Texas' defense and special teams will be the difference when the Longhorns host the Red Raiders at Memorial Stadium in Austin on Saturday night.
What have the Texas Longhorns done for us lately?
Yes, they’re the No. 2 team in the rankings after pummeling UL-Monroe and Wyoming during the non-conference portion of the schedule. But the Longhorns are also 0-2 ATS, failing to cover gigantic spreads in both games. That makes them instant suspects when they host the Texas Tech Red Raiders (+17) in their Big 12 opener. The Raiders are likewise 2-0 SU (1-0 ATS) after downing North Dakota and Rice.
We’ve got Texas as a 17-point chalk at most books; if you shop for your betting odds like you should, you can get a free half-point either direction as we go to press. The consensus reports has 77 percent of bettors on the Longhorns, despite the fact that the Red Raiders are 4-3 ATS over their past seven annual meetings and beat Texas 39-33 last November as 3.5-point home dogs.
If only we were still talking about the 2008 Red Raiders. Head coach Mike Leach became a household name among college football fans with his pass-heavy spread offense, but it was Graham Harrell (45 TDs, nine INTs) doing the passing last year. Now it’s junior QB Taylor Potts, a mutli-sport star in high school who was heavily recruited by teams like Texas, Oklahoma, and Michigan. Potts had a rough start in the 2009 opener with three picks against North Dakota in an otherwise simple 38-13 victory, but came back strong in Week 2 with seven TD passes and no picks in a 55-10 romp over Rice (+27).
We can expect Potts to succeed in Leach’s system, even to provide roughly the same contributions as Harrell – who went undrafted and is now property of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. But this isn’t the only personnel change in Lubbock. Michael Crabtree is the other big name to leave campus this year, and while the Raiders still have a number of capable wideouts, Crabtree was a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner (as a freshman and a sophomore) and went No. 10 overall in the NFL draft to the San Francisco 49ers.
Losing Harrell and Crabtree still doesn’t account for the Raiders suddenly becoming huge underdogs in this matchup. From a betting perspective, Tech’s value is knocked down a peg by an offensive line in transition and a questionable special teams unit – Matt Williams was an emergency walk-on last year and has already missed a PAT this year. Meanwhile, the drop-off in defense is notable on a team (and a Big 12 conference) that was already starving for defense in 2008. Even so, the 17-point spread in this matchup appears to be the pumped-up result of Longhorn hype.
I plead guilty. I was on the Texas bandwagon pretty early this year at 11-2 to win the BCS championship; the ‘Horns have since moved to 9-2 to tie the USC Trojans as title favorites. This is one of the true public darlings in the FBS. Coach Mack Brown has Texas at 115-26 SU since taking over the program in 1998. Players like Ricky Williams and Vince Young cut their teeth in Austin. This isn’t just a football team – it’s a brand. And the ‘Horns are 2-6 ATS in their last eight games.
Ah, statistics. What that 2-6 record doesn’t reflect is how close Texas came to covering monster spreads in the first two weeks of 2009:
- Week 1 vs. UL-Monroe (+41.5): Texas 59, ULM 20
- Week 2 at Wyoming (+31.5): Texas 41, Wyoming 10
Not much to complain about with Texas’ performance in either game. Heisman candidate Colt McCoy is off to a roaring start with five TD passes (plus two picks) and a 67.1-percent completion rate. The running game looks stronger than last year with redshirt freshman Tre Newton racking up 7.5 yards per carry. And Texas has one of the best special teams units around, with kicker Hunter Lawrence perfect so far on 11 PAT attempts and three field goals.
Really, though, it’s about the Texas defense. This is one of the few Big 12 teams that can actually keep the ball out of its own end zone, even without Bronko Nagurski Trophy-winner and pass rusher supreme Brian Orakpo (now with the Washington Redskins) in the trenches. Tech can’t even hope to compete at this level defensively. And yet the Raiders offense has scored at least 30 points against Texas in each of the last three games. The over is 6-1 in their last seven meetings. Warm weather at Memorial Stadium should help keep the end-zone parade moving Saturday night (8:00 p.m. Eastern) on ABC.