Cherokee Nation rejoices. Everyone's favorite part-Cherokee quarterback (well, non-Longhorns fans', that is) is returning for his redshirt junior season, once again raising the stakes for the annual brawl in the Cotton Bowl. Joining Bradford in returning are tight end Jermaine Gresham, offensive lineman Trent Williams, who will be the only returning starter on the line, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Of them all, Gresham's return is perhaps the most unlikely, as he would have been the first or second tight end drafted, depending on where Chase Coffman goes, and seems to have little left to prove in college.
Bradford's decision, as well, seems strange, since he would have been among the top quarterbacks drafted and, like Gresham, has little chance of improving his stock. Playing behind an inexperienced offensive line next season could cost Bradford a significant amount of money if he finds himself constantly under pressure and his limited mobility exposed. Of course, if the past several years are any indication, the OU coaching staff will simply instruct their lineman to hold on nearly every play, which will serve them well until they get into the bowl season, where another disaster would likely ensue. Injury is another concern for Bradford. With his top two wide receivers graduating, there is also no guarantee that Bradford will have open receivers to throw to, leading to more sacks. OU might have to limit their shots down the field and turn to a passing game more similar to the underneath throws Texas uses.
In the end, the decision for most of the players probably came down to the disappointing loss to Florida and a desire to once again play for a national championship. Certainly noble in the sense of passing up NFL millions, though Big Red Auto will probably ensure that Bradford and his friends are well taken care of. OU won't be returning to the championship without significant improvements on defense and several playmakers stepping forward offensively. In fact, the Sooners are so desperate at wide receiver that they've pulled a page from the Ron Prince coaching handbook -- offering a JUCO wide receiver.
Texas fans of the Chicken Little variety no doubt find the Oklahoma returnees terror-inspiring, but in reality, the decision probably help Texas. Of great concern next season is the weak non-conference schedule, which includes Louisiana-Monroe, UTEP, Wyoming, and Central Florida, world beaters none. With Texas Tech, Missouri, and even Oklahoma facing significant personnel losses, the marquee wins will be hard to come by next season. Consider this possibility: USC and Florida go undefeated, as does Texas. But voters once again leave Texas out of the mix, punishing Texas for their overall weaker schedule.
In other words, an undefeated season next year does not necessarily guarantee Texas a shot at Pasadena. Here's where Oklahoma comes in. OU breaking in a new offensive line, receiving corps, and quarterback is not a good team. OU with Bradford and friends returning is a good team. A team that Texas should still beat, but a team that could significantly help Texas' resume at the end of the season. With that in mind, welcome back Bradford, et al. and get ready for (another) spanking in October. Hey, if Texas loses to Oklahoma next year, even with Bradford and company, they don't deserve a shot at the national championship.
The Spotlight shines upon you, Recruiting Class of 2009. Since the football season is finally over and the long, horrific, awful, worst-thing-ever offseason looms large in front of us, it's time to turn the attention of BONizens to the recruiting class that will sign in February. Some of the Recruiting Spotlights are up for the less-regarded players in the class, so here is a handy-dandy linkfest and a brief synopsis of each player:
Tight end Barrett Matthews - Known as a hard-nosed blocker, Matthews is undersized for a tight end, but may have a chance to contribute next year as an H-back.
Tight end Trey Graham - A dual threat tight end with wide receiver pedigree, Graham may need to add muscle before he sees the field, but could contribute on special teams.
Defensive end Dominique Jones - Something of a long-term project, Jones has some explosiveness off the edge, though not on the level of Alex Okafor, and also shows significant physicality at the point of attack.
Defensive end Kyle Kriegel - Another long-term project, Kriegel is a rangy kid with the frame to add enough weight to potentially spin down to the defensive tackle position.
- Linebacker Patrick Nkwopara - Known for his sideline-to-sideline speed, Nkwopara is undersized at 5-11 and may lack a true position, but Will Muschamp will find a place for him to contribute, though it may not be soon.
Pittman now integral part of the offense. While the Longhorns didn't get beat solely by Blake Griffin on Monday night, it's becoming ever more apparent that this team needs Dexter Pittman on the floor to be successful. Surprising news, perhaps, but consider first that Pittman was the only defender successful in slowing Griffin down, but past anecdotal evidence, the numbers tell a similar story. Pittman leads the Longhorns in field goal percentage at 59.8%, nearly ten percent more than Damion James, the only other active Longhorn above 50%. His simple field goal percentage doesn't even begin to fully describe PIttman's efficiency, however.
Looking at his points per minute does -- one point for every 1.5 minutes played. AJ Abrams and Damion James trail Pittman in that category, with Abrams averaging one point every 2.1 minutes and James averaging a point every 1.9 minutes played, respectively. It isn't just from the field that Pittman displays his efficiency, as he ranks behind only Connor Atchley and AJ Abrams in free throw percentage, at 78.8%. That efficiency translates into wins for the Longhorns, who have lost only one of the seven games this season in which Pittman has scored in double figures.
And it's not just that Pittman's efficiency translates into wins for the Longhorns, it's that his inefficiency has recently translated into loses. Consider that in Texas' last three losses, two of them were Pittman's worst games of the season, including a 1-6 performance from the field against Michigan State and his 2-7 performance against Oklahoma. In the other loss, against Arkansas, Pittman scored 10 points, but did so on 3-7 shooting, almost 20% below his season average for field goal percentage. Basically, at a level much less efficient than average.
The other elephant in the room is Pittman's continued issues with foul trouble. After committing a foul every 3.7 minutes as a freshman, Pittman improved to a foul every 6.3 minutes last season, but has now regressed to a foul every five minutes. Part of the problem is the difficulty in officiating such a large person, but Pittman needs to be especially cognizant of avoiding loose ball fouls going over the back of opposing players or pushing them out of the way to get into rebounding position. The Texas offense, often stagnant, is now playing at its best when Pittman is on the floor.
That other elephant. The other elephant in the room is the shooting of the Texas guards, excepting AJ Abrams, who is a discussion for another time. Justin Mason, for instance, is shooting 16.7% (!) from the three-point line this season, roughly half his career average, and a clip of his jumpers this season would make any shooting coach cringe and possibly have a heart attack. In fact, it's been nearly a month since Mason made his last three-pointer, which came against Michigan State on December 20th. Rick Barnes has put Abrams on the ball more often recently in an attempt to stimulate his sputtering game, but that leaves Mason lonely in a corner all by himself and allows the defense to sag into the lane.
Dogus Balbay has been little better, missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc this season and seven of his nine free throws, which even Justin Mason (41%) thinks is horrible. On the sunshine pumping side of things, Balbay made his first jumper of the season against Oklahoma, so maybe there is some hope for him. Okay, probably not, but I'm trying to be positive here.
Then there's Varez Ward, who has made one of his 13 three-point attempts this season and shoots 55.2% from the free-throw line. Ugh. Moving along.
So where does that leave Texas? Well, with only one capable shooter in the backcourt, apparently. Except...Why, hello there, Harrison Smith. While Smith has only made one of his seven attempts this season, he has received the only significant burn of his career against Appalachian State and Oklahoma this season. The shooting percentage from distance looks as horrible as everyone else, but Smith does look to have a better stroke than the others and several of those misses have been close to going in. (Do you see what I have to resort to here?)
With most of the guards incapable of stretching the floor, there are few lanes to penetrate to the basket and double teams come early and often now for Dexter Pittman, complicating his job considerably. Hell, Arkansas even ran double teams at Gary Johnson on the catch. The Longhorns can't afford to have more than one of Ward, Mason, or Balbay on the court at the same time, which significantly limits the combinations Rick Barnes can throw out there. Smith may be the answer only in interests of accountability, but he may have some ability to stretch the court and knock down an occasional three. Rick Barnes has certainly managed to assemble the worst-shooting backcourt I've ever had the misfortune of watching. Jordan Hamilton, Avery Bradley, and Shawn Williams can't get here fast enough.
From the Land of Miscellany. Beergut is crying into his, well, beer today after Jorvorskie Lane weighed in at several doughnuts short of three bills at the Shrine Bowl practice and virtually ended his outside shot at the NFL. Laughingly, Beergut still thinks "he might be able to go to the Combine and impress some people." Wait, they have an eating contest at the Combine? No? Oh. Well, so much for impressing people...Tevin Mims has not yet received an offer ($), but almost certainly will this weekend, and almost certainly will commit on the spot, with Mims' high school coach so convinced about Mims attending Texas that he spoke of Mims' potential to gain weight at Texas...When the American Football Coaches Association meets this year, they will consider whether to keep the Coaches Poll as a component of the BCS, but don't hold your breath for any changes.