11 for '11: Evaluating the Texas Longhorns' 2011 Football Schedule

11 for '11 Texas Longhorns Football Graphic

As we near the start of the season, this series explores 11 topics and themes related to the 2011 University of Texas Longhorns football season. Previously in the series:

* The Intoxicating Potential of Manny Diaz
* Assessing The Texas Offensive Line
* The Longhorn Network

When evaluating opponents and team schedule, there are four key components that we should be interested in: (1) overall strength of the opponent, (2) match up of the opponent's strengths and weaknesses versus our own, (3) location/venue, and (4) timing of the game.  The first component is obvious enough: how good are they?  Oklahoma will be damn good; Kansas will not be.  The second component is focused not on overall strength of the opponent, but how their particular strengths and weaknesses match up with our own.  Third and fourth, we want to know where the game is being played (home, away, neutral field), as well as when (early in the season or late).

Let's take a look at Texas's 2011 schedule through that lens.  Below I offer my own take on the schedule from most-difficult game to least.  Feel free to disagree in the comments.

(1)  October 8th vs Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl (Dallas)

This seems obvious enough, as the only way this game could be tougher is if it were in Norman in the opening match up of the year. Texas will get four tune ups before the Red River Shootout, but the Sooners are the No. 1 preseason team in both the AP and Coaches Polls, and will feature one of its most potent passing attacks. I have questions about the Sooners' ability to run the ball, and I don't love their defense, but they have Ryan Broyles, and if there ever was a player to disrupt a Manny Diaz defense, it's him. Kevin Wilson is gone to Indiana, but they've promoted from within and we're likely to see a good deal of continuity in terms of approach. Watch the rushing game in this one, which has historically determined the winner of Mack v. Stoops. If we can rush the ball, and they can't, we're not nearly the underdogs that you might think.

(2)  October 15th vs Oklahoma State (Austin)

It's nice that we draw them at home, and doubly nice that Dana Holgorsen has moved on to West Virginia, but basketball-on-grass will invade DKR again this October and it's precisely the kind of offensive attack that I'll be most interested to see how Diaz's defense stands up to.  It was hard not to be impressed with Brandon Weeden last year (especially his performance in Austin) and the Pokes return everyone of note in the receiving game, including the beast on the outside Justin Blackmon. On the ground, Kendall Hunter is gone, but I regret to say that if he can stay healthy I like Joseph Randle to be just as good or better. OSU will have its usual defensive issues, but any team that is a threat to put up 30+ points on us is going to be a tall order to beat unless we get better than adequate quarterback play.

(3)  November 24th at Texas A&M (College Station)

The Aggies enter the season with high expectations, and though we're catching them on the road this year, Mack Brown's teams respond well to road games and more importantly, we draw them at the end of the season. If this Texas team stays healthy enough and progresses as many of us think it can and will, the Aggies won't be nearly the favorites that they would be if the game were played today.  I'm not sold on Tannehill as any kind of savior (and LSU exposed him in the Cotton Bowl pretty brutally), but the talent surrounding him on offense is legitimately excellent. I'm not in love with the Aggies' personnel on defense, but considering that I think the Aggies scored big with their defensive coordinator DeRuyter, this is a team that can be excellent if Tannehill is even modestly above average.

(4)  September 10th vs BYU (Austin)

I hope to be wrong about this one, but I'm worried about the Cougars as the second opponent on our schedule this year.  They had their share of struggles last year, but finished strong, and Bronco Mendenhall's teams are always physical and will not be the slightest bit intimidated about playing Texas. I'm particularly worried because it's the second game on the schedule, on the heels of a cupcake who won't present much of a challenge. QB Jake Heaps took his lumps as a sophomore freshman early last year, but unlike Gilbert and Texas, he and BYU came on strong to finish the year. The Cougars feature a balanced offense featuring a powerful between-the-tackles runner in JJ DiLuigi, a maturing quarterback, and a fully returning receiving corps. Their defense is a question mark, but in the second game of the season, so will be our offense. That's what worries me.

(5)  September 17th at UCLA (Rose Bowl)

This game shouldn't be the concern that is, but let's face it, the Bruins own us. That's the long and the short of it. They're always able to run the football, and we're not, and if that trend continues again this year, the pain will continue. You can throw the rest out the window.

(6)  November 12th at Missouri (Columbia)

This might be higher except that by mid-November the match up advantages Missouri might hold should be diminished. The Tigers will have what should be the best defense of the Gary Pinkel era -- and I don't mean that merely as a backhanded compliment. They should be salty on defense, but Texas should be finding its groove on offense by then, and I'm not so sure that Missouri will be able to say the same about their own offense. If the Tigers were returning a quarterback this year, I'd be much more concerned, but breaking in a new QB amidst a running game that has been underwhelming since Tony Temple graduated, I like our chances to keep their scoring in check.

(7)  November 19th vs Kansas State (Austin)

I almost listed this game No. 1, because let's be honest, when Kansas State comes to town, they light the tower purple. Nonetheless, the sun has to shine on the golden boy's ass every once in a while and this feels like our year. We catch the Wildcats late in the year and at home, and with Daniel Thomas mercifully gone the Wildcats may have trouble putting points on the board unless Collin Klein is a wunderkind. Who knows, though: like I said, I almost ranked this game our toughest on the slate. Losses to Kansas State and UCLA would be the norm, not the exception.

(8)  December 3rd at Baylor (Waco)

As dangerous as Robert Griffin is, the Bears should perhaps be higher on this list, but I'm discounting their danger based on the timing, as the Horns will draw Baylor in the season finale. With a talent like Griffin, you always have to worry that he'll just wreck even the best laid plans, but assuming we're relatively healthy and can keep the Bears from exploding on offense, Texas's advantages across the board should be on display by December.

(9)  November 5th vs Texas Tech (Austin)

Tommy Tubberville is doing some nice things for the future, building an increasingly solid foundation for the program through recruiting and greater emphasis on defense, but the Red Raiders aren't going to be fielding a dangerous team in 2011.  I like them to be improved next year and then pesky again by 2013, but I'm not terribly concerned with what they're going to be this fall.

(10)  October 1st at Iowa State (Ames)

Heaven help us if we can't beat Iowa State this year, even on the road relatively early in the year. The Cyclones are in a transitional year, losing their core on defense and their most important players on offense.

(11)  October 29th vs Kansas (Austin)

The Jayhawks will be dreadful.  Texas should have a field day running the ball, and Kansas has nothing resembling an offensive threat.

(12)  September 3rd vs Rice (Austin)

The Owls might have been a relatively dangerous opponent for this Texas team when they were peaking with Chase Clement under David Graham, but this year the threat should be minimal.  Texas may not be great in its season opener, but Rice is in no position to challenge for a win.

Your own thoughts on the schedule?  Who worries you most?  How do you rank our opponents this fall?

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