most impressive thing about Monroe Saturday night was his completely humble attitude in media interviews after the game. Wow. Very impressive.

2. Dan Buckner and John Chiles- Nice start for both. Buckner backed up what the coaches had been saying all camp. He looked confident, and his size was a nice mismatch against smaller linebackers and DBs. Let's see how he handles a little prosperity. Chiles' dropping 16 pounds showed up in his speed. His 14-yard TD catch on a WR screen was the perfect way to get his career as a receiver started.

3. Sam Acho and Alex Okafor - Acho had two fumble recoveries, seemed to be all over the field - all before celebrating his 21st birthday at Austin's best new restaurant Cover 3 the following night. Okafor made play after play, including a 6-yard TFL after ULM had second-and-goal from the UT 1 in the third quarter. (The ULM drive ended in a Nolan Brewster interception.) But Okafor said the only play that stood out for him after the game was a missed sack. This kid's drive, motor, whatever you want to call it, is the real deal. Same can be said for Acho.


…THAT STAYED THE SAME

1. Jordan Shipley -
He was spectacular last season, when he posted 1,060 yards receiving, and he picked up right where he left off, catching eight passes for 180 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown on a go route in the second quarter that put Texas up 35-10. And by resting Shipley on kick returns, Mack Brown may have found another weapon to add to the mix - D.J. Monroe.

2. Malcolm Williams - He was MIA in the Fiesta Bowl and for most of the last three games last season, and picked up right where he left off - MIA this season. He didn't even get on the field as a receiver until the third possession, replacing Chiles. He had one nice grab for 16 yards, but he didn't have a spark. His body language was defeated. You have to think a kid this talented will figure it out, especially when it looked like Williams was the kid with the stock taking off and Buckner was the one stuck in neutral (until his move to flex/TE).

3. Turnover margin - If Texas is going to be a monster this season it has to do better than EVEN on the turnover margin against a Sun Belt team like ULM. Last year, the count was +2 for the season. Most teams in the national title hunt are at least +15. The defense met its goal of forcing at least three turnovers per game (3). But Vondrell McGee's two lost fumbles and Colt McCoy's ill-advised throw/interception negated the D's success.


…THAT GOT WORSE

1. The running game -
Despite D.J. Monroe's big night on the ground, the rest of the running game looked pretty shabby. Cody Johnson, who reported to training camp out of shape, ran like it, averaging 2.5 yards per carry (11 for 27 yards). Vondrell McGee lost two fumbles, and Foswhitt Whittaker didn't play while resting his injured knee.

Tre Newton looked good in garbage time with 28 yards on four carries. Despite Greg Davis and Mack Brown both saying they want to "grow his package" … of plays, both coaches said D.J. Monroe might top out at 15 to 20 snaps per game this season.

2. Chykie Brown - It was a rough night for Chykie, who lost his man on a 75-yard touchdown pass by ULM early in the second quarter that allowed ULM to cut Texas' lead to 21-10. It was the only touchdown given up by the first-team defense and the longest TD play given up by a Texas defense since an 80-yard scoring pass surrendered against Houston in a 53-26 victory on Sept. 22, 2001. Chykie also had a third-down pass interference penalty in the end zone that kept alive a ULM drive that was ultimately snuffed by a Nolan Brewster interception.

3. Colt McCoy - it's a nitpick, but when you're used to watching McCoy make great decision after great decision, to see him ignore drop down passes to his backs and opt for a more difficult pass, including his interception in the second quarter. (By his own admission, the third option on that play - the one he threw to - is not a viable option against the Cover 2 defense ULM was playing.) A couple of his check-down passes were dropped. But there needs to be some consistency developed between Colt and his third-down back (which is most likely going to be Tre Newton or Fozzy Whittaker). Last year's check-down, security blanket Chris Ogbonnaya was so key for Texas. (Ogbonnaya was the team's third-leading receiver behind Quan Cosby and Shipley). And he'll have to do it again this year for UT's offense to sustain drives.

UP NEXT FOR TEXAS

Opponent:
at Wyoming

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT, Saturday

TV: Versus (Be ready, from what I hear Versus is not on Direct TV.)

Scouting Wyoming: This is not the same Wyoming team that went to Tennessee and won 13-7 last year. That team had two great RBs. This one doesn't.

The Cowboys are under first-year head coach Dave Christensen, who served as offensive coordinator under Gary Pinkel at Toledo and Missouri. The Cowboys beat Division I-AA Weber State in their opener 29-22. Wyoming had the lowest scoring offense in college football last season (12.7 points per game, which ranked No. 119 of 119 teams). Christensen has installed the spread attack he used last year at Missouri.

In the opener, he rotated first-year quarterbacks junior college transfer Robert Benjamin and freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels. Carta-Samuels was 8 of 17 passing for 101 yards, while Benjamin was 8-of-14 for 87 yards.

The defense, which returns eight starters from a unit that gave up an average of 27.8 points and 330 yards per game in 2008, recorded five interceptions in the opener.


BIG 12 RANKINGS

1. TEXAS (1-0; Last week: 1)

Last week:
Beat ULM 59-20
Next up: at Wyoming
Bottom line: Longhorns looked a little rusty, but figure to get the kinks worked out against a Wyoming team under first-year coach Dave Christensen.

2. OKLAHOMA STATE ( 1-0; Last week: 3)

Last week:
Beat Georgia 24-10
Next up: Houston
Bottom line: Despite distractions leading up to the game, including the loss of LB Orie Lemon to a season-ending knee injury, the Cowboys were solid on offense - as expected - but physical and relentless on defense under new coordinator Bill Young.

"Bill Young gives you a lot of security as a head coach," Mike Gundy said. "Because you know he is like a head coach on that side of the ball with all of his experience."

This was a credibility test for Mike Gundy. Houston, under former OU assistant Kevin Sumlin, brings a better offense than Georgia and could test how OSU handles prosperity. Mike Gundy called the victory a relief because of how much everyone had invested in getting Georgia to Stillwater to open the completely refurbished Boone Pickens Stadium.

"There was a lot of pressure on a number of individuals in this game," Gundy said on Monday's Big 12 coaches' call. "From the day we signed that contract with Georgia to open the new facility, we hoped we'd get national exposure. We did. We hoped both teams would be ranked, which they were. And we had some off the field issues that made it difficult the last 10 days for preparation. But we had confidence our players would react well and play well and win the game."

(And here's the money quote …)

"I was happy for everyone in the organization, especially Mr. Pickens. He had a lot on the line himself."
That folks, is what we call an understatement.

3. OKLAHOMA (0-1; Last week: 2)

Last week:
Lost to BYU 14-13
Next up: Idaho State
Bottom line: The big news was Sam Bradford going down with a shoulder injury and the offensive struggles that followed under redshirt freshman backup Landry Jones (with the porn stache).

The surprising news was a defense that was supposed to be fearsome giving up third-and-6, third-and-10 and fourth-and-4 on a 16-play, 78-yard, BYU drive in the fourth quarter that ate 8:38 off the clock en route to the winning points. I asked Stoops about that on the Big 12 coaches' call Monday:

"We had a defense that creates four turnovers and plays well, but to me it's not good enough because we couldn't come up with a stop at the end. It needed to be better," Stoops said.

The offense had six plays inside BYU's 5-yard-line and came away with no TD. Last year, the Sooners were dominant in the red zone. No team in Division I scored more touchdowns inside the opponent's 20 than OU in 2008 (71). Not this year.

"The major issue with the offensive line was the penalties that took away and destroyed so many drives," said Stoops, whose team was penalized 12 times for 93 yards. "As far as effort and being physical, those things were solid. But we have to be more disciplined to avoid those penalties."

4. KANSAS (1-0; Last week: 4)

Last week:
Beat Northern Colorado 49-3
Next up: at UTEP
Bottom line: Record-setting WR Dezmon Briscoe, who was reinstated to the team after being suspended all spring, was held out of the opener for violating unspecified team rules. His return this week for UTEP wasn't clear.

But WR Kerry Meier (115 yards receiving), RB Jake Sharp (123 yards rushing) and QB Todd Reesing (208 yards passing and 2 TDs with 79 yards rushing and 2 more TDs on the ground) didn't seem to miss a beat against their Division I-AA opponent.

5. BAYLOR (1-0; Last week: 5)

Last week:
Won at Wake Forest 24-21
Next up: Bye
Bottom line: Just as Oklahoma State's victory over Georgia was a credibility test for the Cowboys, Art Briles, a.k.a. "McGuyver Briles," opened eyes by beating a Wake Forest team on the road that had nine starters back on offense. So how did that Baylor defense do, including new DT Phil Taylor, a transfer from Penn State? Wake QB Riley Skinner, currently the ACC's all-time leader for completion percentage, was intercepted three times, including once by the big man Taylor (6-4, 355).

6. NEBRASKA (1-0; Last week: 6)

Last week:
Beat Florida Atlantic 49-3
Next up: Arkansas State
Bottom line: QB Zac Lee got better as the game wore on (15 of 22 for 213 yards and 2 TDs with 1 INT). So did RB Roy Helu Jr. (152 yards rushing), and the Huskers ' defense hounded FAU senior QB Rusty Smith into two interceptions and forced a fumble.

7. TEXAS TECH (1-0; Last week: 7)

Last week:
Defeated North Dakota 38-13
Next up: Rice
Bottom line: New QB Taylor Potts threw for 405 yards and two touchdowns, including eight passes for 146 yards and a touchdown to Detron Lewis. But Potts also threw three interceptions. Tech's running game was garbage, averaging 2.1 yards per carry. The defense limited NDSU to 207 total yards.

8. MISSOURI (1-0; Last week: 9)

Last week:
Defeated Illinois 37-9
Next up: Bowling Green
Bottom line: How about new QB Blaine Gabbert, who threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a fourth in a rout of the Illini. I had my doubts about Gabbert, but I'm sucking wind after that performance. I had my doubt about Gary Pinkel being able to replace 13 starters and two new coordinators by opening day. I apologize to Pinkel, whose team was more physical and made veteran Illini QB Juice Williams look like a freshman. Good win. One of my biggest surprises of the weekend.

9. TEXAS A&M (1-0; Last week: 10)

Last week:
Defeated New Mexico 41-6
Next up: Bye
Bottom line: Jerrod Johnson completed 31 of 41 passes for 349 yards and two TDs and ran for another score, and Christine Michael led A&M in rushing with 11 carries for 93 yards (8.5 ypc) as A&M pounded a rebuilding New Mexico team under a new coach.

What was most impressive about Micheal was posting two runs of 20 yards or longer in the first half when New Mexico's defense was fresh. Michael may have already moved ahead of Cyrus Gray, who had 14 carries for 52 yards (3.7 ypc).

10.COLORADO (0-1; Last week: 8)

Last week:
Lost at home to Colorado State 23-17
Next up: at Toledo
Bottom line: The Buffs' running game was supposed to be new and improved and finished with 29 yards on the ground. It's still the Rodney Stewart show (six carries for 38 yards, 6.3 ypc). It's certainly not the Darrell Scott show (1 carry for 1 yard). The life looks like it has just gone out of Dan Hawkins on the sideline. Maybe it's watching his son, Cody, the team's QB get sacked four times by a rebuilding Mountain West team picked to finish 6th with only five starters back on defense.

11.KANSAS STATE (1-0; Last week: 11)

Last week:
Beat UMass 21-17
Next up: At Louisana (used to be Lou-Lafayette)
Bottom line: This might have been the feel-good moment of the season for the Wildcats with 300 former players in the audience in a sold-out stadium cheering on Bill Snyder to his first victory as a head coach in four years. With all the turmoil in that program, this was a HUGE win from a morale standpoint at the school.

12.IOWA STATE (1-0; Last week: 10)

Last week:
Defeated North Dakota State 34-17
Next up: Iowa
Bottom line: The Cyclones, under new head coach Paul Rhoads, ended a 10-game losing streak left over from the Gene Chizik Era as QB Austen Arnaud threw a pair of touchdowns to Marquis Hamilton. Beating up on blueberry muffins like NDSU is one thing. Beating Iowa would be quite another.


THE TOP TEN

1. FLORIDA -
Why are people clamoring for a preseason game? Florida just played one … vs. Charleston Southern (and did not cover the 73-point spread).

2. TEXAS - Lots of youth got in to build morale and depth for this week's hike to Laramie (Altitude - 7,165 feet).

3. ALABAMA - Mark Engram ran wild and QB Greg McElroy took a beating but stood tall, and the Bama defense will only get better.

4. OKLAHOMA STATE - The Cowboys pulled away from a physical Georgia team. But more impressive was the OSU defense - physical and fast under new DC Bill Young.

5. CAL - Jahvid Best is in the Heisman discussion after running 10 times for 137 yards in rout of Maryland.

6. MISSISSIPPI - Jevan Snead settled down to take care of Memphis.

7. USC - The Trojans beat up on Dick Tomey's San Jose State Spartans … but it was impressive.

8. LSU - Jordan Jefferson showed he might be able to lead LSU after the failed Jarrett Lee experiment last year.

9. PENN STATE - Nittany Lions should be 9-0 when Ohio State comes to town on Nov. 7

10. VIRGINIA TECH - Tyrod Taylor needs to get better with Nebraska (Sept. 19) and the Miami Hurricanes (Sept. 26) coming up.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

(Will have my national picks a little later in the week.)

The Big 12 went 10-2 last weekend - and both losses came to the Mountain West. Ouch.


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