That's enough tennis talk...it's Texas week on Rock M Nation! Texas obviously represents probably Mizzou's single biggest challenge this year (as they do most of the time they're on Mizzou's schedule). Let's see what I can find...
We'll start by looking at last year's stats. Sure sucks to be Texas. A season that was, by all accounts, a disappointing one resulted in only 37.2 PPG, a +11.9 scoring margin, a +91.7 yardage margin, and 10 wins. That said, this team did have some distinct weaknesses. The defense was a study in contrasts--they had the #6 rushing defense in the country...and either the #70 or #109 pass defense in the country, depending on whether you're a "pass efficiency" or "pass yardage" person. Derek Lokey, Lamarr Houston, and Brian Orakpo return to anchor a D-line that should be every bit as good as last year's, but there are still questions in the secondary.
Offensively, Texas was good...but not necessarily great when compared to their Big 12 peers. Colt McCoy struggled through something of a sophomore jinx, and he was done no favors by the fact that he had no true go-to WR after Limas Sweed got injured. The UT offense was often bailed out by the late running of Jamaal Charles, who has since left for the pros. McCoy managed a solid 22 TDs, but they were offset significantly by 18 INTs. That could have been because of the guys he was throwing to, and it could be because he simply doesn't have the arm he thinks he does. Either way, he's a year more experienced and another year removed from some of the injury troubles he had as a freshman. He's not in the top tier of Big 12 QBs (Daniel, Bradford, Harrell), but he's firmly entrenched in the second tier (with Reesing and Robinson), and the typical roster of Texas athletes should be able to make something out of that.
HornBrain at Burnt Orange Nation takes a look at the strange disconnect between Texas' preseason rankings and their positional rankings. One of them is wrong...not sure which one. Also from BON: a look at Texas' 10 best players. Five of the top seven are on the defensive side of the ball. The line looks particularly good.
Let's jump back to UT's official site and its official 2008 prospectus (pdf).
Listen to UT fans and writers for a little while, and you'll start to believe that the biggest problem on last year's squad was the lack of intensity and solid game-planning on D. Well...if that truly was the problem (and I have no evidence it's not), then hiring one of the most intense D-Coordinators in the country was a good first step toward remedying the problem. Will Muschamp was Auburn's DC most recently, and...well, Auburn's D's were stout. This is a good, potentially great hire. He can make a quick difference for UT, especially considering how good they'll be up front. The question is, can some DBs step up? Deon Beasley has potential, and obviously UT has its pick of about 14 4-star players to fill out the rest of the secondary, but nobody's really proven anything on the field yet.
The other major question for UT fans this year: just how high is Colt McCoy's ceiling? He was by all means decent in 2007...he just did absolutely nothing to fulfill the too-high expectations set during his lovely freshman campaign in '06. As a football futures better put it, McCoy's "missing something". It's hard to tell what, exactly, but McCoy's never seemed to have the dominant presence that other QBs in the conference have. Maybe it's the fact that the most memorable clip from his career so far is him getting cheap-shotted and crumpled up into a toilet paper ball by ATM in 2006. McCoy doesn't have to be great for UT to succeed (as long as the defense does indeed improve), but he's got to cut down on the INTs. Most prognosticators blindly predict "big improvement" from McCoy in 2008 without exactly explaining why (other than a quick "he's healthy"), but his growth is obviously one of the biggest storylines for the UT (and Big 12) season. And I guess the sub-storyline on that one would be the development of some WRs/TEs to which McCoy can throw. No WR really stood out (though they have to replace Nate Jones), and they also lost athletic TE Jermichael Finley to the draft. No QB will succeed much without a big-play guy.
Finally, let's just back to BON for the final link: a look at Mack Brown and his efforts to meet Texas-sized expectations.
For me, I think an underdiscussed point about Mack Brown is that he is both by nature and training an extremely conservative/'traditional' football coach. That's relevant to me in a number of ways. For starters, in the PB Book of Coaching Ideals, his starting point is, overall, less than ideal.1 And specifically, its various manifestations have cost Texas in the win column at times - in particular, as HornBrain notes, against the very best competition.
With that said, where I diverge from a full blown pessimist is my unwillingness to say that he's clearly hit his ceiling. To me, that view both is both inconsistent with a complete view of his track record and too definitive a conclusion for what I'd call an ambiguous set of evidence.
On the first point (his track record), I note again Mack Brown's conservative starting point. While concededly not ideal, it bears on how we evaluate his ability and willingness to make changes. I'd argue Mack Brown would not - hell, could not - have won a national championship without enough flexibility and willingness to adapt that the VY coronation required. Even if Mack Brown needed Vince Young more than the other way around, lesser coaches would not have put it all together. To whatever extent you agree with me on that point, I think you have to credit Mack Brown adaptability points.
To put it in perspective, when Vince Young was a junior at Madison, Mack Brown was so far removed from the coach we eventually saw in 2005 that he had to be convinced by pleading assistant coaches to recruit the athletic marvel from Houston as his next quarterback. So whatever points I'd ding Mack Brown for his conservative background that very nearly prevented the Vince Young era from coming to being, I simultaneously see as evidence of just how far he had to evolve between 2002 and January 4, 2006.