Let’s face the facts – without a clear cut conference champion the Big 12 was left out in the cold for the first College Football Playoff in 2014. Somebody screwed up big time. TCU, led by Coach Gary Patterson went into the heart of SEC Country, the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and destroyed the Ole Miss Rebels, who had upset Alabama earlier in the year. Baylor, once again, was upset in a bowl game by Michigan State in the heart of Big 12 country, AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Both teams could have been in College Football’s first playoff – but without a clear-cut champion the committee put Big 10 champion Ohio State ahead of both Baylor and TCU. I don’t see any statements from the Big 12 officials that would keep this from happening again in 2015.
I do watch the games. For instance, Oklahoma State did find a QB in Mason Rudolph, who took the Cowboys to an overtime win versus Oklahoma in Norman as well as a bowl win over Washington. But without Tyreek Hill, who took a punt back 92 yards with 4:51 to go in Bedlam against OU with OU up 35-28, the Cowboys don’t win. Hill later was later dismissed from the university for serious infractions. Despite coach Mike Gundy’s confidence in his team for 2015 they play a weak non-conference schedule before they come to Austin on September. 26. By that time Jerrod Heard should be firmly established as the Longhorns QB and at this point I don’t think they can beat Texas.
I do watch the games. Baylor’s ridiculous penalty driven out of control players at West Virginia cost them an undefeated regular season as they went down 41-27 to the Mountaineers. It was a group that lost their composure as the flags few. Keep this in mind, with their new QB Seth Russell at the controls late in the game against Texas Tech in Arlington, Baylor’s offense miss-fired and almost cost them an embarrassing loss as they barely squeaked by, 48-46. Wins over teams that only beat Kansas and Iowa State last season, Russell is a long way from Bryce Petty.
TCU’s opening game against Minnesota will be good, they went 8-5 last year. Next is the game against Texas Tech, which should be good tests for a young defense. Since both games are on the road, the Horned Frog defense will be really pushed up front and in the secondary. They need to replace some real playmakers on defense.
Coach Charlie Strong handled himself well at Big 12 Media Day. On his back he carries the Longhorn national champion teams of ’63, ’69, ’70, and 2005 – along with the 1-loss teams of 1961 and 1964 that were the teams that won significant Bowl games over Ole Miss and Alabama. It weighs on him. The Bowl embarrassment against Arkansas in Houston will not let him sleep at night. This I know – it can’t happen in 2015. The QB situation will be resolved in the Notre Dame game on Sept. 5th at South Bend, I hope. The first time Tyrone Swoopes draws a delay of game because of sideline signal confusion, the first time Swoopes runs out of bounds instead of slamming over a Notre Dame defender for a first down, Strong will throw his headset down that connect him to the QB coach Shawn Watson and Jerrod Heard will begin his college football career. Of course players like Daje Johnson need to get off their rear ends and realize that their college careers are slipping away. I’m hearing good things.
On defense, tackles Hassan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson must control the middle of the line. Dalton Santos is a question mark and needs to come out of his 2014 funk and play like he did in 2013. Malik Jefferson will be in the lineup against Notre Dame by the middle of the first quarter. The secondary must grow up quickly and will be tested early by the Irish QB Malik Zaire, who burned LSU in last seasons Outback Bowl.
Deep down coach Strong has to believe Johnathan Gray is the spark at running back that can turn this version of the spread offense into a serious threat. He’s got to believe that new assistant Jay Norvell can develop a young receiving corps by Sept. 5th. Coach Brick Haley will handle the Longhorn defensive line in similar fashion as departed coach Chris Rumph who left for Florida. The Horns have a new special teams coach in Jeff Traylor, and Strong was not going to let another season go by without production in that area. Coach Strong knows that his offensive line is one year away from being a solid unit but he has the best in the business in Joe Wiclkine’s coaching.
Lots of question marks but there is no coach in the Big 12 that is more energetic than coach Strong and as I see it this is coach Watson’s year to prove himself at Texas. His inability to turn Swoopes into a winner took the Longhorns to a 6-7 season. Watson tried to make Swoopes his Teddy Bridgewater – it didn’t work so now a new offense with multiple wideouts and the zone read with quick passes as weaponry. To make it work you need speed at QB – Heard has it and the sooner Watson sees that the better his chances of staying at the University of Texas.
So now the Longhorn coaches head toward this season. They were picked in the lower half of the Big 12 but that could all change at 6:30pm Saturday night in South Bend, Indiana. I think back to 1962 and our opener versus Oregon with speedster Mel Renfro in the backfield. Down 13-3 at halftime we had to adjust to their raw speed. We did and won 25-13. It made us tougher and we went on to post a 9-0-1 regular season record. And so can what happens at South Bend for UT. Weaknesses will be exposed and this Texas team can be a threat in the Big 12 race.
Coach Charlie Strong will not stop in his determination to rebuild the Texas program – that you and I can believe!
Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.