As posted last week, I had sent an email to Sports Illustrated about their college football preview issue in which Oklahoma State made the cover and Texas is picked ahead of OU in the Big 12 South. In response to that I received an offer to put my email in a Q&A format and send it to one of the writers. Senior writer and Big 12 correspondent Phil Taylor is the person it landed with and he was gracious enough to take the time to shed a little insight on the Big 12 selections for us.
Phil Taylor: It's hard to give you a precise reason for ranking Texas ahead of Oklahoma, or for a one-spot difference between any two teams, because our rankings are based on the opinions of several writers and editors who are involved in our college football coverage. It's not a formal process in which we tabulate votes, it's an informal one in which we take everyone's opinions and arrive at a general consensus. With Texas #2 and Oklahoma #3, we obviously consider them to be very, very close on paper. If we had decided to flip the two teams, I doubt that anyone on our panel would have objected strongly. That's how close they appear, as evidenced by the fact that if you look at other preseason magazines, you'll see that some of them went Oklahoma/Texas and some went Texas/Oklahoma. It's almost a coin flip. One thing I can tell you is that our decision wasn't based on sympathy for Texas over last season. We stay away from that kind of bias.
CC Machine: I’m curious to know the logic behind picking Texas ahead of OU. Is it an X’s & O’s decision or was it based on sympathy from the Horns not making the Big 12 Championship game last year? If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions on the issue.
CC Machine: While the Sooners are replacing four offensive linemen the Longhorns are replacing three defensive linemen. Games are won and lost in the trenches but this looks a bit like a wash to me. What are the criteria for giving an advantage one way or the other up front?
Phil Taylor: We considered Texas a little bit better equipped to withstand their heavy losses on the DL largely because of the presence of Sergio Kindle, who was a stud last year and seems ready to be a stud again this year. He would seem to be a real anchor for that unit. Oklahoma seems a little more unsettled, with their only returning OL starter switching positions. I'd also say that Coach Stoops' comments about his OL concerns had some influence here. Some of that may have been a motivational ploy, but it would be hard for us to conclude that the Sooners are fine on the offensive line when Stoops hasn't exactly raved about the unit.
CC Machine: Both schools have great quarterbacks but OU also has the best tight end in the nation and the last I checked Texas doesn’t have a tight end to speak of. OU is returning two 1,000 yard rushers at running back and Texas is very much unproven at running back. Even with a new offensive line OU has returning starters at every skill position who are homerun threats - Ryan Broyles (WR), DeMarco Murray (RB), Jermaine Gresham (TE). Texas can’t boast that but does four out of five returning linemen make up for it?
Phil Taylor: Here's how I'd summarize the situation: Two outstanding quarterbacks, with McCoy, at least at this point, able to expect better protection than Bradford because of the Longhorns' experienced offensive line. Bradford has more quality backs and receivers to work with, and you're right, Gresham is terrific, but the cupboard isn't exactly empty for the Longhorns, with a solid go-to guy like Jordan Shipley. Overall, you could definitely make the argument that the Sooners have a slight edge, but again, it's a close call. Would a QB rather have top-notch backs and receivers and an inexperienced offensive line? Or a solid line and inexperienced backs and receivers? I'd rather have the line, but others may disagree.
CC Machine: In addition to the three new defensive linemen Texas is also replacing two linebackers and one of their starting corners. Are they being deemed a championship caliber defense based on the reputation of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp or have they earned it on their own merit?
Phil Taylor: Muschamp's reputation has little to do with it. Our assessments are based on what we've seen returning players do on the field, and what we think we can expect of newcomers, which are of course educated guesses based on our own observations and the information we've gotten about players from various sources -- including coaches and local media members who are around the teams on a regular basis.
CC Machine: I realize that mostly I see the Big 12 World through crimson and cream glasses which sometimes taints my judgment but other than a non-conference schedule that would make Bill Snyder chuckle, I don’t think Texas has much else in their favor as far as a national championship run goes. This is even proven by SI’s All-American Team in which only one Longhorn is mentioned and he’s in the wrong position. Sergio Kindle is a defensive end now but SI has him as an All-American linebacker. How does that happen?
Phil Taylor: As far as Kindle goes, the indications we have are that he'll be moved around some. He may play primarily defensive end but it won't be unusual to see him with outside linebacker responsibilities at times. In order to fit what we felt were the most deserving players on the All-America team, we put Kindle at OLB. We don't think that's inaccurate.
CC Machine: To be honest, both Oklahoma and Texas have a lot to prove before anyone can pencil them in to the BCS Championship game but I would like to know, for the record, the logic behind picking Texas.
Phil Taylor: Again, the bottom line is that the two teams both have lots of strengths and a few question marks. We simply gave Texas the advantage by a hair, for the reasons I mentioned above, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who gave the edge to the Sooners. If we had ranked Oklahoma ahead of Texas, I'm sure we'd be getting similar questions from Longhorn supporters. I think an unbiased observer would say Oklahoma and Texas should both be in the national championship picture this season, and a strong case can be made for either one.