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SBNation, Bill C. Preview Texas Football

Texas 2012 Football Preview and Schedule (via sbnation)

Over at the mothership, SBNation has Texas fans covered with previews for the Longhorns. Besides the above video, Bill Connelly, he of Rock M Nation, Football Study Hall, and Football Outsiders fame, has an in-depth preview that gives an outsiders take on the program, where it's been, and where it's headed. It's absolutely worth reading the whole thing, but I've also taken the liberty of pulling out a few spots to highlight. Also, checking out the team's overall statistic profile is a fantastic way to spend some time.

After opening with a discussion of the success in recruiting for the Longhorns in terms of rankings, Connelly highlighted the massive fall-off the team overall suffered from 2009 to 2010. How bad was it? The 27.0% drop was the third-worst recorded in the F/+ ratings (measured since 2005, and basically a scoring rate analysis that weighs for opponent strength).

Connelly chronicled how badly the offense fell off the map during the last part of the 2011 season, too:

First Three Games: Texas 29.7 Adj. Points per game, Opponents 22.0 (plus-7.7)
Next Three Games: Opponents 27.6 Adj. Points per game, Texas 25.1 (minus-2.5)
Next Three Games: Texas 27.5 Adj. Points per game, Opponents 18.1 (plus-9.4)
Last Four Games: Texas 22.8 Adj. Points per game, Opponents 20.2 (plus-2.6)

In back-to-back weeks in November, Texas allowed a combined 34 points and 459 yards to Missouri and Kansas State, and lost both games. Injuries certainly played a role in the offense's regression -- by the end of the season, Texas had lost its top three running backs to injury -- but only so much of one. Two young quarterbacks alternated behind center, and as opponents figured them out, there wasn't a Plan B beyond "run the ball as much as possible." And when that stopped working, Texas leaned on its defense as much as anybody in the country. That might be the case again in 2012, though a little new blood could go a long way.

if there's a quibble here, it's that he doesn't mention the significant injury to Jaxon Shipley and how greatly that hurt the offense, as well as the overall depth hit from the John Harris being out. And, of course, Mike Davis doing 2011 Mike Davis things, which were not good things. Excuses! Texas had them offensively late in the season. Plenty.

What is nailed quite well is how much the Longhorns not only relied on Colt McCoy, but how the signs were there in 2009 that there was an expiring timestamp on the quarterback-centric offensive philosophy that dominated the Vince Young and Colt McCoy eras:

One could actually make the case that the slide had already begun. Strong defense and special teams, combined with timely magic from McCoy, masked the fact that, even in 2009, the offense had fallen from 11th to 40th. The 'Horns played the field position game well enough, made the plays they needed to make and got a bit lucky with the schedule (the non-conference slate was cakey, Oklahoma regressed significantly, Oklahoma State suffered from well-publicized injuries, and only Nebraska was capable of delivering a strong challenge in the Big 12), and they were able to go 13-0 in the regular season. But when McCoy left and most of the Big 12 South improved, the 'Horns could no longer hide the fact that their offense was in need of a significant upgrade.

Some interesting numbers from the 2011 season follow -- a rushing rate of 71% on first down, ahead of the national average of 60%, which put increased pressure on the offensive line to consistently execute well, as the defense pretty much knew what was coming on that down.

Another interesting number? Despite the numerous breakdowns that occurred, the offensive line did well enough overall in the running game to finish 30th in adjusted line yards (explanation for the stat here). Connelly believes Texas could become a top-20 team in that regard this season, which would surely help the running game fulfill the significant potential it has.

The offensive part of the preview ends with a big-picture look at the major determining factor in how the offense will perform this season. The answer will probably not be a shock:

If Ash or McCoy (or, technically, true freshman Connor Brewer) take a step forward -- and your most likely period for a big breakthrough comes either after your first or second year -- the offense will, too. (The spring game wasn't incredibly encouraging in this regard.) Without that, this will still be a solid offense that falls apart the moment it encounters an unsuccessful play on first down.

Certainly in agreement that the bolded section will tell the tale for Texas -- as long as the quarterback play doesn't improve quite a bit. The potential for things getting ugly on offense again, and for the Longhorns to once again struggle on passing downs, is significant, unfortunately.

As for the defense, all the subjective measurements were that it was an excellent unit by the end of the year, and the passion-less numbers tell the same tale:

Texas was good in all of the ways we expect from Diaz at this point -- fourth in Def. F/+, fifth in PPP+ (big-play prevention), third in Rushing S&P+ and first in the country in Adj. Line Yards. It was a nice turnaround from a 2010 defense that was still solid (20th in Def. F/+) but underachieved a bit. Texas 'only' ranked 23rd in Adj. Sack Rate, but the defense was as suffocating as any not in the SEC.

Yup. Diaz done good.

Connelly circles back to the whole recruiting rankings thing to close out the preview:

It is just baffling to see an offense struggle this much with such high recruiting rankings. Again, not too long ago Texas was definitive proof of why recruiting rankings matter and are at least reasonably accurate. But without strong quarterback play, it doesn't really matter.

Over the years, Texas has done well at turning top talent into NFL draft picks, but that well has gone a bit dry in recent drafts, as some of the poor post-national championship have slowed the number of Longhorns headed to the NFL. When the 2009 group hits the rankings, Texas will drop a bit.

But the real point here is not an unfamiliar one to long-time readers -- a lot of those highly-ranked recruiting classes fell victim to attrition (as in 2009), or just generally poor development (the receiving corps and offensive line). And those classes that didn't pan out were recruited by and (not) developed by many coaches no longer on the staff.

On the other side of the equation, however, is the fact that Texas played a ton of true freshman last year and has a really good class coming in. To hear Mack Brown tell it, the gap between recruiting rankings and production on the field is going to start decreasing quickly.

As long as the quarterbacks aren't completely terrible, that is.

Go read it all if you haven't already, then come on back here and share your thoughts, disagreements, and general proclamations. Where does Bill C. get it right and where does he get it wrong?