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Morning Coffee Frames The Offseason

Time for Bob Stoops backlash?  It only took Ohio State two BCS flops to earn  a sour reputation, yet Bob Stoops lost four straight BCS games and still had enough credibility with voters this year to win a controversial neck-and-neck ballot contest with a Texas team it had lost to by 10 points. What gives?

That's a topic for a post of its own, but to make a long story short, Bob Stoops' extended honeymoon was the product of a perfect storm of background and early success -- the pedigree, early national title, and five year run over Texas established a storyline that was equal parts Stoops Mythology and Mack Brown Doubting. 

However, since OU's 12-0 win in 2004, that storyline has steadily eroded. Mack Brown won his first big game in the 2004 Rose Bowl, followed it up with a national title in 2005, beat #1-ranked OU this season, and won yet another BCS game on Monday night. Brown's Longhorns have won three of four versus Oklahoma, and did so this year with a squad everyone thought was a year away, over an Oklahoma team in a peak of the talent cycle. Meanwhile, during that same time Stoops has lost four-straight BCS games, including two versus heavy underdogs in Boise State and West Virginia.

The game is up. While Stoops runs a tremendously successful program, he doesn't deserve any kind of hyper-recognition beyond taking very good care of the basics. And with Mack Brown hitting his peak, the foundation supporting the Stoops myth is all but gone. The early returns from this morning's press clips tell the tale:

With tonight's loss these stories were inevitable, and the more interesting question will be whether Stoops (long-rumored to have aspirations to try his hand in the NFL) bails his sinking ship. 2008 was supposed to be the Sooners' year as a swath of key talent peaked before either graduating or turning pro. Bradford's decision is key, but the Sooners definitively lose four starting O-Linemen, Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson, Lendy Holmes, Cory Bennett, Alan Davis, and Nic Harris. Junior Jermaine Gresham is highly likely to leave, as well. Add it all up and if Colt McCoy does in fact return Texas could be anywhere from a 5-15 point favorite over the Sooners next season. Further, Will Muschamp is back in 2009 and for the forseeable future, while Garrett Gilbert awaits as an ideal fit for Texas' pass spread offense...

If things break badly for OU/according to plan for Texas, the best time for Bob Stoops to move on would be... now. Here's to hoping that he doesn't.

Number 4. Texas officially finishes 4th in the AP Poll, behind Florida, Utah, and USC. Though some may not like the ordering, there's not much to get worked up about. Texas fans' gripe should be with the voters who sent the wrong Big 12 team to Miami. Whether the 'Horns would have beat Florida last night, we'll never know, but since the system didn't break Texas' way this year -- and since Utah and USC accomplished plenty themselves -- there's no sense worrying much about the top four's final ordering. A split title impossible after the bowl results, there's no reason to care whether Texas was #2 or #4. It was an outstanding year.

Preparing for the best...  The Big 12 South took its lumps this bowl season, and though the easy story will be centered on dismissing the entire bunch as overrated, I think the more important lesson for a Texas fan interested in future success lies in examining the relative struggles Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas suffered when faced with a short field. This, too, is probably worth a post of its own, but for now it suffices to say that each of these high powered offenses noticeably sputtered when they entered opponent territory, and especially so as they moved inside the 30.

This is something worth thinking about if you're Greg Davis -- especially when preparing for defenses better than what the rest of the Big 12 is fielding right now. My initial thoughts:

  1. To the extent you can (read: without being suicidal about it), develop and emphasize efficient usage of a power rushing game to complement the pass spread attack. That was the difference between Florida and Oklahoma tonight.
  2. Look and gun for opportunities to hit the home run. Colt-to-Limas was our best big play in 2006; build a big play rapport between McCoy and Malcolm Williams for '09.
  3. When playing elite defenses, be situationally aware as relates to field position, understanding that as the field shortens inside 20 yards, the difficulty of picking up 6 points markedly increases. Take some strategic shots at scores from 25-35 yards out.
  4. Take a page from Urban Meyer's book inside the 10 -- systematically exploit a defense's natural aggressiveness near the goal line. Practice and implement a package of plays that develop out of the same formation but run the gamet of strike emphasis.
  5. Consider at all times whether you're dealing with four downs or three -- meaning, don't run three plays as though you have only three to get a first down (or touchdown) when you're going to wind up going for it on fourth. If you're likely to go for it on fourth down, imagine and playcall based on that information.
  6. Finally, to end on a big picture note, use opportunities throughout the season to prepare for moments of need. Whether it's getting young talent on the field/meaningfully involved, aggressively pursuing forward-thinking/postseason strategies, or exploring systematically different ways to achieve any given result, every game presents vital training ground that mustn't be wasted. Put another way, there's an opportunity cost attached to every touchdown scored (against an outmatched opponent) on a play/series of plays that won't be of use against competitive opponents.
  7. Related to (6), don't be afraid of the struggles that accompany learning/discovery/improvement. That is, don't sporadically explore in a way that renders the entire project a waste. (See, e.g., The Q Project.)  Football is as much (or more) execution as it is capability to imagine/master any of the strategic principles discussed above. Think through your goals, develop a plan for using them, and then commit to the effort, prepared for (and accepting) the bad with the good, while ignoring the inevitable criticism -- fans will always complain. Wholeheartedly committing to prepare for the best is a season-long project of training to be your best. Nothing less.

Five for the road.  As painful as it is that we didn't quite get there a year early, the stars remain aligned for a serious run at the Rose Bowl in 2009. Wrapping up the final night of the '08 season, five questions to launch the offseason chatter:

  1. Who leaves for the NFL? For Texas, all eyes on Colt McCoy and Sergio Kindle, obviously. Among other teams, the big question is whether Bradford stays or goes. He's so exceptionally talented that I won't rule anything out with OU if he comes back, but if he leaves... the Sooners officially hit a dip in the cycle. Others: Maclin? Gresham? Crabtree? I assume all three go, with Maclin and Crabtree losing Daniel/Harrell and Gresham ready to make huge dollars as a first round pick.
  2. What will Muschamp do to replenish the Texas defensive line? The 'Horns lose Orakpo, Miller, Melton, and Lewis. The two-deep at end should be fine, but the situation inside is a big concern.
  3. Were this year's rushing woes systemic?  I don't think there's any doubt that part of the problem is systemic, but the question is a matter of degree. If (what I believe will be) a stronger run-blocking offensive line can provide some of the improvement and Davis can make some offseason adjustments in approach, we'll just be watching to see if one of the tailback talents can explosively play the designed role.
  4. How good can the secondary be?  A hat tip to Ryan Palmer for a strong senior year, but he's likely to be a distant memory when the '09 secondary hits its peak. If this group is as good as I think it can be... Texas can dominate.
  5. Will Mack Brown be as a coach what Vince Young was as a player? He's done everything right to set up the 2009 season; literally all the pieces are in place. He might've shocked us all and gotten there this year if not for the stumble in Lubbock, but for every bit of high praise he deserves for this memorable season, the task next fall is a bit different. Texas will and should be a front runner. Mack Brown needs to take that final step forward, caring nothing at all about 10 wins, BCS bowls, or anything else not related to a January date in Pasadena. Balls to the wall, Mack. Confidence, aggression, purpose. From start to finish, with no thought at all that anything less will suffice.

Hook 'em