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Longhorn PTI

Longhorn PTI returns from a hiatus as we gear up for conference play on the football field. Let's get right to it.

As Big 12 play gets underway, the talk across the country is that the conference is down. Your thoughts?

PB: I don't think there's any question that it's down, but that statement in and of itself isn't particularly informative. We want to know -why- it's down, and for how long. That answer, I think, lies in the fact that new quarterbacks are starting across the league. The southern division's top four programs - Texas, OU, Tech, and A&M - are all starting new guys at QB. Should we be that surprised that the conference hasn't been elite thus far? I don't think so.

The Big 12 isn't a great conference this year, sure. But it's not the beginning of the end. It's just a rebuilding year for a lot of programs. It happens.

AW: I concur. Of course the conference is down, but that really shouldn't be that surprising. The North has been in decline for the last few seasons. Colorado has been the "class" of that division, but even they changed coaches and systems this off season. Nebraska is on the rebound, but they're not there yet. In the South, Oklahoma had off-field distractions that led to lots of questions entering this year. A&M hasn't played or beaten anyone, so it's too early to tell about them. Texas Tech finally played a non-conference opponent with a pulse and couldn't score a touchdown.

Overall, the conference is down with all the young signal callers. But let's remember that most of the out of conference losses by the top programs (OU, Nebraska, Tech) have been on the road.

Which Longhorn player has surprised you - good or bad - the most this season? Pick one from each side of the football.

AW: On offense, how can you not choose Selvin Young? Of course, we all love Jamaal, but if the coaches are intent on sticking with a two back system, we can only hope to get production from both backs. And production we have received. Young and Charles have almost identical numbers: over 230 yards and a per carry average of over six yards. Selvin looks much quicker with his cuts, his backfield stutter step is basically gone, and he is holding on to the ball well.

On D, I'll go with Roddrick Muckelroy. While not outstanding, he has been solid and consistent as a red-shirt freshman. I was worried about the linebacking crew after the injuries to Kelson and Kindle and still feel they are the weakest element of the defense. However, Muckelroy has been much better than expected. No one has been able to run the ball effectively against us. The potential and athleticism necessary to become a great linebacker are there.  

PB: I promised to do this back when we were ribbing the hypesters, and I'm not -actually- that surprised, but let me eat my crow, as promised. Jordan Shipley has surprised me! That man is not just white - he's good! You were all right! I'm not that surprised, but I'm really happy to see him doing it. Terrific guy who's just starting to show off what he can do.

On defense, I'm gonna have to go with true freshman safety Robert Joseph. It's impressive enough that the true freshman is even on the field; it's even more impressive when you notice how well he's playing. I keep thinking he's a redshirt freshman, but he's not. He's an absolute star in the making.

There's disagreement over which game remaining on the schedule will be toughest for the Horns. Your selection?

PB: A week ago, I would have said Texas Tech, no doubt. And I'm still tempted to go that route. I've been having trouble deciding between the game in Lubbock and the one in Lincoln, but the fact that they're back to back, and Texas Tech is the second of the two, tips the scale to West Texas for me.

This is not to say that I take Oklahoma for granted, either. We've all seen what a motivated Adrian Peterson can do. And Bob Stoops has had his way with Texas quarterbacks most years. How Colt handles that game will be a real litmus test of his development. Still, there's no question Texas has the talent edge. I expect a victory.

AW: It sounds like you are disagreeing with yourself. We have three tough road/neutral games left, and you mentioned all three. I will attempt to clear it up for our readers. The toughest game left will be in Lubbock. We always seem to play well in Lincoln and never seem to play well on the plains of West Texas. We lost in 1998 and also in 2002. I attended the '98 game. They hate us up there. Mike Leach coaches like every game is his last. The Red Raiders are certainly capable of spreading us out and picking us after 6 yards at a time.

PB: You're a jackass. I wasn't disagreeing with myself. I was thinking out loud. That's the point of this segment. I hate you.

Let's go national for a moment here. Which current undefeated, highly ranked team do you expect to fall the furthest?

AW: I'm going with Florida. I know the Gators just won in Knoxville and their defense is awfully tough, but their schedule is tougher. They will cruise for two more weeks, but then comes the gauntlet: LSU, at Auburn, and Georgia in Jacksonville. Losing all three of those is certainly possible. Even if they were to survive that stretch a trip to Florida State remains to end the season. The Gators defense is much improved but Chris Leak still has those head shaking plays. Florida ends the regular season 9-3 ranked in the top 20 not the top 5.

PB: Florida, huh? I dunno. Picking the team with the tough schedule seems like a cop out. Let's go with something with a little more gusto. How about Virginia Tech? The ACC isn't that strong, but is Virginia Tech? You know, I have some (yet to be explained) hatred for this football program. I don't know what it is - but I love seeing them fail. Is it because they remind me of the Aggies so much? I really don't know. But I want them to tank. Hard.

And let's conclude by highlighting your three keys to Saturday's game against Iowa State.

PB: First and foremost, I want to see Texas pound the ball on the ground until Iowa State stops it. The Texas defense isn't going to give up a bounty of points; let's give the ground game every opportunity to bring up the safeties and open up the running game.

Second, I think it's critical that the defensive line has a game like it did against Rice. Okam and Miller were destroying the (admittedly outmatched) offensive line last Saturday. If they can wreak havoc this Saturday, it's going to be tremendously difficult for Iowa State to get in any kind of rhythm on offense.

Third, it's time for the Texas linebackers to make some big plays. The unit as a whole has been B to B+ so far this year. If the Horns want to be an elite team on defense, they've got to get A-level play from the linebackers. That unit is Gene Chizik's specialty, so I'm expecting the improvement to continue, but let's watch closely this Saturday to see.

AW: Totally agree with the first one. Texas must run the ball first to set up the pass. Charles and Young should approach 100 yards each in this one. As stupid as this may be, I expect Iowa State to try to prevent the deep ball. Their linebackers and safeties will not play near the line of scrimmage. Underneath and - gasp! -horizontal, passing will be open, but the game plan should be run, run, and then run some more.

Second, this may not be a key but it's something I would like to see. I want to see Terrell Brown shutdown 6'5" Todd Blythe. As we all know, Brown missed the OSU game and didn't get to face what would have been his biggest challenge of the season in Ted Ginn Jr. Blythe is not Ginn but is one of the biggest and best receivers in the Big 12. In his first start in Austin, since the off the field incidents, Brown will come out with something to prove. An interception would be nice.

Third, turnovers. Chizik's crew has been nothing short of amazing by every statistical category except for turnovers. This season, the defense is credited with just three takeaways. We have six turnovers on offense or special teams. We are currently tied for 94th in turnover margin. For a team with a freshman quarterback that is hoping to contend for a national championship, that is unacceptable. We need to see more takeaways and short fields for Colt McCoy. It probably won't matter too much this weekend but will be crucial in our road contests.