Jackson Jeffcoat had no sacks in the first six games of 2011. Alex Okafor had just two. Those were not the numbers anyone expected from the new Manny Diaz pin-your-ears-back defense. That the pair finished with 15 combines sacks is a testament to the fact that they finally started to understand the defense. Really that Texas finished with 30 sacks, 29th in the country, is testament that they all started to figure it out.
But the keys were Jeffcoat and Okafor. Texas has to have pressure from one or both for the defense to be good in 2012.
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The Big 12 has only three teams -- Kansas, Missouri and Baylor -- which have locked up bids to the NCAA tournament.
Texas has work to do:
Texas [15-9 (5-6), RPI: 56, SOS: 17] The Longhorns managed to avoid a potentially bubble-bursting loss at Texas A&M on Monday night, escaping College Station with a two-point victory and keeping their profile on the right side of the Watch for at least another week. The SOS number is huge, because the other metrics -- mediocre RPI, 2-7 versus the RPI top 50, 2-8 versus the top 100, 2-7 road/neutral record -- are hardly complimentary. A home win over K-State on Saturday might not be a must-win, but it's getting there.
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and running back Fozzy Whittaker are invited to the event held on Feb. 22-28 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
National signing day is in the books. Texas has already grabbed a pick prize for its 2013 class and spring football is right around the corner.
On the hardwood, the Longhorns have won two games in a row and are clinging to their NCAA tournament chances.
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That’s four players, two starters -- Randall and Howell -- and two others who had a ton of potential gone. And still the defensive line has a chance to be the best and even deepest positions on the field for Texas.
As the Longhorns head into spring here are a few things to watch for along the line:
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The historical significance of facing Texas A&M one last time in Reed Arena didn't matter to Texas.
The future does.
And that future is looking brighter, if only slightly, after the Longhorns notched their second straight victory with a 70-68 win over the Aggies in front of 9,792 fans Tuesday night. While the win certainly will not send the RPI soaring, it is a boost for a Texas team that struggled to a 3-6 record in the Big 12 during a rugged January. Now that the page has turned on the calendar, so too have Texas' fortunes. Texas finds itself 5-6 in the conference with a legitimate shot at pulling to .500 with a home win over Kansas State Saturday.
AP Photo/Pat SullivanJ'Covan Brown led the way for Texasa with 20 points against Texas A&M.
“We just came together as a team and listened to the coaches,” Texas freshman Sheldon McClellan said. “Early on (in the season) we were doing things on our own and now we are focusing and doing things as a team.”
If anything, this was a team effort. J'Covan Brown led with 20 points, but when it came to the winning play, it was the team that stepped up. Trailing by one with less than a minute to go, Texas coach Rick Barnes called a timeout and drew up a play; one that Texas had never drawn up before. The “gate” play as Barnes dubbed it required two screens to be set, Brown to get through them, get the ball and get to the rim. All of it worked as Brown laid it in from the left side.
Suddenly, Texas, a team that was 0-7 in games decided by two possessions or less, had the win.
“It feels great to get out of that slump,” Brown said. “These young guys, they battle every day. You can see in their face they want to win and they want to get to that tournament.”
It was also evident in the play of the young Longhorns that this is a team, at least in this game and the last against Texas Tech that is carrying itself with more confidence.
“I didn't think at any point and time there was doubt,” Barnes said of his players. “Tonight we carried ourselves well even when things got going a little. When we got down, our guys stayed together.”
Texas never got too far down. But it never pulled away either. Twice the Longhorns grabbed nine-point leads. Twice Texas A&M came back to take the lead.
But unlike it had against Baylor, Missouri and Kansas, this time Texas was able to grab the lead and keep it.
“There were games when we would get a lead and couldn't get stops,” Barnes said. “We got a stop and that was the difference for us there at the end.”
Again that stop came through team effort as Alex Wangmene forced the ball out David Loubeau's hands and into Myck Kabongo’s.
Couple that type of defense with 58 percent shooting in the second half and it was just enough to get the team's first road win since UCLA in early December.
“A win like this it brings us together even more as a team,” said McClellan, who finished with 15 points.
Texas is going to need that togetherness if it wants to keep stringing wins together in the second half of the Big 12 season.
Whether it be my most lamented transfer of the 2011 season or guys, judging by their names, born to play the game, I love it.
As such, we celebrate these on the blog often. And with another recruiting season come and gone, it's time to give a little attention to the best new names in the Big 12.
Here's last year's team.
We're including Texas A&M, Mizzou, TCU and West Virginia in this post ... because I want to.
Now, for the best new names in the Big 12.
Team MVP: Lynx Hawthorne, ATH, Baylor: Known for his cat-like reflexes, I can only assume. Will also assume the role of my new favorite player in the Big 12.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: Matching consonants are a great start for a great name. But the adjective/noun first name combined with the noun last name, too? Too much, sir. My hat is off.
Eric Striker, S, Oklahoma: A safety named Striker? Come on, Bob Stoops. Perfection. He narrowly missed my MVP nod.
1. Missouri: The Tigers have played the two toughest teams in the league (Kansas and Baylor) and defeated them both. Guard Marcus Denmon had made just five of his previous 31 attempts from 3-point range before going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s win against Kansas.
2. Kansas: The Jayhawks blew an eight-point lead with just more than 2 minutes remaining in Saturday’s loss at Missouri, but with Baylor up next on Wednesday, there’s no time to mope about the loss. Kansas is 16-2 all-time against the Bears, who it defeated by 18 points last month at Allen Fieldhouse.
3. Baylor: The Bears’ Big 12 title hopes depend largely on what happens this week. Baylor hosts Kansas on Wednesday and travels to Missouri Saturday. Baylor’s only two losses are against those two teams. The Bears' offense looked sloppy and disorganized in last week’s victories over Texas A&M (63-60) and Oklahoma State (64-60).
4. Iowa State: The Cyclones won at Oklahoma Saturday despite getting just three points from leading scorer Royce White. Fred Hoiberg's squad has won five of its past six games overall and could continue that streak this week against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
5. Kansas State: The Wildcats got back on the winning track by defeating Texas A&M Saturday at home. And the good times should continue when Kansas State hosts Texas Tech on Tuesday. Leading scorer Rodney McGruder has made just four of his previous 20 3-point attempts.
6. Texas: Rick Barnes’ squad hasn’t caught many breaks in conference play. Texas’ six league losses have come by an average of five points. The Longhorns had lost five of their previous six games before defeating Texas Tech on Saturday. Monday’s road game against a beat up Texas A&M squad is winnable.
7. Texas A&M: The Aggies almost defeated Baylor without Khris Middleton and Dash Harris on Wednesday, and they led Kansas State at halftime before falling 64-53 Saturday in Manhattan. Considering all of the injuries, Texas A&M deserves credit for competing as well as it has.
8. Oklahoma: The Sooners have dropped four of their previous five games heading into Monday’s contest against Missouri. All of a sudden the team that got off to a 9-1 start is 3-7 in league play. Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald are averaging a combined 31.1 points.
9. Oklahoma State: Three weeks after losing to them by 41 points, Oklahoma State nearly upset the Baylor Bears before falling 64-60 Saturday in Stillwater. Freshman Brian Williams had 23 points in the loss. On Tuesday, Oklahoma State hosts the same Iowa State squad that it lost to on a buzzer-beater Jan. 18 in Ames.
10. Texas Tech: Last week’s home game against Oklahoma State appeared to be the Red Raiders’ best chance of picking up a Big 12 win. Instead, Billy Gillispie’s team was throttled 80-63. Jordan Tolbert leads Texas Tech in scoring with 11.9 points per contest. But he’s averaging just 6.3 points in his past three games.
Take a look at the projected bracket.
In the Bracket Odds, Lunardi has Texas with a 45 percent chance of making the NCAA tournament.
Each remaining game is becoming must-win for the Longhorns who have yet to have a defining victory this season. While tonight's game against Texas A&M is hardly a statement game, a win helps nonetheless.
NFL decisions have been made.
Coaching staffs -- the major moves, at least -- have been settled.
The league membership looks close to being settled.
With all that stuff behind us, it's time to update our Big 12 Power Rankings with spring football quickly approaching.
I mentioned this in our last update, but I'll reiterate just how wide open the Big 12 is going to be in 2012. That won't change for awhile. In 2011, the league only had three teams that could realistically win the Big 12: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
This year, I could see each of the top six teams winning the league. Oklahoma's the favorite, but nowhere near as heavy a favorite as it was in 2011. The preseason voting should be interesting.
Here's how I slate it:
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners brought in old defensive coordinator Mike Stoops but lost Brent Venables to Clemson. Stoops' biggest task will be fixing a secondary susceptible to big plays by big offenses in 2011, but Oklahoma will need its strong recruiting class of receivers to contribute immediately.
2. Kansas State: K-State, in accordance with the founding principle of Bill Snyder's coaching method, should be a much-improved team by the fall. Snyder will keep his squad close to the vest this spring, but there won't be nearly as many new faces on the field in 2012. This 10-game winner will be a Big 12 title contender in 2012.
3. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are still fighting the Big East to leave for the Big 12 in 2012 instead of 2014, and it may cost them more than the $5 million exit fee they originally planned to pay. On the field, though, the Mountaineers have tons of returning offensive talent, a play-making QB and an innovative mind running it. Even if your defense is awful, Baylor proved that offense will get you a long way in this league.
4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys' program has stabilized, and even while breaking in a new quarterback and new top receivers, the defense should be improved and the running backs are capable of carrying the offense. The Cowboys won't throw the ball 595 times this year like they did in 2011, but this is probably an eight- or nine-win team that has some upside.
5. TCU: TCU's definitely a Big 12 title contender, but in a deep league, there's no telling how it'll handle the jump from the Mountain West to the Big 12. The offense is loaded. The defense should be better. But the transition will be a bit easier for West Virginia. We'll see how TCU handles the week-to-week grind.
6. Texas: The Longhorns must develop some offensive consistency, but I'm banking on UT having the best defense in the Big 12 once again. Texas' D was dominant at times in 2011, which is difficult in a league with the kind of offenses the Big 12 has. The running game will be great, but the QB spot must be settled and excellent for UT to have any chance to actually win the league.
7. Baylor: Baylor has the athletes on defense, and it should be better in Year 2 under defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, but without Robert Griffin III elevating the team and making plays, it'll be tough for the Bears to win more than 10 games like they did in 2011. Nick Florence has experience and should be a good replacement, but he's no Heisman winner.
8. Texas Tech: Tech has a lot of upside, and should get back to a bowl game in 2012, but it'll have to prove it for now. Injuries have hounded this team for two years, but the Red Raiders have more returning starters than any team in the Big 12 and all but one team in college football. They'll be missing 15 players in the spring, but Tech's time at the bottom of the Big 12 would seem to be ending.
9. Iowa State: Iowa State's trying to build, and it slid in another good building block in 2011 with six wins, a bowl berth and two benchmark wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State. The Cyclones will return a solid team, but in a deep Big 12, its athletes will be tested.
10. Kansas: The Jayhawks' road back up begins now. Is Charlie Weis the man to make it happen? Plenty of folks don't think so, but that doesn't matter all that much. For now, he's already provided an instant talent upgrade at important positions like QB and receiver. KU needs a lot more after losing six games by more than 30 points in 2011's 2-10 campaign.
Mark Schlabach has Texas ranked No. 22. Here's what he had to say about the Longhorns:
22. Texas LonghornsPrevious rank: 21
The Longhorns rebounded nicely this past season, after a head-scratching 5-7 finish in 2010. Although the UT defense made big strides under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz, its offense continued to sputter because of poor quarterback play. David Ash will have the edge entering spring practice, but he'll continue to be pushed by Case McCoy. The running game should be better if tailbacks Malcom Brown and Joe Bergeron can stay healthy, and incoming freshman Johnathan Gray -- ranked the No. 1 running back in the ESPNU 150 -- might provide immediate help. The Horns will have to replace linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, as well as defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. Incoming freshman Malcom Brown was the No. 7 prospect in the ESPNU 150.
After UT jumped out to a 7-0 lead to open the game, the Red Raiders scored to make it a 5-point game. Tech never got any closer than 5 the rest of the night, and Texas cruised to a 74-57 victory at the Frank Erwin Center.
Texas entered the game losers of five of its past six. The antidote to its troubles? A Red Raiders squad that’s sloppy on the offensive end and foul-happy on defense. Tech remained winless in Big 12 play at 0-10 and has lost them by an average margin of 17 points.
How the game was won: By setting the tone early -- Texas thrived by going right at the Red Raiders on the inside. Physical post play aided by effective drive-and-dish guard play drew 14 Tech fouls in the first half, and Texas Tech struggled to find consistent tempo and open looks offensively.
Tech shot 28.1 percent from the field in the half and didn’t get in a rhythm until Texas went on cruise control for the game’s final 10 minutes. Clint Chapman and the rest of the Longhorns interior defense didn’t make things any easier in combining for 10 blocks, eight of which came in first half.
In the middle: Chapman stepped his game up on the offensive glass and turned them into a lot of easy buckets, scoring a season-high 20 thanks in part to four offensive rebounds. His best came on a first-half fast break, when he threw down a put-back dunk off a Myck Kabongo miss. He grabbed nine rebounds and Texas enjoyed a 41-25 advantage on the boards.
On the perimeter: Sheldon McClellan returned to the starting lineup and bounced back from a scoring slump with 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting. The freshman guard had scored a total of 9 points in Texas’ last three contests but came out hot to open each half Saturday. His nice night made up for relatively quiet one from Kabongo (7 points on 1 of 5 shooting), and J’Covan Brown added another 17 and dished out four assists.
Stat of the game: Texas’ 25-for-31 shooting at the line changed the complexion of this game, particularly in the first half. The Red Raiders committed their seventh foul of the half with more than 10 minutes to play and watched as UT knocked down 19 of 22 free throws to take a 15-point lead into the intermission.
The Longhorns had been slumping in this department coming in, hitting on a combined 63.2 percent in their past three contests. Chapman led the way Saturday by knocking down all eight of his attempts, and Brown shot 7-for-8 from the stripe.
What it means: Texas picked up an easy win but could use many more in the next few weeks. At 4-6 in Big 12 play, the Longhorns don’t have any room for slip-ups, and games Monday night at Texas A&M and Saturday against Kansas State will be legit tests of whether this team can climb out of this hole. Rick Barnes wasn’t happy with how lax Texas’ defense once the win was secured. At this point, he’s got to take any win he can get.
Who are you most excited to see in the years to come? We'll include Mizzou and A&M recruits in this poll.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas
Gray comes to Texas as the national player of the year, the No. 2 overall recruit and top running back, as well as the record holder for career rushing touchdowns with 205. The shifty, powerful back was named Mr. Football USA by ESPNHS.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
Beckham was the biggest prize left late in the recruiting sweepstakes, and the nation's No. 1 receiver is headed to his home state's school, Mizzou. He, like Gray, was dominant at his position. He holds the national record for career high school receiving yards with 6,353 and caught 300 passes and 75 touchdowns in his career.
Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M
Despite Gray's gaudy stats, there's at least a few folks who think Williams could be just as good or better. He heads to Aggieland via Houston as the nation's No. 5 running back and rushed for 3,890 yards on 427 carries, scoring 48 touchdowns as a senior. Not bad, eh?
Dominique Wheeler, WR, Texas Tech
Wheeler would love to be the next in a long line of great receivers from Texas Tech. He's the nation's No. 8 receiver and at 6-foot-1, 176 pounds, possesses 4.4 speed and a feel for space, with the ability to make plays in open space with the ball in his hands. He played some Wildcat QB in high school.
Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma
Metoyer is on campus and enrolled for spring. He had to wait an extra year to enroll after failing to qualify and enrolling at military school, but the No. 8 receiver in the 2011 class was one of the top signees for the Sooners in 2011. Now, he'll get his chance and an extra spring to prepare at a position of need for OU.
Here's how they did it:
Our methodology was simple: We re-tallied the scores following signing day and ranked the schools based on total number of ESPNU 150 recruits (there have been 900) hauled in over the last six years. Of course, like success on the field, recruiting is cyclical -- and fans of programs both on and off this list might look back on Feb. 1, 2012 as the day their team began its rise (or fall) on the trail.
Here's the top-10.
5. Florida State
6. Notre Dame
T-10. Ohio State
Here's what it says about USC:
Top states: California (36), Florida (six), Arizona (four)
Surprise state: Georgia (three)
Sure, the Trojans have California locked up. But USC has also signed four of Arizona's 12 ESPNU 150 prospects and Georgia's second-best preps in 2008 (WR Brice Butler of Norcross) and 2010 (WR Markeith Ambles of McDonough). In 2012, USC signed seven ESPNU 150 commits -- OT Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash.) was the lone out-of-state recruit.
(USC actually signed three out-of-state recruits, including receiver Nelson Agholor and DT Leonard Williams, who are both from Florida).
What's clear from this list: Sometimes teams with lots of ESPNU 150 players produce on the field (Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State) and sometimes they do not (Florida, Texas, Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami).
Florida is 15-11 over the past two seasons, when these highly rated classes should have been peaking. Texas is 13-12 over the same span. Miami has lost fewer than six games just once since 2007. Notre Dame's best years came the past two seasons -- both 8-5. Florida State has averaged 4.8 losses since 2007. Georgia was 10-4 this season, but it was a combined 14-12 in 2009 and 2010. Ohio State probably can be forgiven its 6-7 finish this year, based on the NCAA issues and firing of coach Jim Tressel. Oklahoma's lone blip was an 8-5 campaign in 2009. USC's "downturn" came in 2009 and 2010 when the Trojans went 17-9.
Well, it's possible that Florida recruiting -- as good as it is -- is overrated. Perhaps the same can be said for Texas. Or at least these four programs -- Florida, Florida State, Miami and Texas -- aren't doing the best job of evaluating their wealth of in-state talent.