Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Is Texas a BCS title contender?
By ESPN.com staff
Texas will be starting from around the top 20 this season, and is coming off an eight-win season, but are the Longhorns a BCS title contender?
We're breaking down 20 teams' chances this year, and the Longhorns are first on the list.
The knee-jerk reaction to the Longhorns' chances is no, but I recall a team all the way back in 1999 that went 7-5 and all of a sudden, racked up a 13-0 record the following year to win a national title.
Texans, you may have heard of them. Most refer to them as the "Sooners."
But what about Texas? Let's dig in.
The first reason Texas could win it: A defense that could be "truly elite."
Seven of 11 starters are back on what was the No. 11 defense nationally in 2011. In fact, for a five-game stretch of the schedule from Kansas through Texas A&M, only Alabama and LSU proved to be tougher when it came to yielding yards than Texas. The Horns were by many metrics the best defense in the Big 12 over the course of the season, and they ranked second in Football Outsiders' defensive efficiency numbers, behind only Oklahoma State.
Like the Tide and the Tigers, only twice did the Longhorns allow a touchdown pass of 20 or more yards. For Texas, both came against Baylor in the final regular-season game, with defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat playing sparingly due to a shoulder injury that would eventually require surgery.
The other reason? The running game could be one of the nation's best.
There's no escaping the biggest reason why Texas may not win the title: quarterback play.
For Texas to win in 2012, the quarterback play has to provide at least a modicum of production. Game management has become the catch phrase among the coaches, especially given the potential of the team's running game (for more on that, see above). Similar to 2011, they will run the ball on at least 65 percent of their plays in order to showcase this talent and hide the aforementioned deficiency.
Here's the good news: While still not having the confidence to name Ash the starter, the coaching staff has praised the rising sophomore's understanding of the offense as well as his increased maturity in the pocket. Ash no longer throws the ball just for the purpose of throwing it, but instead throws it with purpose. Couple that with an increased awareness of when to throw the ball away and Texas believes it might have a quarterback who can manage the game.
The piece from Carter Strickland and Football Outsiders' Brian Fremeau takes a long look at some advanced statistics, and I'd encourage you all to give it a read.
Do that before you answer the question I pose to you: Is Texas a BCS title contender?