In the last five years in the Big 12, only 13 units managed to field a defense that ranked in the top 40 of S&P+. Oklahoma and TCU managed to produce three such teams, Texas and West Virginia have each done it twice, and then Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State have each pulled it off once. For their defensive reputation, the Horned Frogs had a fairly long dry spell in 2015 and 2016 before they were able to crack the top 40 again last year (no. 16), and OU’s defensive reputation is up in smoke after finishing at 55th in 2016 and then going over a cliff in 2017.
One of the main topics for the offense heading into the 2018 season is how much of a difference it will make for the unit to have even average OL play. Replacing the weak spots across the line, having multiple groups of five that can be executed to soundly execute their assignments without costly errors, and plugging in a top talent at LT after unexpectedly having to forego that luxury in 2017 are all changing variables that could provide a tremendous boost. But there’s another factor that’s likely to have a big impact on the 2018 unit and even to effect the quality of the blocking in a major way, that’s the growth at TE.
While the offense has a lot of obvious work to do this spring in order to traverse the distance from “dreadful” to “capable of pulling their weight for a Big 12 champion,” the defense actually has quite a bit of work to do as well. The main difference is that we already know who the main playmakers are, how they’ll be utilized, and that the coaching staff can be effective at putting it all together.
Texas has a lot of questions to answer this spring. Herb Hand has a lot of good pieces to work with along the OL but a lot of work to do in getting them up to par, the QB room is still young and needs to make a leap, and the defense has to replace cornerstone interior pieces from a fantastic 2017 unit.
As a part of my review of the offense from last season I found another fun chessboard battle between everyone’s favorite B12 coordinators, Tim Beck and Mike Stoops.
I’ve spent some of today doing some research for the next Gameplan, which will center around how far along Sam Ehlinger is in executing the Herman offense, and I noticed a fun peripheral detail from the Texas bowl.
Before he won a national championship with the “third string QB” or took over as the head coach of the Houston Cougars and led them to an AAC title and 22-4 record, one of Tom Herman’s main accomplishments as a coach was converting Urban Meyer to the inside zone play. Urban Meyer had built his two-time national championship Florida Gator offenses around gap schemes like power and counter, often sending Tim Tebow downhill on the former and loosing Percy Harvin to the edge on the latter.
Since I’ve been breaking down every Big 12 class it only makes sense that I would include the Texas Longhorns, with their 2018 class parsed just as I have for their competitors in the conference.
The 2017 class, Tom Herman’s first at Texas, was an underrated success and for being a lower rated class it seems likely to punch above its weight. The 2018 class is a heavyweight group rated third nationally and first in the Big 12 by 247 and including much of the state’s top rated prospects and 19 Texans overall bolstered by seven out of state signees. Here’s how it should fit together into the Herman vision for the program.
The 2017 season was a very unique one for Todd Orlando and his defense. That’s not terribly shocking since he was inheriting a team he didn’t recruit and facing arguably the most lethal offensive league in college football for the first time of his career. While the AAC is filled with creative and dangerous offenses, there’s no comparison to the Big 12 where every other weekend forces the defense to square off against QB play that would be in the top echelon of most other leagues. Orlando was forced to adapt in a variety of ways in order to give his guys a chance to make plays and prevent scores.
The typical play for top defensive programs is to stockpile as many athletes as possible and then rely on the culture and process to round them into shape as a cohesive and fast playing unit. That’s been the name of the game for some time now but things are getting tougher these days with the game becoming increasingly about skill and recognition on the field. Orlando figured out how to (finally) leverage Texas’ superior athleticism in 2017 but he did it while leaning on some skilled veterans that knew how to set the table for the younger guys on the field.