We are moments away from the start of the college football season. We get started with the 2012 SEC Champions defending Car Care Bowl Champions Texas A&M, playing ON THE ROAD at Louisiana Tech. I sort of wish they were still in the Big 12 so I could spend a little more time talking about how in the world that happened and … That’s not true; there is no part of me that wishes they were still in the Big 12. They have taken their swords, their dog, their haircuts and their little towels far away from me and that’s just fine. Enjoy your new digs.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff. We have games Thursday night (Whoop!), Friday night, all day Saturday and even Sunday and Monday; but the one we are all looking at is the one Saturday just north of MLK and just west of I-35 — THE TEXAS LONGHORNS ARE ABOUT TO START THE 2012 COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON. Anyone else ready to head down to DKR now? I can drive. I don’t really want to meet your parents, I’ll just honk and you come outside.
On to the first breakdown of the season, the Wyoming Cowboys.
Wyoming Cowboys @ No. 15 TEXAS
Saturday, September 1st
It’s like Christmas, isn’t it? You can’t wait for it to get here, but you have to, right? Dumb. Enough about me, let’s talk some football. The Cowboys of Wyoming are coming to town off an 8-5 year in 2011, are considered a candidate to win their conference and will not be timid or afraid of the Texas Longhorns. Head Coach Dave Christiansen is in his fourth year at Wyoming, so it’s pretty much all his guys playing now and he’s had them in two bowl games in the last three years. They are progressing nicely … But I see some serious, serious issues for them in the opener. I see some nice things as well, but a lot of things are going to have to go right for them to be in this game. Let’s take a look.
The cog, or straw, or trigger, or point, or whatever phrase you like best to describe someone important, is quarterback Brett Smith. The sophomore started every game as a true freshman in 2011 and set a Mountain West Conference freshman record of 3,332 yards total offense (710 yards rushing/2622 yards passing). He not only led the team in rushing and passing, he accounted for 31 touchdowns with 20 passing, 10 rushing and one receiving. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Oregon native has a very good arm, excellent feet and proven leadership skills, taking his team to a bowl game as an 18-year old. With a year of experience, maturity and a college off-season under his belt, I expect him to be even better in 2012. Another reason Smith should be better is the return of his top three wide outs, which combined for 1,289 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns last season. None of the three are overpowering physical specimens, but they are quick and know where to be. In the Missouri-esque (where Christiansen was the OC for Gary Pinkel) wide open attack, the quarterback will spread the ball around to several different receivers all over the field. And with an athletic, mobile guy like Smith running the offense, he can pressure a defense to commit to him or commit to coverage and take advantage. His wide outs are solid, but they are made better by Smith’s abilities with the ball in his hands. That’s the good news.
The bad news is only two starters returning up front and they lose their underrated tailback. While the line was excellent at protecting Smith last year (less than one sack a game allowed), Smith was beaten up pretty good as he was the leading rusher as well. Like Collin Klein at Kansas State, Smith is the primary ball carrier and, like Klein, he gets hit. A lot. He was held out of contact this spring as he recovered from thumb surgery, a result of all those hits. Now he has three new starters up front and a new tailback. All hope is not lost, though: tailback Brandon Jennings is solid, averaging 5.5 per carry as a backup last year, center Nick Carlson is an All-MWC player and the rest of the line are upperclassmen that have all lettered. If they can establish any sort of running game and get their line comfortable, Smith can make some plays …
… But that won’t happen. This is likely the best defense Wyoming will face this season and you just can’t simulate players like Alex Okafor, Carrington Byndom and the other nine starters in practice, particularly in the season opener. This line is going to have their hands full with the speed and athleticism of the Texas front seven, and I just don’t know if they are going to be able to adjust. I see Smith running around, — a lot — to avoid the collapsing pocket. But if he breaks contain and the secondary starts moving up for support, he can make them pay with a pass to a wide open receiver. I see that happening occasionally, because the Texas defense is going to have to adjust to Smith’s athleticism as well, but it won’t happen enough to keep Wyoming in this game. Eat your Wheaties, boys, because the Texas defense is going to wear you out.
The Cowboys were 11th nationally last year in takeaways, averaging almost one per game (.92) and … Well ,that’s it. They didn’t really get to the quarterback well (1.69 sacks per game), didn’t defend the pass very well (124.03 pass efficiency defense rating, No.82 nationally) and allowed nearly 28 points per game. You could look at the No.30-ranked pass defense that allowed 199 yards per game as a positive, but its offset by the 115th ranked rush defense that allowed 232 yards per game. Why throw it when you can run it?
When you give up that many yards on the ground, you start over. Wyoming is starting over with new DC Chris Tormey, but they will still run the same 4-3 scheme, so the players should be familiar with the concepts. They just need to do it better. They are experienced at linebacker and in the secondary, but they need the defensive line to get a push to slow down the opponents’ ability to run the ball.
This is a terrible match up for Wyoming. The Longhorns want to run the ball and Wyoming proved last season they can’t stop that. They are going to stunt and blitz and stack the line to try and slow down the Texas running game and force David Ash to make a play with his arm. If they can do that, they might be able to get a few of those passes with their talented safeties playing centerfield. That’s a big if, and I don’t see it happening.
Malcolm, Joe, J-Gray and the hogs up front are waiting for you, Cowboys. Good luck.
The kickers could be an issue for Wyoming. They start a true freshman at punter and the placekicker was 7-11 on field goals and missed four extra points last season. Usually your kicker is the top scorer on your team, but at Wyoming he was third last year. Safe to say the points teams for Wyoming could be adventurous. While points could be an issue, they handle their punt teams very well. They ranked 16th nationally last season in punt returns, averaging 12.79 yards per return. Plano Senior High School star Blair Burns averaged 13 yards per return last year and wide out Chris McNeill averaged 16.8 with a touchdown. Both are dangerous with the ball in their hands. On the other side, they only allow 5.3 yards per return and had zero blocked, so they are just as sound punting as they are returning them. That success at punt returns has not translated to kick returns, where they average only 20 yards per return with no scores, but they do cover kicks well, allowing only 22 yards per attempt. With a kicker that only had six touchbacks and averages getting the ball to the 6-yard line on each kick, it means the coverage teams is very, very good.
I’ll say it again: The quickest way for an underdog to get momentum in a game is through special teams. They have the ability with Burns and McNeill to make a play returning punts. They also know they need something big from the specials to stay in this game, so expect them to test the Texas punt team with a few block attempts. They don’t the kick the ball for points particularly well (at least they didn’t last year) so don’t be surprised to see a fake if the opportunity arises.
If I see Wyoming allowed 232 yards per game on the ground last year, you can be sure the Texas coaching staff did, too. Expect to see the Horns hammer the Cowboys with Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and the rest of the running back unit and force them to play everyone at/near the line of scrimmage in the hopes of slowing down the ground game. It isn’t going to work, but they will still try.
Jaxon Shipley (hamstring) and Mike Davis (ankle) are banged up after getting hurt last week in training camp and, while I expect they could play, don’t be surprised if their reps are limited. Both players are known commodities and I expect the staff wants them healthy, so if there are any lingering effects they might lean on others. Of course they could both be 100% by game time, so we will see.
While Texas is going to have their way on the ground, they will still have to throw the ball and I want to see if David Ash will cut loose. He seemed at times last year to be his own worst enemy, not trusting himself to make plays — that will happen with any freshman quarterback — but through summer and fall camp I hear he’s much more comfortable and confident, meaning better decision making. I want to see it in live fire, against an opponent that is trying to confuse him and force mistakes.
This Wyoming team is excellent at forcing turnovers, and Burns (the punt returner) had four interceptions at cornerback last year. He is very good and will make Ash pay for any errant throws, as will their safeties, so he needs to be on target and on time. The running game can do the majority of the work, but Ash will need to make a few plays.
I think he will. I think David Ash has a very good game and tight end DJ Grant has a monster day as the play-action pass devastates a defense looking to stop the run. Prove me right, fellas.
Brett Smith is in for a very long day. His athletic ability will allow him to make some plays when the pocket collapses, but the Texas defense is just too good and too deep for him to do anything consistently by design. Again, don’t be surprised to see him have some success on broken plays because he is a tremendous athlete, but I don’t see his wide outs, running backs or offensive line being able to handle what Texas will throw at them.
I smell a defensive score coming early in this one. Interception? Fumble return? Safety? Not sure what it will be, but it will be something.
I can’t wait to see Alex King punting. Texas is going to be in great hands with him. The coverage needs to be dialed in, because any lapse and Burns/McNeill can spark the Wyoming offense with a big return. Give them no spark, no hope for success. Smother everything before it gets started. I am anxious/excited/nervous about seeing the kickoff and points teams. With Anthony Fera out of the game with a hamstring injury, Texas will be breaking in a freshman at kicker. I expect Nick Rose to handle kickoffs and Nick Jordan to handle points. The Nicks are talented, but untested. That will change Saturday night. The coverage needs to be good to account for any yips Kickoff Nick might have and newly scholarshipped snapper Nate Boyer and newly scholarshipped holder Cade McCrary will definitely help ease the nerves of Points Nick. Congrats on the rides, fellas. You guys definitely earned your scholarships.
Let’s get this return game going, shall we? Quandre Diggs is set at punt returner and proved last year he’s dynamite. Now the kickoff return job needs to produce as well. DJ Monroe and Mykelle Thompson will be back there to start, and I hope Monroe (now a wide receiver) brought his 2009 magic with him. Remember his collegiate debut?
More of that, please. I want a decided special teams win.
Texas is a four-touchdown favorite for a reason. They are better than Wyoming — on paper. But games aren’t played on paper, they are played on the field and while the Horns are ranked No.15 and have a sick defense and talent all over the field on both sides of the ball, it’s theoretical at this point because they haven’t played yet. Who shines and who withers in the spotlight? Who steps out and who steps aside? Will Wyoming step up, or will Texas make them step aside?
This is a solid bowl team Texas is playing, and the chance for them to be in this game at the end is small, but there is a chance… But if I designed my own team for Texas to play in week one I could not have done a better job than Wyoming. They have a porous run defense, not much of a pass rush and athletic quarterback that will keep the entire defense dialed in. This has the makings of a beat down all over it— on paper . Texas needs to put them down quickly and close that window of chance and I think they, the team and the staff, know that and that’s exactly what they do.
Texas wins going away with a bruising running attack, an efficient passing game (with a big day from the tight ends) and a violent, play-making defense.
THIS WEEK IN THE BIG 12
Annual disclaimer: I absolutely HATE it when Division I teams play I-AA teams — you can call them FCS if you want, but it will forever by DI and DI-AA to me — and I think it’s awful that they it is allowed to happen. There are plenty of struggling DI teams that need money, teams with the same number of scholarships, that could be scheduled instead. I think every BCS conference should completely outlaw the practice of playing anything but a full I-A schedule because it just isn’t right, but they didn’t ask me what I thought. It’s stupid and I shall not comment on those games at all.
No. 17 TCU BYE
Saturday, September 1st
Tulsa Golden Hurricane @ IOWA STATE 11 am FSN
Gone from Tulsa is GJ Kinne, but expect the Hurricane to score some points. I guess? I think Steele Jantz will play. I have no idea if he’s the starter, but I needed a place to write his name again. Cyclones win this one going away.
No.4 oklahoma @ UTEP Miners 9:30 pm FSN
Did you know that “El Paso” is Spanish for the “The Pass?” It’s true. Notable alumni from UTEP: Sam Donaldson, F. Murray Abraham, Jack Handey (yes, that Jack Handey) and NFL official Ed Hochuli. Is Hochuli the biggest official in the history of ever? The answer is yes.
Marshall Thundering Herd @ No.11 WEST VIRGINIA 11 am F/X
The two big schools in the state of West Virginia play in the Friends of Coal Bowl each year, which is the dumbest name for a rivalry game possibly ever. Marshall didn’t move up to D-I until the Randy Moss years and honestly I don’t know much about them playing WVA except what I’ve seen in We Are Marshall when Matthew McConnaughey went and talked to Bobby Bowden. The Herd have been good in the past, but I think the Mountaineers are going to mop the floor with them.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (I-AA team) @ KANSAS 6 pm
Missouri State Bears (I-AA team) @ No.21 KANSAS STATE 6 pm
Savannah State Tigers (I-AA team) @ OKLAHOMA STATE 6 pm
Northwestern State Demons (I-AA team) @ TEXAS TECH
Sunday, September 4th
SMU Mustangs @ BAYLOR 5:30 pm FSN
The post-RGIII era begins with the fighting June Jones’. I expect confidence and good will to be high in Waco Sunday night as the fans expect Baylor to be just as good, but I don’t know. I think the offense is going to be solid, but I’d be worried about the SMU running game and Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. Yes, one and the same. I think Baylor wins, but I see SMU putting some points on the board and making it interesting.