FanPost

Crystal Ball - Fiesta Bowl and 2009 Big 12 Race

A solid overview of the stakes in Glendale as well as 2009. Bumped from the FanPosts. --PB--

Today's news that Colt McCoy will in fact stick around for his senior season at the helm of the Texas offense provides the perfect segue to start to discuss 2009 in earnest. 

Like last year, the next 30 days or so will provide the dust-jacket introduction to next year's team.  What better way to start a title run in 2009 than with the team rallying around itself in face of a BCS hijacking and burying one of next years top 5 teams?  Last year, the Horn's turned the adversity of the A&M game into the motfvating force behind Colt's resurgence and Brian Orakpo's dominance over Arizona State.  However, this year's Fiesta bowl is a bigger challenge than last year's Holiday bowl because the cause of the adversity is not as tangible, and the opponent is a far better one than last year.

Fiesta Bowl preview - After being demolished by USC at the start of the season and Penn State midway through it, the Buckeyes found their mojo in the last part of the year.  By mojo, I mean Pryor, Beanie Wells, and James Laurinaitis.  Regardless of what you thought of OSU during their 35-3 shellacking at the hands of USC, the team that the Horns will face on January 5th is vastly superior thanks to the three players above.  Had OSU had a healthy Wells and a reliable QB that score would have been much closer.  Rest assured, OSU has both issues sorted out in time for the Fiesta Bowl.

OSU's defense will present a challenge to the Horn's in more ways than one.  Like any Tressel team, they are good in the trenches and their linebacking play is stellar.  Addtionally, they have one of the premier cover corners in football in Jenkins and have given up 13.1 pts on average this season.  It is by no stretch of the imagination that OSU has by far the best defense the Horns will have faced all year.

OSU's offense will present unique challenges to the Horn's as well.  Our undersized defensive line will have to sustain itself against a massive OSU offensive line.  Our still under performing LBs will be challeged by a big, powerful runner in Wells.  The Texas secondary will have to contain Robiskie and Hartline who are solid receivers as well as a couple of stout TE's.  Each unit will be test by an offensive counterpart, and to top it all off Pryor will complicate matters for each of them.

I'm certain this is a game Texas can win, but it will require the next level of leadership from Colt as well as a complete game plan from the coaching staff. The subplot to this bowl game is obviously 2009.  Aside from a W, we want to see signs that next year's key players are begining to turn the corner in Janaury.  Last year, Orakpo, Kindle, Houston, and Muckelroy showed us that the much maligned defense was ready to be intimidating once again.  This year, I'll be mainly looking for the offensive line, the linebackers, and the secondary to make a statement.  Addtionally, Collins & Williams will need to step up big in the passing game, while Whitaker needs to give us a glimpse of the running game. 

2009 Big 12 Race - Colt's return in 2009 ensures that this team will have continuity on offense for 4 consecutive seasons.  Behind an experienced offensive line and with some additional time to gel with the younger WRs, there is no reason to believe that Colt will not be able to match this year's offensive output. 

Still, there are questions.  First and foremost, the running game remains a chief concern of mine.  Even if Whitaker or McGee turns in a solid performance against OSU, I'm still not going to be completely convinced that Texas has a rusher capable of amassing over 700 yards in a season, let alone 1,000 yards.

Second, the defensive line is a question mark as long as we're not sure if Kindle is leaving or if Jamarkus McFarland in coming.  Getting pressure on the QB has to remain a priority for Muschamp, but it will be more difficult if the personnel isn't there.  Personally, I think that Kindle has greater upside in the NFL as a DE than as an OLB -- and he'll make more money as a DE as well.  This will probably be the biggest argument for him to stay one more year.  With Kindle on the edge (where he played most of the year this year anyways), Muschamp would have more ability to mix and match combinations on the inside and possibly slide Lamarr Houston back to the edge -- especially if Mcfarland is in the fold.

The need for a TE is also huge.  Irby's injury was gruesome and similar to what Dunta Robinson had with the Texans last year.  It took Dunta almost a full year to come back, and I'd be surprised if Irby was at the top of the depth chart next year.

Lastly, this team still needs playmakers.  The 2008 Horns overacheived due to the feet and arms of McCoy.  While McCoy is a testament to small town Texas grit, the margin for error is razon thin.  Personally, my hope is on Whitaker, Collins or M. Williams, and the possibility of a guy like DeSean Hales or DJ Monroe becoming next year's Ramonce Taylor. 

Overall there is no doubt the 2009 Horns have the chance to be great.  They have an outstanding QB, offensive line, and dependable players at WR, defensive line, and in the secondary.  But if you run down our schedule (particularly the soft non-conference) its clear to me that a one loss season next year could leave us on the outside looking in once again.

The Other Big XII South Teams -  

Oklahoma - Any Big XII discussion has to start with OU.  I'd be shocked if Bradford, McCoy, Gresham, & Granger all stuck around for another season, but I wouldn't be surprised if one or two of them decided to stay.  Even if Bradford leaves, OU will not be a cakewalk.  OU has redshrted a few QBs including much heralded Landry Jones from New Mexico.  By no stretch of the imagination is the OU offense a difficult one for a QB to master, particularly with the strength of their line and their running game.  Speaking of the line, Robinson and Loadholt are seniors but like Texas, OU typically reloads at this position.  Finally, the running game will be stout with the addtion of Jermie Calhoun to go along with Murray, Brown, and Madu.

The weakest part of the offense could be at WR/TE where Gresham could leave along with Iglesias and Manny Johnson who are both seniors.  Once again, OU has recruited WR well (despite having kicked their top WR recruit off the team prior to the season) and obviously Ryan Broyles will figure into their attack prominently next year.

Defensively, OU certain losses are Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes in secondary and obviously the potential is there for McCoy and Granger to make the jump early.  OU has recruited very well at DE, LB, and in the secondary, however.  The bottom line is that OU will be at worst very good next year regardless of what happens with their top juniors.

Oklahoma State - OSU could be ready to make a Texas Tech-style leap next year.  First, the schedule sets up nicely for them, getting both Tech and Texas in Stillwater.  Secondly, Gundy's offense is starting to really round into form behind Robinson, Hunter, Bryant, and a fairly young offensive line.  The Holiday Bowl matchup for OSU could be a nice spring board for them into next year.

Texas Tech - Check back in mid January.  Crabtree should be leaving and will be a top 10 pick.  If Leach leaves too, this team could head south fast.  Regardless, next year will likely be a rebuilding year for this program, which is part of the reason OSU should return to 3rd place in the south.

A&M - Count me as one of those few who believe that Sherman is taking this program in the right direction.  Most people I've talked to familiar with this program expect Sherman to add a Juco recruit or two for next season.  Additionally, although Goodson is almost assuredly gone there are several RBs that can replace him.  Its sad for me to say, but A&M's stable of RBs without Goodson is better than Texas' was when Jamaal Charles left early.  The Aggie defensive line is formidable, but the rest of the team is just young right now.  Sherman's worth will be evident if the team makes a decent improvement from year 1 to year 2.

Baylor - Love Griffin, hate everyone else.

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