Dallas Colleges: Christian Scott
Texas takes on Cal on Wednesday night in the Holiday Bowl. We previewed the game earlier, now it's time for a look at three keys for Texas to get the win.
1. Work hard in bowl practices. So yeah, this one's technically already happened, but we won't see the results until tonight. Texas' offense was young and banged up, but had a ton of room for improvement, mostly with the offensive line, receivers and running backs. The Longhorns didn't get to participate in the valuable workouts after last year's 5-7 season, so here's guessing they took those pretty seriously. Young offensive talent like Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are loaded with potential, and the late-season minicamp can be a showcase for it to shift to production.
2. Shut down Keenan Allen. Texas is missing safety Christian Scott, but the Longhorns' corners are two of the best in the league. Carrington Byndom and true freshman Quandre Diggs are capable of shutting down Allen and letting the front seven go to work on rushing Zach Maynard and stuffing Isi Sofele, a 1,200-yard rusher. Texas' defense was the Big 12's best this season, and was by far the league's best at preventing big plays, despite facing high-powered offenses every week. Texas isn't going to let Cal run all over it, and if it quiets Allen, it wins.
3. Win the game by not losing it. Counterintuitive perhaps, but Texas did exactly this against Texas A&M and needs to do it again. Think Nebraska in 2009, to a lesser degree on both sides of the ball. It doesn't have an offense that can run with a lot of teams such as Cal and others across the Big 12. Texas' worst losses this year came to the Big 12's best offenses: Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma. Cal's not on that level, but Texas can't make mistakes like it made in those games to help Cal's offense. Texas' offense needs to stay conservative, take what the defense gives it and punt it as many times as necessary. Don't turn the ball over and don't allow big plays. Texas will get blown out if it does that.
Texas is easily the wildest card in the Big 12 deck this season, but how do you see the Longhorns faring in 2010?
The defense returns six starters, and is the strength of the team, despite losing Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams to the NFL. The team's safeties, Kenny Vaccaro, Christian Scott and Blake Gideon are solid, though Scott will be sidelined the first three games because of a suspension.
The front seven is loaded with potential, and the Longhorns have two of the best linebackers in the league, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are exciting defensive ends offsetting Kheeston Randall, one of the league's best overall linemen.
Offensively, well, the Longhorns have a lot to prove. They're the only Big 12 team left that doesn't know its starting quarterback for the opening weekend. Eight starters from last year's offense return, but some of the team's biggest hype is coming from players new to campus.
Running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Jaxon Shipley showed up to campus this summer, but quarterback David Ash impressed coaches after enrolling early this spring.
The offensive line will have to be better, especially if any of those three will have success. Shipley should add some solid playmaking ability to a receiving corps depleted with the losses of Marquise Goodwin (Olympic track qualifying) and Malcolm Williams (personal issues), who won't be with the team this year. Mike Davis will likely be the team's go-to receiver, at least to start the season.
So how do the Longhorns stack up?
Here's what we've covered so far:
The group of safeties across the Big 12 isn't fantastic, without any truly elite groups, but it's decent. There aren't any teams that look really hopeless at the position in the immediate future.
I haven't given it real close examination so far on the positions we haven't covered yet, but this is by far the closest gap between 1-10 of any position so far.
Here's how I ranked them. (Remember, I lumped in nickel backs with linebackers, so Ahmad Dixon and Tony Jefferson won't be found anywhere in this post.)
2. Texas -- Blake Gideon takes his share of criticism, a good deal of it fair, but there's a reason he's starting for Texas for a fourth season this fall. He knows what he's doing. Kenny Vaccaro will challenge OSU's Martin, among others, for the title of the Big 12's biggest hitter and Nolan Brewster and Christian Scott are strong reserves at the position. The Longhorns lose a lot at corner, but all the safeties are back from a defense that allowed just over 170 yards a game through the air in conference play last season.
3. Texas A&M -- The Aggies' Steven Terrell and Trent Hunter are solid, and Hunter is a big playmaker who made 62 stops and picked off two passes last year. Toney Hurd Jr. is the backup and was one of the most impressive freshmen in fall camp last year, joined by Steven Campbell in the rotation.
4. Kansas State -- Tysyn Hartman has loads of experience and is one of the Wildcats that Bill Snyder loves to rave about. Ty Zimmerman was one of the Big 12's best freshman last year, and picked off three passes. They should be solid again next year, and for as much criticism as K-State's defense faced last year, they were fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Logan Dold should be in the rotation, too.
5. Oklahoma -- Reserve Sam Proctor has starting experience, but Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin enter fall camp as starters. That says plenty about how Bob Stoops and Brent Venables feel about them. In a word: confident. Colvin has the most potential in the group, but the two starters will have to learn on the go. Proctor, a senior, should be able to help. James Haynes will also be in the rotation.
6. Missouri -- Jasper Simmons is gone, but Missouri's safeties might be a bit underrated in this spot. Kenji Jackson has loads of experience and should be solid, and Tavon Bolden and Matt White are a pair of promising sophomores who should compete at free safety. Kenronte Walker should be in the rotation, too.
7. Texas Tech -- Injuries were a problem last year for the Tech secondary, but Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson will hold down the traditional safety spots away from the line of scrimmage in new coordinator Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5. The unit gave up lots of big plays in 2010 (151 over 10 yards, 46 over 20, and 25 over 30, all the most in the Big 12), but I'd expect that number to drop under Glasgow if the secondary stays healthy. Davis is the team's leading returning tackler, with 87 stops. Brett Dewhurst and Giorgio Durham should be in the rotation.
8. Kansas -- Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald give Kansas a lot of speed and athletic ability at the position, but both of the team's safeties from 2010 graduated and Terry and McDougald are short on experience. Lubbock Smith should add some solid depth to the position.
9. Iowa State -- Iowa State loses their top playmaker at the position, David Sims, but returns starter Ter'Ran Benton. He'll be helped out by some combination of Jacques Washington, Earl Brooks and Deon Broomfield once the season starts. Iowa State's biggest weakness is on the defensive line, so it's hard to get a good read on how good the safeties really are with such a poor pass rush up front.
10. Baylor -- This group might move up the list during the year under Phil Bennett, but the two best raw athletes (Ahmad Dixon, Prince Kent) at the position moved to nickel back and linebacker, respectively. The team's leading tackler, Byron Landor, graduated, and that left Mike Hicks as the other starter. He'll be helped out at safety by Sam Holl, Josh Wilson and K.J. Morton. Last year, the Bears ranked last in the Big 12 in pass defense in conference play, giving up over 300 yards a game. That'll have to change or Baylor won't get past seven wins.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Part 2 of the articles on OSU's involvment in academic fraud was released. Some claim the expose is unfounded. Ian and Richard warn that there are two sides to all stories.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mack Brown, Manny Diaz and all the latest with the Texas Longhorns.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett give you the latest on the Johnny Manziel story and Charles Barkley weighs in. You won't believe who the outspoken NBA Hall of Famer is disappointed in and what he thinks about the autograph allegations.
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to preview the 2013 college football season.
Play Podcast Former TCU and current Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the expectations for the Bengals this season, give a prediction for the TCU-LSU game and talk about what it's like having the Hard Knocks cameras follow him.
Play Podcast Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Play Podcast Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.
Play Podcast Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation.