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Assessing Urban Meyer’s claim about Texas having the ‘best roster in college football’

Someone has been sipping on the burnt orange Kool-Aid.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The infamous Texas Longhorns offseason hype train arguably hit top speed last week, courtesy of former Ohio State Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer.

“I think Texas, you didn’t mention them, but don’t sleep on Texas this year,” Meyer said on Urban’s Take with Tim May. “I was talking to (Ohio State associate AD) Mark Pantoni and I was talking to the recruiting director at Ohio State. Man for man, roster against roster, it’s hard to say Texas doesn’t have the best roster in college football.”

While determining the “best” roster in college football is a highly subjective enterprise, there are less subjective ways of comparing programs across the sport that point to the limitations of making such claims about the Longhorns entering the third year under head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Looking at blue-chip ratio, SP+’s returning production metric, and the SP+ projections are three ways of assessing roster strength that provide perspective on pure talent and how much of that talent made plays on the field last season. SP+ projections combine returning production, recent recruiting, and recent history to provide arguably the industry’s most comprehensive assessment of which team has the best chance of winning in a given year. Not quite the “best” roster, but something close to it.

Blue-chip ratio, developed by Bud Elliott while working for SB Nation, compares the number of five-star recruits and four-star recruits signed by a program to the number of three-star recruits and two-star recruits signed. Programs with high blue-chip ratios aren’t guaranteed national championships, but since 2011, the lowest blue-chip ratio to win a title was Clemson at 52 percent in 2016. Over the last two seasons, Georgia had blue-chip ratios of 80 percent and 77 percent, respectively.

Texas entered the 2022 season ranked No. 6 nationally in blue-chip ratio at 68 percent before signing a recruiting class with a 72-percent ratio in the 247Sports Composite rankings and a 64-percent ratio by On3 that slotted eighth in the country. Based on those numbers, blue-chip ratio for the Longhorns in 2023 should be roughly equivalent to last season and high enough to compete for a national championship, but fall well short of boasting the most talented roster in the country by that metric.

With returning rushing yards only factoring into six percent of the returning production metric, the Longhorns rank No. 19 in 2023. In the SP+ projections released in February, Texas sat ninth nationally with two-time reigning national champion Georgia in the top spot despite ranking 80th in returning production.

So from an empirical standpoint, Meyer has some leeway to suggest that the Texas roster is good enough to compete for a national championship based on its blue-chip ratio, but recent history is working against the Longhorns and the blue-chip ratio doesn’t support his claim.

Most importantly, regardless of the offseason discourse and the perpetual offseason hype, the challenge that Texas has fallen short of meeting for more than a decade now has been turning potential into production, especially in late-game situations.

“Now, they’ve got to play,” Meyer admitted of the Longhorns. “It’s been a while since Texas has been good or elite. But their quarterback, I watched him live against Alabama before he got hurt. They could have won that game. We all know Quinn Ewers from when he was at Ohio State. I think Georgia, Ohio State, and Texas are in pretty good shape.”

For now, it’s worth calling the Bulldogs and the Buckeye the best rosters in college football thanks to the combination of talent, returning production, and recent history that put those program atop the SP+ projections.

Subjectively, a look across the Texas roster does reveal plenty of reason for optimism. Ewers was considered a generational quarterback prospect out of high school. The running back includes depth and top-end talent with the addition to 2023 No. 1 back CJ Baxter. The wide receiver room has increased depth and talent with AD Mitchell joining Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington returning. Ja’Tavion Sanders may be the nation’s best collegiate tight end not named Brock Bowers. The offensive line return five starters, including potential future first-round draft pick Kelvin Banks at left tackle. The defensive line has depth and talent, Jaylan Ford was arguably the Big 12’s best defensive player last season, and the secondary could take another big step forward this season.

In considering the Longhorns, however, there are remaining question marks at the edge position, at linebacker next to Ford, and at safety given the long-term injury issues of Jalen Catalon.

Ultimately, however, Sarkisian isn’t focused on the bigger picture across college football.

“You can’t compare yourself to everybody else,” Sarkisian told the “On Second Thought” podcast . “You just hope that you built your own roster in a way that suits us, and that’s what makes us comfortable that we’ve got front-line players that can compete at the highest level. I like our team and I haven’t shied away from that.”

A last subjective take on the current state of the Longhorns, though?

“It feels and looks like my team,” Sarkisian said last month in a podcast appearance. “The way the players talk, the way they act, what they look like, the way they move, how we practice — the speed, the tempo — all those things meant, ‘Okay, now we’re about ready to go. This is what it’s supposed to look like.’”