Longhorns, Sooners no longer have stranglehold on Big 12

BY foxsports • July 24, 2013

When the Big 12 preseason media poll was released last week, there appeared to be a misprint. For years, either Texas or Oklahoma was picked to win the conference.

Even as the Longhorns wandered in the quarterback wilderness after the Garrett Gilbert debacle, they still were regarded as a formidable team in the Big 12. But Texas showed up at No. 4 in this year's poll, while last season's co-champs, the Sooners, checked in at No. 2.

Bob Stoops and Mack Brown no longer have a stranglehold on the conference, and that's a great sign for the other eight schools.

Oklahoma State was picked to win the conference for the second straight year, but you can make a legitimate argument for six teams, including Baylor (No. 5) and Kansas State (No. 6). Oklahoma is more vulnerable than ever because of massive losses on defense and having to break in a new starting quarterback. Stoops was in midseason form Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days when he snarled at a reporter for assuming that Blake "Belldozer" Bell would be the starter.

Only Baylor coach Art Briles and Brown are comfortable naming a starting QB at this point. Asked about his expectations for Bryce Petty, Briles said he wants him to break every school record in passing. That's pretty heady stuff in the aftermath of Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence.

Texas plans to roll out an up-tempo offense this season that will put more pressure on opposing defenses. Brown loved the way it worked in the second half of a 31-27 win over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, so he decided to make it a primary part of his base offense. But perhaps it worked so well because Oregon State's not exactly a defensive juggernaut.

It's amazing to watch a program as accomplished as Texas spend so much time searching for an identity. It hasn't been that long since Brown hired an offensive line coach from the Georgia staff, Stacy Searels, with the thought of punishing defenders with a power running attack. Current offensive coordinator Major Applewhite spent time on Nick Saban's staff in Alabama, so he knew the blueprint Brown wanted.

But I think Brown quickly realized that he couldn't score enough points in that type of offense. He now believes the high-tempo offense (think Oregon) also will help the Texas defense, too.

"We felt like it was a real disadvantage to our defense that they didn't get to see tempo at any time during practice," Brown said Tuesday. "Changing to the up-tempo will help our defense more than it will our offense."

I'm not sure this new approach helps Texas quarterback David Ash. A power running game would take some of the pressure off him. In a fast-break offense, he'll need to speed up his decision-making. Is that a good thing for a mistake-prone quarterback?

It's also unfair that Brown keeps wanting to force Ash's name into discussions about Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Those are the two best quarterbacks the Horns have had in the modern era. Ash is a competent quarterback, but he's not even close to those players when it comes to production or talent.

"Vince and Colt won a lot of football games," Brown said. "Vince was 30-2 and Colt was 45-8. That's a load. But that's our expectation for David. He's learned a lot. He's really grown up. There were times he looked like Colt and looked like Vince. There were times when he struggled."  

This is a man who's living in denial about the state of his program. The Longhorns actually are losing recruiting battles with schools such as TCU and Baylor ... and that never would've happened three or for years ago. I truly believe that Brown is ready to retire, but he hates the thought of walking away after another eight- or nine-win season. If the Horns could win 10 or 11 games and have at least a share of the conference title, Brown might ride off into the sunset.

Stoops isn't in denial about his program. He's had so much success that he has to defend himself after a 10-win season. He's particularly upset about being blown off the field by the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl, and it sounds like he's not ready to let that one go.

Stoops seemed offended by the notion he would ever recruit a quarterback who wasn't an effective passer. Everyone's referring to Bell, who rammed his way into the end zone a lot while Landry Jones was on the sideline. Stoops once again said that he believes Bell throws a nice deep ball.

"We've got a number of guys in there in competition with him that are doing really well, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight to along with Blake Bell. We've never been real excited about naming a guy too early. So they're working hard as well."

Stoops and Brown used to attend these meetings knowing their teams would be competing for a national title. Now, it's not a given that either team will win the Big 12. Parity is good for the overall morale of a conference. But it has to bother Stoops and Brown that they now have zero separation from some of the other schools in the Big 12.

They both spent the past couple days in Dallas reminding the media of their illustrious pasts. But it's getting harder to remember.

The conference hasn't been this stable in a long time. The parity provides more hope and has energized fan bases in places such as Waco and Stillwater.

But for Brown and Stoops, it's a reminder of how far they've fallen. They enjoyed parity ... as long as those other teams were fighting for third place.