- Pass Offense (particularly success rates)
- Q1 Offense
- Offensive Points Per Play
- Q2 Defense
#1: Offensive 3rd Down Passing S&P+
#1: Defensive Q4 Rushing S&P+
#2: Offensive Redzone Passing S&P+
#2: Defensive 3rd Down Line Yards+, Defensive Q4 Line Yards+
#126: Offensive Q1 Line Yards+
#107: Defensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#87: Offensive 2nd Down Line Yards+
#77: Offensive Q4 Rushing S&P+
Remember back in 2005, when OU's offensive line was a complete and total disaster? Injuries, defections, disappointment...for a number of reasons, the depth was poor, the luck was bad, and lots of freshmen were moving in and out of the starting lineup. The O-line was OU's biggest hindrance, and OU went from back-to-back national title game appearances to a 7-4 record and Holiday Bowl bid.
There's a plus-side to all that lineup shuffling and youth: two or three years later, your O-line is going to be unbelievable. Duke Robinson (senior), Phil Loadholt (senior--though he's a JUCO transfer), Jon Cooper (senior), Brandon Walker (senior), and Branndon Braxton (senior) make up probably the best, most experienced offensive line in the country. They average 6'5, 317, they've combined for 130 career starts, and they form a fortress around sophomore QB Sam Bradford. As rptgwb suggested the other day, we really have no idea how good Bradford is or will be because the line has made his job really easy. He was sacked all of once a game last year. I'm usually skeptical of sophomore QBs who did a little too well their freshman years (cough cough Colt McCoy cough), but...I have no reason to think Bradford's performance will suffer much.
If (if) there's an Achilles Heel on the offense, it's the fact that Malcolm Kelly is gone. Juaquin Iglesias, Manny Johnson and Quentin Chaney (all seniors) make up quite an experienced WR unit, but Kelly was the #1 threat. Iglesias has thrived as the #2 guy (he even caught 19 more passes than Kelly in '07), but when you prepared for OU the last couple years, you prepared knowing that you had to shut Kelly down first and foremost. If Iglesias is facing everybody's #1 CB, will his production suffer? Meanwhile, Johnson and Chaney have repeatedly showed flashes of big-time ability, but they have yet to produce consistently. I've heard really good things from my inside source*, however, about RSFr Ryan Broyles. He's a little guy (6'0, 170) who's doing great things as a slot WR/waterbug. You never know in advance how guys who look good in practice will look in a game, but keep your eye out for him. If he's a reliable underneath threat, that opens things up for Johnson and Chaney (and Adron Tennell) to succeed in the "Go long, and I'll find you a couple times a game" role.
* Backup TE Trent Ratterree is the little brother of my high school best friend, so naturally my high school best friend is taking advantage of this and going to every possible practice and scrimmage.
I haven't said a word about OU's RBs and TEs because, well, it's in pretty good hands there. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown make for a nice quickness/toughness combo (and they'll look twice as good running behind that O-line), and Jermaine Gresham will catch 50 passes and go pro after '08...opening the door for my boy Ratterree to get some quality PT in '09.
Defensively, the question isn't "Is there talent to replace Curtis Lofton and Reggie Smith?" There's plenty of talent and experience in both the LB corps (Ryan Reynolds, Austin Box, former DB Keenan Clayton, JUCO transfer Mike Balogun) and secondary (seniors Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, Dominique Franks). Really, the question is simply, can they avoid the occasional breakdown? They're making a national title run here, and breakdowns like the second half of the Colorado game, or the last two Fiesta Bowls, or the '06 Oregon game, simply cannot happen. Franks and junior Brian Jackson should make a solid pair of CBs, but...they're playing a lot of potent offenses. Plus, between Reynolds and Box, there's always somebody hurt in the LB corps. If the back seven is shaky or not totally healthy, the defense could become vulnerable against just about anybody on the conference slate.
One thing they do have in their back pocket, though, is the best D-line in the conference, possibly the country. The backup DEs (John Williams and Mizzou-killer Jeremy Beal) could be the starting unit at most Big 12 schools, but they'll be fighting for playing time with newcomers like RJ Washington and Jonte Bumpus. Auston English is recovering from appendicitis, but he will be full-speed by conference play, and Alan Davis is solid and steady (though I actually think Beal is better). And then, of course, they have two former 5-star recruits in Gerald McCoy and DeMarcus "Five Finger Discount" Granger at DT. Granger's been in the doghouse ever since he was caught shoplifting in Arizona before the Fiesta Bowl, plus he's battling injuries, so they might have to rely on 2-year starter Cory Bennett alongside McCoy. I feel so sorry for them.
Verdict: If the cliche is right, and football really is won in the trenches, then go ahead and hand OU the national title now. They're the best trench warfare team in the country, plus they've got dynamic non-trench talent as well (Murray, Bradford, Gresham, Iglesias, Harris, Holmes, etc.). But can OU avoid the lapses that killed them in '07? I can excuse the West Virginia and Texas Tech losses last year (WV torched a lot of D's, and OU would have beaten Tech if Bradford hadn't gotten hurt), but...Colorado? OU has to face road games against teams that really aren't any worse than CU was last year (KSU, ATM, OSU, maybe Washington). Can they stay healthy and awake enough to win all of those? I'm picking them to do just that, but if I were an OU fan, my biggest concern would simply be that Big Game Bob's teams don't always show up for the Moderate Games.
- Q1 Defense
- 1st Down Pass Offense
- 2nd Down Defense
- Q2 Offense
#1: Offensive Redzone Passing S&P+
#2: Defensive Rushing EqPts+
#6: Defensive Line Yards+
#7: Defensive Redzone Rushing S&P+
#101: Defensive Q4 Passing S&P+
#95: Defensive Q1 Passing S&P+
#92: Defensive Q4 S&P+
#82: Defensive 1st Down Passing S&P+
How will Colt McCoy do in '08?
Depends. As has been mentioned elsewhere, McCoy was a better scrambler at the end of the year than a passer--his rushing averages were indeed quite nice (55.6% / 0.49 PPP / 1.050 S&P). However, it's hard to project how he'll progress as a junior because it's impossible to know the state of his arm and the state of his head. His passing numbers (46.8% / 0.38 PPP / 0.848 S&P) were quite nice aside from the ugly INT totals (18). But those INTs are kinda sorta important. If he trusts his arm (and knows what he's capable of instead of throwing dumb passes), then he should at the very least be able to throw efficiently.
Having an explosive passing game, however, is a different matter. Quan Cosby (86.4% / 0.87 PPP / 1.735 S&P...not bad) returns, as does Jordan Shipley (77.8% / 1.37 PPP / 2.151 S&P). Neither of them are game-changers (though if Shipley can double his receptions and maintain those averages, he could be). Plus, they lose possession WR Nate Jones (1.505 S&P) and TE Jermichael Finley. They need to find some new blood. Lord knows they've got some options with potential--RSFr (and stud recruit) Malcolm Williams, true freshmen (and stud recruits) Dan Buckner and DJ Grant, etc.
Will the defense improve in 2008?
Yes. They weren't bad to begin with, their D-Line has Brian Orakpo, Lamarr Houston, Eddie Jones, Roy Miller, etc., they have a better D-Coordinator (at least one with a better reputation)...yes. Yes, they will improve. How did you like THAT analysis?
If Sam Bradford has anything resembling a sophomore slump, Texas could win the South. They're a lot closer than people want to think. Texas Tech is the flavor of the month, but Texas is the second-best team in the South. Of course, a) they play Tech in Lubbock, and b) if the pass defense isn't solid, the October stretch of Oklahoma -> Missouri -> Oklahoma State -> at Texas Tech could be murder. But needless to say, this is the best, most talented team on Mizzou's schedule in 2008, and it stinks that we're playing them in Austin.
Verdict: Tech may be the flavor of the month, but with a more stable (read: fewer INTs from Colt McCoy) offense and a more intense, less breakdown-oriented defense, Texas is still the second-best team in the South. Unfortunately for them, they do play Tech in Lubbock.
- Q3 Defense
- 2nd Down Defense
- Redzone Offense
- Q3 Rush Defense
#1: Defensive Passing EqPts+
#1: Offensive Passing EqPts+
#2: Defensive Passing Downs Passing S&P+
#2: Offensive Q2 S&P+, Offensive 2nd Down S&P+
#122: Defensive Q1 Line Yards+
#117: Offensive Rushing EqPts+
#115: Defensive Q4 Passing S&P+
#113: Defensive Q2 Line Yards+
I've given up on trying to figure out exactly how Texas Tech had the "#1 defense in the Big 12" after long-time assistant Ruffin McNeill took the DC job midseason last year. They didn't. They still managed to give up 59 to Texas, 41 to Missouri, 31 to Colorado (Colorado!), 28 to Virginia, and 27 to Oklahoma after McNeill took over, and their D-line still served as just as good a sieve to rushing yards. As I've said many times this offseason, I think Texas Tech is without a doubt a Top 15-18 team...but no higher. And as I've said many times, they were two injuries to opponents' QBs (Sam Bradford, Jameel Sewell) away from a possible 7-6 record in '07. They do indeed return most of their key contributors from '07, including the best freshman WR of all-time, Michael Crabtree, but let's not pretend like there aren't holes here.
And let's start with the holes:
- They've lost their one playmaking LB, Paul Williams (7.5 TFL's in '07, and a stellar success rate). We've heard lots of good things about sophomores Bront Bird and Brian Duncan, and there's a nice group of athletic RSFr's fighting for playing time, but they had one true playmaker, and he's gone.
- The secondary is experienced and a little more deep than the typical Tech secondary, but...teams don't throw on Tech. They run on Tech. And while this could be the best D-line Tech's had in a long time (which is one of the reasons I think they're a Top 15-18 team), it's still not as good as OU's, or Texas's, or Missouri's, or Kansas's, or Colorado's. DTs' Colby Whitlock and Rajon Henley are solid, and there's potential at DE with Brandon Williams, Jake Ratliff, and McKinner Dixon. But again...at best, they're the #6 DL in the conference.
- The offense still seems to get a bit timid when punched in the mouth. Missouri held them in check for 4 quarters by hitting them really hard, Colorado and Virginia did for 3. Once Oklahoma got its offense going while attempting a comeback, Tech's O ground to a total halt. Shannon Woods is a fantastic RB for Tech's offense, but he's not a power guy, not an "If Tech gains 2 yards on this play, they win the game...let's give it to that guy!" guy.
Verdict: Tech is 20-24 on the road under Mike Leach. They face Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas A&M, and Kansas State on the road. Plus, they get Texas at home (last time they gave up less than 38 points to Texas: 2000). In other words, this is not a national title contender, and it's unfair to them to place the expectations that high. That said, this is just about the most dangerous team in the country. They can win any single game on their schedule, and if they wanted to win the South so that we didn't have to face OU in the conference title game (knock on wood), I sure wouldn't object.
- 3rd Down Defense
- Pass Offense
- Redzone Defense
- Defensive Points Per Play
#1: Offensive 2nd Down Line Yards+
#2: Offensive Q2 Line Yards+
#2: Offensive Line Yards+
#3: Offensive 1st Down Line Yards+, Offensive Non-Passing Downs Line Yards+
#124: Defensive Passing Downs Passing S&P+
#123: Defensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#121: Defensive 3rd Down Passing S&P+
#107: Defensive Q3 Passing S&P+
Really, the key to Oklahoma State's 2008 season isn't any of my numbers, it's PS#'s. Phil Steele followers will know that PS#'s are Steele's coordinated recruit rankings. OSU has begun to put together quite a few strong PS#'s over the last couple of years. WR Dez Bryant? PS#5 (i.e. the #5 WR of his class). New RB Beau Johnson? PS#7. DE Richetti Jones? PS#9. CB Perrish Cox? PS#12. WR William Cole? PS#25. Ugo Chinasa? PS#31. DE Derek Burton? PS#38. Mike Gundy has pulled together a deep amount of not only strong athletes but pretty highly-touted guys. It's time those guys start producing. And if the defensive guys on that list step up, OSU might not be able to win string a bunch of wins together and take the South, but they can win any individual game on the schedule...against Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, whoever. But without some new playmakers on the line and some competition in the secondary, a third straight 7-6 season seems ready to enter the books.
Verdict: I STILL have no idea what to do with OSU. They've got talent, athleticism, a dynamic QB, and an underrated offensive line. But their pass defense managed to be both horrific AND prone to breakdowns in 2007, and it's really hard for me to predict a major jump from them until they prove that they've improved in that area.
- Non-Passing Downs Defense
- Q3 Offense
- Rushing Offense
- 1st Down Defense
#1: Offensive Q4 S&P+
#3: Offensive Q4 Line Yards+
#5: Offensive Q1 Rushing S&P+
#8: Offensive Q4 Rushing S&P+
#121: Offensive Q1 Passing S&P+
#118: Defensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#117: Offensive Redzone Passing S&P+
#115: Offensive Q2 S&P+
I got wordy about Tech and really wordy about OU, but...I just don't have that much to say about ATM. The hiring of Mike Sherman means that ATM will continue to be a physical team that can sneak up and bite you. Mike Goodson is obviously a big play waiting to happen, Stephen McGee is tough as nails, and they return a bunch of hard-hitters on defense--particularly guys like Devin Gregg and Crazy Michael Bennett. But...they still lack overall speed on defense, they don't have a QB who fits a pro-style offense, they lost their only two big-play threats in the passing game (Martellus Bennett, Kerry Franks), they have to replace 3 starters on the D-line, and they have to replace 3.5 on the O-line. The Big 12's too good this year to win big with that many weaknesses.
Verdict: I think I said it all above. I didn't like the Sherman hire, but any new ATM coach will have the opportunity to build some good, Texas-based recruiting classes, and eventually succeed. It's just not going to happen this year.
- Pass Offense
- 2nd Down Offense
- Q3 Offense
- 2nd Down Defense
#5: Defensive Passing Downs S&P+
#6: Defensive 3rd Down S&P+
#6: Defensive 3rd Down Passing S&P+
#7: Defensive Passing Downs Passing S&P+
#125: Offensive Q3 Rushing S&P+
#124: Offensive Q3 Line Yards+
#123: Defensive 1st Down Passing S&P+
#123: Defensive Q3 Passing S&P+
There's more potential with this Baylor team than has been seen in green and gold for a while. But that's not saying much. Kirby Freeman was highly-recruited out of high school but pretty much flamed out at Miami--he's got potential, but if he doesn't get the QB job, a brand spanking new 4-star QB (with loads of, you guessed it, potential) is available to give it a shot. Briles' first (partial) recruiting class featured quite a bit of potential and speed, and that's probably what the Bears have been lacking most. They have a potential go-to WR in Thomas White, a potentially strong O-Line, and a couple potential big-time defenders in [Joe] Pawelek and [Jordan] Lake.
But let's be honest--every other team in the Big 12 (aside from maybe Iowa State) has more potential at the moment, along with more proven commodities. To turn this ship around in one season would require not one, but a series of miracles, and while Briles has proven himself to be a good coach...he hasn't proven himself God.
Verdict: A month or so after I wrote the above post, Art Briles still has yet to prove himself God. So everything I said above still stands.
BALANCE OF POWER
Likely Wins (8): SEMO, Nevada, Buffalo, Oklahoma State, Colorado, @ Baylor, Kansas State, @ Iowa State
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (4): vs Illinois, @ Nebraska, @ Texas, vs Kansas
Prediction: It's hard to pick anybody to win in Austin, and I feel a bit like a homer for doing so, but...I'm doing it. This is possibly the best Mizzou team of my lifetime, and just in case they really do go 12-0, I want to say I picked it. I still get to be a fan. 12-0 (8-0).
Likely Wins (6): Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State, @ Iowa State, Colorado, Kansas State
Likely Losses (1): @ Oklahoma
Tossups (5): @ South Florida, Texas Tech, @ Nebraska, Texas, vs Missouri
Prediction: Depending on how KU responds to what is really one heckuva 5-week stretch (@OU, TT, KSU, @NU, UT), they could be 6-5 or 10-1 headed into the Mizzou game. I say they beat USF, Tech, and NU, meaning they're 9-1 headed into the UT game...and they lose to UT and MU. 9-3 (5-3).
Likely Wins (5): Western Michigan, San Jose State, New Mexico State, Baylor
Likely Losses (2): @ Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma
Tossups (6): Virginia Tech, Missouri, @ Iowa State, Kansas, @ Kansas State, Colorado
Prediction: I really do expect NU to be undefeated heading into the Mizzou game. They should handle a thin Virginia Tech squad at home before (I hope) losing to Mizzou. Then it gets tough to predict. I fully expect ISU to beat somebody at home, but I don't think they match up well at all with NU, so NU takes that one. They lose to both Kansas teams, but bounce back to beat CU. Which puts them at...8-4 (4-4).
Likely Wins (3): Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Iowa State
Likely Losses (3): @ Florida State, @ Kansas, @ Missouri
Tossups (6): West Virginia, Texas, Kansas State, @ Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, @ Nebraska.
Prediction: They match up pretty well with WV, I think, but no. They lose that one and lose another tight one to Texas before bouncing back against KSU, then heading down and winning in College Station. From there they take out OSU and lose to NU. 6-6 (4-4).
Likely Wins (3): North Texas, Montana State, UL-Lafayette
Likely Losses (3): Oklahoma, @ Kansas, @ Missouri
Tossups (6): @ Louisville, Texas Tech, @ Texas A&M, @ Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa State
Prediction: Beat Louisville, lose a tight one to Tech, lose the roadies to ATM and CU, pick off NU and ISU at home. The one trick here is, that would put them at 4-6 heading home for NU and ISU. It's quite possible that they don't keep it together enough to get to 6-6, but I'll say they do it. 6-6 (2-6).
Likely Wins (2): South Dakota State, Kent State
Likely Losses (5): Kansas, @ Oklahoma State, @ Colorado, Missouri, @ Kansas State
Tossups (5): @ Iowa, @ UNLV, @ Baylor, Nebraska, Texas A&M
Prediction: Iowa's always a tossup, but no. UNLV may actually be decent this year, but...I have to have ISU beating somebody. So they beat UNLV, lose to Baylor and Nebraska, and take out ATM. 4-8 (1-7).
Likely Wins (10): Chattanooga, Cincinnati, @ Washington, TCU, @ Baylor, Kansas, @ Kansas State, Nebraska, @ Texas A&M, Texas Tech
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (2): vs Texas, @ Oklahoma State
Prediction: I put OSU on the tossups list because it always seems like a tight game in Stillwater. And while it's quite possible OU slips up on the road, I just don't know who that's going to be to. So I'll say 12-0 (8-0).
Likely Wins (7): Florida Atlantic, @ UTEP, Arkansas, Rice, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas A&M
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (5): @ Colorado, vs Oklahoma, Missouri, @ Texas Tech, @ Kansas
Prediction: I almost picked CU to upset UT until I realized that would mean I'd have UT losing three in a row (after picking them to lose to OU and MU). That's probably not going to happen. So they beat Colorado, lose to OU, MU, and Tech (I guess), and beat Kansas. 9-3 (5-3).
Likely Wins (6): Eastern Washington, @ Nevada, SMU, UMass, Nebraska, Baylor
Likely Losses (1): @ Oklahoma
Tossups (5): @ Kansas State, @ Texas A&M, @ Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State
Prediction: I just can't see them going better than 3-2 on the road, but I will have them beating KSU and ATM before losing to KU. They then beat UT and OSU to finish...10-2 (6-2).
Likely Wins (6): Houston, Missouri State, Troy, Texas A&M, Baylor, Iowa State
Likely Losses (2): @ Missouri, @ Texas
Tossups (4): @ Washington State, @ Texas Tech, @ Colorado, Oklahoma
Prediction: The Wazzu game is pretty tricky, but...I'm a minor OSU homer, so I say they'll handle that one. But they'll lose the other three tossups. 7-5 (3-5).
Likely Wins (2): Arkansas State, Army
Likely Losses (3): @ Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, @ Texas
Tossups (7): @ New Mexico, Miami-FL, Kansas State, Texas Tech, @ Iowa State, Colorado, @ Baylor
Prediction: ATM does have a chance to make something out of this season, but...oy, I don't know. I say they take out the two non-con teams (UNM, Miami), beat KSU, lose to Tech, ISU and CU, then beat Baylor. 6-6 (2-6).
Likely Wins (1): Northwestern State
Likely Losses (7): @ UConn, Oklahoma, @ OSU, @ Nebraska, Missouri, @ Texas, @ Texas Tech.
Tossups (4): Wake Forest, Washington State, Iowa State, Texas A&M
Prediction: If Briles finds and offense and they're tough at home, they could end up with a solid record, as they have 5 winnable home games. But I don't see it happening yet. Beat Iowa State, lose the others. 2-10 (0-8).
Kansas State (2-6)
Iowa State (1-7)
Texas Tech (6-2)
Oklahoma State (3-5)
Texas A&M (2-6)
Big 12 Championship
So it comes to this. Winner goes to the National Title Game. This is the year Fink beats the stomach, and by God, this is the year Missouri beats Oklahoma. I think. This is turning into the 2000-02 stretch in basketball where we couldn't beat them in the postseason (or season) to save our lives. But we'll say last year's Big 12 title game was the equivalent to losingto them in the Elite Eight in '02. And again...if it happens, I want to say I predicted it.
Missouri > Oklahoma
National Title Game: Missouri, dammit (13-0)
Fiesta Bowl (again): Oklahoma (12-1)
Cotton Bowl: Texas Tech (10-2)
Holiday Bowl: Texas (9-3)
Sun Bowl: Kansas (9-3)
Alamo Bowl: Nebraska (8-4)
Insight Bowl: Oklahoma State (7-5)
Independence Bowl: Texas A&M (6-6)
Texas Bowl: Colorado (6-6)
Other Bowl Eligible Teams
Kansas State (6-6)
Coming later this week: I put the whole thing together.