I'm pleased to introduce a new collaborative feature here at Burnt Orange Nation, involving myself and two of the authors of Barking Carnival, a fabulously funny and informative website dedicated (mostly) to UT sports. The basic premise is simple: three fans (myself, Henry James, and Scipio) talking about the state of the team. Format will be consistent - we'll begin the emailing on Sundays, conclude Tuesday evenings, and run the exchange on Wednesdays. This exchange marks the first of the series. Rice game coverage kicks off tomorrow.
PB: We're three games in and have three wins in the book. Yet no self-respecting Texas fan is celebrating right now. We've defeated three mediocre opponents in mostly unimpressive fashion.
The linebackers still stink; the running game is succeeding only because Jamaal Charles is a maestro; the offensive line is not only playing poorly, it's hurting for depth; and the secondary is ripe for exploitation.
Rather than belabor all those obvious points, let's start with a different angle: What's this team's best-case scenario? Tell Texas fans what a good turnaround would look like.
Henry James: I see our best case scenario at this point as finishing the regular season 10-2. The sheer mediocrity that is the Big 12 is what is going to save us. The only sure loss on the schedule right now is Oklahoma. Every other game is winnable.
The solutions to the majority of our problems right now are personnel. What is killing us on defense is our linebackers, and this can easily be fixed by inserting Muckelroy and Norton into the starting lineup. Our struggles in the red zone offensively are mostly happening because we aren't getting any push with our offensive line. Guys like Burnette, Huey and Hix need to play more. Getting Pittman and Shipley back will help our passing game.
Now we still have the schematic problems that need to be fixed, but my optimism only goes so far.
Scipio: I'd contend that our most realistic best case scenario is 6-2 in the Big 12 paired with a mid tier bowl win (Holiday, Cotton, Alamo).
What would that turnaround look like? It's a fairly tried-and-true formula that we've done before: lose to OU, Mack rallies the troops to the second season concept, we play with inspiration down the stretch, Davis get more aggressive downfield in the passing game, we quietly bench 2-3 defensive starters. We could scrape by with JC working magic and Colt throwing to a replenished receiving corps. Unlike HJ, I don't think any of our present issues in the OL can be solved by simply swapping out for teens, though the youngsters are clearly the long term solution.
We'd need to win a number of closely contested games to realize this goal.
PB: Allow me to approach this from a slightly different perspective. One could argue that you guys have highlighted the "most likely" scenario for this 2007 Texas team, as opposed to the "best case" scenario. I may be playing devil's advocate to some extent, but I'm gonna run with it and ask for your thoughts.
I'm not so sure that this team's upside isn't greater than what's been suggested thus far. Now, a healthy portion of that upside is predicated on the coaches making changes many are skeptical will happen, but it's not unfathomable that the early struggles against mediocre competition will spark a more pre-emptive approach to change.
If the big fear among skeptics is that we're slipping into the pattern of performance which defined the five-year losing streak to Oklahoma, could it be that 2007 Mack Brown reacts more responsively to that pressure for changes? Do coaches ever change? How much credit should we give Davis and Brown for their adjustments which helped Texas win a national title with Vince Young? Should we apply that credit toward this season?
Those are tough, immeasurable questions which we'll have to evaluate in hindsight, but we're here to try to tackle this before the events unfold.
The final query, then, is twofold:
- Do you believe there's any chance in this coaching staff making (prior to a crippling loss) some of the fundamental changes which you believe are necessary for this team to reach its potential?
- Assume that there is. Would those changes make any difference in the upside of this team? In other words: how much of your skepticism is rooted in the coaches being unwilling to make the requisite adjustments?
Henry James: 1. No. Mack said in his Monday press conference that he wished he could have played Norton and Muckelroy more as if there existed some higher power preventing him from doing so. His starting linebackers are getting brutalized, UCF actually takes the lead because of it and he sticks with them. If performance on the field won't cause him to make any changes, nothing else will. He's stubborn and will circle the wagons against outside criticism.
- At too many critical positions we either have average upperclassmen or inexperienced younger players. The younger guys have all the upside. If Robert Killibrew had any upside, he would have shown it by now. Our linebacker play would like night and day with the younger guys. Overall I consider this a rebuilding year. We have the chance to be very good in '08 and '09 so start getting the younger guys playing time now.
Scipio: I think a 11-2 season is an optimistic scenario, but fair enough.
- Unlikely. Mack is not a proponent of Kaizen. He doesn't consistently enforce a standard of play irrespective of what the scoreboard says. What is our history of pre-emptive change? For Brown, victory is the ultimate validation, even when we're playing qualitatively bad football. If we beat Rice 33-17 and KSU 27-26, the usual suspects run on the field at LB in Dallas. If we lose by 38 there, they may sit the pine in Ames. Nothing changed in their level of play - indeed, I'd argue that these guys are incredibly consistent, but now that the scoreboard reads differently, Mack can consider change.
Where can we pre-emptively change in the middle of a season?
Scheme - You can tweak. We're not going wishbone or running a split tackle six hours before we play Texas Tech.
Culture - We're drowning in complacency and entitlement. The seeming infinity of off-the-field incidents aren't coincidence. That will change when we decide to move Mad Dog along, re-evaluate our academic and team support staff, and roll some coaching heads down the aisle. Not changes you can make on a random Thursday.
Personnel: This is what you can change, so that's what I'll address in #2.
- It's clear that we have personnel deficiencies at LB, CB, OL. Starting Muck and Norton at LB makes us a better football team. Starting multiple freshmen at OL does not. They're an '08/'09 solution. As for the secondary, we haven't gotten the looks we need for Chykie, Curtis, and Deion - we've played three tight ballgames and the coaches haven't felt comfortable straying much from experience in crunch time. We still don't know what we have there.