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Five Fiesta Bowl Questions And Predictions

Odds are this post won't look good Tuesday morning, but let's have some fun anyway. Weigh in on any or all of the questions with your own takes in the comment section.

1. How well will Texas contain wildebeast Beanie Wells?

I spent a ton of words introducing Texas fans to Terrelle Pryor, but as discussed in Friday's Morning Coffee, the key to making OSU offensively impotent will be shutting out Beanie Wells. If forced to deconstruct this game to a single point, I might choose Texas' ability to neuter the Buckeyes' enormously powerful tailback.

So how about this as a Beanie Barometer: 20 carries, 100 yards. If Wells exceeds those totals, it's likely the game played more towards what OSU wanted than did Texas. If he winds up with fewer than 20 carries, it's likely because either Wells was ineffective or because Ohio State was playing catch up and forced to the air.

Prediction: 21 carries, 115 yards. I'm envisioning a 30+ yard pop that boosts the final totals, but feel good about Wells not killing us -- in large part because I suspect denying that will be Muschamp's #1 goal.

2. Will Texas be able to rush the football?

On the plus side, Texas with a well-rested McCoy is an underrated rushing team and Ohio State's rushing defense is more a fiction of reputation than an actual dominant force. On the downside, Greg Davis has proven himself, um, challenged, in designing a competent rushing game to complement this year's elite passing offense.

Prediction: 35 rushes, 170 yards.  I'm underwhelmed by OSU's defensive line and think Texas has a good chance to put together one of those games in which we're surprised when the final box score shows the team picked up nearly 150-200 yards on the ground across some 35-40 carries. 

3. Which early signs would portend well for a solid Texas win?

Already discussed, keeping Wells in check is key, but beyond that I'll be watching closely for two big picture signs that will help me relax:

  1. An aggressive, creative offensive approach like that featured in last year's Holiday Bowl and this year's Red River Shootout. When Greg Davis plays to win, we do.
  2. A tough first quarter for Terrelle Pryor. If Will Muschamp succeeds in making Pryor a football player who is thinking instead of reacting, we're in good shape.

Prediction: I'm optimistic on both counts. My big worry is that Greg Davis will let Jim Tressell dictate the tempo/style of this game. But... my gut instinct is that Mack Brown is hungry. That's when Texas is at its best. That's when Greg Davis is at his best.

4. What are the biggest dangers to Texas losing/falling apart?

You're a football fan: I don't have to tell you how many things could go wrong. But I'll give you the three things I think would most cripple Texas on Monday night:

  1. Turnovers. Fumbles, INTs, special teams screw ups, whatever. It's obvious, but especially worth saying when playing Jim Tressell -- his entire strategy is predicated on minimizing mistakes on his end and capitalizing on yours. 
  2. Poor tackling & backside contain. File the tackling part in the "Beanie Wells" file, if you like, but it's really key for both of OSU's top threats: Pryor can make you miss; both can run you over. As for backside contain, the Buckeyes both by design and via Pryor's ability to improvise necessitate defensive discipline.
  3. Conservative coaching. The flipside to #3, obviously, but the danger in this particular game is exponentially greater because of Jim Tressell. That is, not only are Mack Brown's squads at their best when he's Playing To Win, so to speak, but failure to do so against this opponent particularly aids and abets the enemy.

Prediction: Who the hell knows on turnovers; a big part of that is just luck. Knock on wood we don't have a bad day in that regard. The tackling and defensive discipline I feel good about. (Eddie Jones' picture perfect contain in Lawrence was one of those moments that helped me fully appreciate how well this defense performs in that regard.) As for coaching... like I said, my instincts are that Mack's probably hungry, in which case I expect good things. Let's hope.

5. Is there a psychological "let down" factor with which we should be concerned?

Was Alabama upset in part because it suffered from some sort of SEC Championship Game hangover? Did Tech's blowout loss to Oklahoma kill all the wind behind their sails? Was California's perceived snub a factor in their 2004 Holiday Bowl no-show?

The questions make for easy journalism and fun fan banter, but as explanations for outcomes I'm not a subscriber. Once teams kick off and the pads crash for the first time all that crap for the most part goes out the window and the winner is decided by execution in the areas discussed above. That's not to say the mental/psychological isn't important in college football (it is), but I'm not one who believes that this particular mental hurdle is among those that plays a meaningful role in determining team performance.

Prediction: If Texas wins, we'll hear a lot about how much the team wanted to "prove to the world" their excellence. If they lose, we'll hear a lot about how the team was "distracted" by all these side narratives. Neither will be explanatory. Alabama lost to Utah because the Utes O-Line dominated Alabama. Tech lost to Ole Miss because the Rebels are a better all-around team with a better head coach. Whether Texas wins or loses on Monday night, it won't be because of these kinds of story lines which fuel fun barstool fan debate.