Goal Line Stand
Texas Just Wins
Goal Line Stands
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BCS's biggest problem
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Notre Dame hype machine
emergence of Mark Ingram
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By Michael Bradley
Even though it violated a standing team rule, there were 10 extra places set for the Texas pre-game meal last Saturday before the Longhorns' slaughter of UCF. The pilots scheduled to make the pre-game flyover Memorial Stadium dined with UT players and coaches, and one of them – a Texas graduate – described the preparations the group makes before a mission.
Obviously, the pilots' job is more of a life-and-death affair than that of the Longhorn players', but coach Mack Brown wanted to have his team learn about the sacrifices made by the military in advance of Veterans Day and in the wake of the horrific shooting at Fort Hood, which sits just 60 miles north of Texas' Austin campus. He also wanted them to see the congruencies in the attention to detail necessary to be successful, whether it's at Mach 1 with your hair on fire, or navigating a football season. Perfection is the goal.
Texas enters Saturday's game at Baylor 9-0 for just the second time in Brown's tenure at the school and for just the ninth time in school history. The last time the Longhorns reached this point was 2005, when they won the BCS "national title," so Brown was on target Monday when he reminded everybody that reaching this point isn't a birthright, even for Texas. Neither, apparently, impresses the computers. Thanks to losses from previous Longhorn victims Oklahoma, Missouri, UTEP and Wyoming, not to mention the shaky reputation of the Golden Knights, who don't exactly dazzle the pocket-protector set, UT dropped from a tie for third to fifth among the mathematicians. That precipitated a drop from second to third in the BCS standings and a bit of philosophizing by Brown, who seems to think – correctly – that being behind a pair of teams from the same conference who are destined to play each other Dec. 5 isn't such a bad thing. "Our job is to continue to win," he said at his weekly press briefing.
Brown is right. As long as Texas keeps winning, straight through the Big 12 title game, it will be fine, thanks to the fact that Florida and Alabama aren't allowed to reschedule the SEC title game for Jan. 7 in Pasadena. One of those teams will have a loss by the end of the season, and a perfect Texas team will be well positioned to grab a spot in the "title" tilt as a result.
The question is whether the Longhorns will be able to vanquish either the Gators or Tide. While those two have attracted the nation's interest, along with TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State and for several weeks Iowa, Texas has been somewhat the stealth candidate, largely due to the precipitous drop in status suffered by the Big 12, which stinks north of Oklahoma and isn't much better to the south. It's telling that only a season after jamming the BCS standings with as many as six teams at once, there only two from that conference among the top 25. As a result, pollsters, analysts and fans don't exactly greet Texas' victories, even the one over Oklahoma, hysterically. Expect the trend to continue, since Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M, the remaining teams on the Longhorns' slate, have a combined 14-13 record and are 3-9 the past four weeks. By the time UT reaches the conference title game, which could be against Kansas State, of all teams, it could be largely a mystery to most of the country.
That won't bother Brown all that much, so long as 13-0 gets his team where he wants it go. Trouble is, once at that destination, the Longhorns had better have addressed a couple things before they line up against the Gators or Crimson Tide. Job One is the ground game, which is awful. There's no other way to put it. Unless something drastic happens, the ‘Horns won't have a 500-yard rusher for the first time since 1986. This week, Cody Johnson becomes the fourth player to start at tailback. He's coming off a 44-yard performance against UCF and earned the job largely because he knocked over some Golden Knights on a 14-yard pass reception late in the game. Brown wants to see him get "15-20 carries" and hopes he can "move the pile as the game goes along."
Johnson had better do something, because the Texas offense needs to get a little more explosive, and it's hard to throw downfield when defenses laugh at your play-action fakes. Since the ‘Horns have quite a big-play weapon in wideout Jordan Shipley, whose eight TDs this year (six receiving, two punt returns) have averaged 45.3 yards, it would be great to see QB Colt McCoy able to do more than throw five-yarders every time he drops back. That might have an impact on his impressive 72.9% completion rate (79.8% last three games), but it will also make Texas a more dangerous offensive team.
The Longhorns can't be much better defensively. They lead the country in total and rushing defense and have allowed rivals only 23% success on third down, also best in the nation. It's truly an egalitarian effort, since the ‘Horns top tackler, Roddrick Muckelroy, ranks 30th in the Big 12 in total stops. Texas has allowed just 182 total yards a game over the past six weeks and compares quite favorably to the other big defenses at the top of the BCS standings.
With four games left and a clear path charted, Texas needs to work on its ground game (and punting) and keep nasty on the other side of the ball. It needs to understand that 9-0 is great, but 13-0 is better. And it has to realize that like the pilots who enjoyed the unique pre-game opportunity, the margin for error is gone. The sky may be the limit, but the fall from grace can be harrowing.
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GAME OF THE WEEK: Utah at TCU, 7:30 p.m. (EST) CBSC. Here it is, folks, the Horned Frogs' last real chance to lose their undefeated season. Sure, Wyoming or New Mexico could pull a stunner later on this month, but the odds of that happening are similar to Notre Dame's getting a BCS berth after last week's Naval disaster. The Utes are giant, 17-point underdogs, which is odd given their 8-1 record and near miss against Oregon earlier this year. But this one is about the Frogs' third-ranked defense, which is allowing a measly 11.2 ppg and has surrendered just 25 the last five weeks. This is the biggest game in Fort Worth since the 1958 win over Texas that clinched the SWC title and a Cotton Bowl berth, and TCU isn't about to mess it up. TCU 23, Utah 13.
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BUMPS AND RUNS: This week's BCS disgrace comes courtesy of the genius pollsters who saw fit to drop Oregon four (Harris Interactive) and six (USA Today) places behind USC. Wasn't it just one week ago the Ducks embarrassed the Trojans? And that Southern California win over Arizona State wasn't exactly overwhelming. Just when you thought it couldn't get any dumber…Last year, Rich Ro-riguez (No D) had a number of firsts at Michigan, like first bowl-less season in 34 years and first-ever loss to a MAC team. He's at it again. Last week's loss to Purdue was the school's first at home to the Boilers since '66. They have lost back-to-back games to Illinois for the first time since 1957-58. If the Wolverines lose out (they're 9-point dogs to Wisconsin and will be double-digit underdogs to Ohio State), they'll have their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1962-63. Lose those two games, and they'll have their first five-game Big Ten losing streak since 1934. That's quite a resume…Two reasons why Kansas State is atop the Big 12 North: The Wildcats lead the conference in time-of-possession and turnover margin…If Stanford's Toby Gerhart, who is second in the nation in rushing (1,217 yards) and touchdowns (16) played for an SEC school, he would have won the Heisman by acclaim. As it is, he's barely on people's short lists…If you think Houston and Case Keenum aren't charmed, check out their last two weeks, when they overcame late (and I mean late) deficits to beat Southern Mississippi and Tulsa. If the Cougars finish 12-1 and win Conference USA, it will be a sin that they'll only be able to play in the Liberty Bowl.