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Texas Values: Conference play will show if Texas has progressed

The Big 12 may be the best league in the country this year and the Longhorns still have a lot to prove.

NCAA Football: Texas at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After opening the season 1-2, the Texas Longhorns find themselves in a precarious position. If they can’t find a way to win the majority of their conference games, they will finish the season with a losing record for the third-straight season, and miss out on a bowl berth for the third time in as many years.

Although it may be an uphill battle, if Texas can capitalize on a few key areas, they have a shot at ending the drought.

Rush Offense

It’s almost a cliché at this point to say that Texas has to run the ball to be successful, but in conference play, it’s the ‘Horns biggest competitive advantage. There’s only one team in the conference ranked in the Top 20 nationally in rush defense – the TCU Horned Frogs are No. 19, allowing just 92.3 rushing yards per game. The teams that are considered the class of the conference, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, rank No. 52 and No. 85 in the nation, respectively. Tom Herman has said that he wants Texas to be a power rushing team, and to do that they must actually give the ball to their running backs. In the Longhorns two losses this season, the starting quarterback finished the game with double-digit carries; more than the totals of running backs Chris Warren III and Kyle Porter.

Defensive Efficiency

The Big 12 is home to some of the most efficient offenses in the nation, with five of the 10 teams in the conference ranking in the top 20 nationally in yards per play, including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. These three offenses all average more than eight yards per play, topped by the Oklahoma Sooners, who are No. 2 in the country with a blistering 8.64 yards per play. Conversely, Texas has been good, not great in the defensive efficiency realm, allowing 5.66 yards per play, which is only good enough to rank No. 49 in the country.

Turnover Margin

The Longhorns have made a name for themselves this season by manufacturing points off of turnovers. However, as good as they have been at taking the ball away, they’ve been better at giving it to opponents. Texas has a -1 turnover margin, which puts them at No. 77 in the country, while five teams in the conference boast a positive turnover ratio. In the high-octane Big 12, one or two defensive stops is all it takes to come away with a win, so Texas must stop squandering the defense’s momentum-swinging plays.

If Texas cannot find a way to win five of its nine conference games, the ‘Horns will finish the season with a 5-7 record, the same as its two previous seasons under former head coach Charlie Strong.

A fourth-consecutive losing season would also mark the first time Texas has been without a winning season for such a lengthy stretch since 1935-1938. Texas certainly has its work cut out in hopes of ending this season with momentum heading into Herman’s second offseason.