2011 Season Preview: The Chief Executive Officer And The Texas Longhorns

Longhorn Football CEO Mack Brown shook up his staff after stock prices plummeted last fall. Will the changes bring excitement back to the company? Is the product actually good enough to succeed in the new Big 12?

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom. And as always, if you don't like numbers, just skip to the words.

For a long time now, Mack Brown has been known as the quintessential CEO coach. Find yourself a bunch of talented people, delegate, and stand back while the wins roll in. In that way, he is perfect for a program like Texas, which has the built-in combination of history and money of which few programs, obviously, can brag. And clearly CEO Brown has brought home the results. Texas made two national title appearances in five seasons and missed out on a third by decimal points.

In 2011, however, Brown will have the unique experience of running a company with a brand new, and much younger, set of top executives. Some of his long-time assistants were put out to pasture, others left for better (or at least different) jobs. Gone are offensive coordinator Greg Davis ("resigned") and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (hired as Florida head coach), along with four other assistants – offensive line coach Mac McWhorter (retired), receivers coach Bobby Kennedy (moved/bailed to Colorado), defensive tackles coach Mike Tolleson (retired) and strength-and-conditioning head Mad Dog Madden (slight change of responsibilities). (Secondary coach Duane Akina moved/bailed to Arizona, then came back when his replacement also bailed.)

In their stead? Youth. Precocious, exuberant, new-blood-in-all-its-glory youth. Holdover Major Applewhite (32) and Boise State import Bryan Harsin (34) are the new offensive co-coordinators. Mississippi State’s Manny Diaz (36), a Football Study Hall favorite, is the new defensive coordinator. Coaching alone was not the entire problem with this past season’s Texas squad, but clearly Mack Brown felt he needed a jolt of energy with this new staff … and it appears he got it.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk**: 65
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep-10 vs Rice 34-17 W 25.1 - 18.2 W
11-Sep Wyoming 34-7 W 28.1 - 18.9 W
18-Sep at Texas Tech 24-14 W 15.8 - (-5.2) W
25-Sep UCLA 12-34 L 16.3 - 31.7 L
2-Oct vs Oklahoma 20-28 L 31.2 - 17.7 W
16-Oct at Nebraska 20-13 W 26.9 - (-1.0) W
23-Oct Iowa State 21-28 L 20.9 - 34.0 L
30-Oct Baylor 22-30 L 21.5 - 22.7 L
6-Nov at Kansas State 14-39 L 15.2 - 30.5 L
13-Nov Oklahoma State 16-33 L 23.7 - 26.7 L
20-Nov Florida Atlantic 51-17 W 37.4 - 26.5 W
25-Nov Texas A&M 17-24 L 17.9 - 25.3 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 23.8 88 23.7 49
Adj. Points Per Game 23.3 89 20.5 13

Despite the losses of key players like Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley and Sergio Kindle, Texas began the season ranked fifth in the preseason AP poll because, well, they're Texas. (Same reason they are beginning this season in the Top 25 in the coaches' poll.) And from a statistical standpoint, that is actually rather defensible logic. In the oligarchy known as college football, the greatest predictor of future success is past success, and there was little reason to think that the latest batch of four- and five-star studs wouldn't fill in the gaps and lead Texas to another 10- or 11-win season.

Of course ... they didn't. In a long, mediocre campaign, they only truly played well against Oklahoma and Nebraska. They crept by Texas Tech despite an inept offensive performance, they were mauled by a below-average UCLA team ... and following their inexplicable upset win in Lincoln, they lost five of six to end the year. Only once in the last half of the season did they score over 24.0 Adj. Points or 22 real points. Though their defensive averages were enhanced by two spectacular outliers (Texas Tech, Nebraska), the defense was still solid overall, especially considering the bind the offense put them in at times. They played at an above-average level in nine of 12 games, and at Texas, that alone should be good enough for nine wins.

I am typically not a fan of firing coordinators. I feel blaming offensive coordinators and/or play-calling is both lazy and misguided about 95 percent of the time. It is a cop-out designed for misplaced rage. However...

...Greg Davis just had to go. Colt McCoy's passing downs magic act (which we'll discuss in today's Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit) disguised and bailed out an offense that had otherwise been trending toward underwhelming for quite some time. Standard downs struggles hinted at problems with play-calling and execution long before 2010, and when McCoy left, it was like taking off Vader's helmet.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 98 95 102
RUSHING 73 66 77 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 107 102 110 80
Standard Downs 86 84 84 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 93 61 107 42
Redzone 106 97 112
Q1 Rk 83 1st Down Rk 81
Q2 Rk 94 2nd Down Rk 102
Q3 Rk 98 3rd Down Rk 78
Q4 Rk 68

As jarringly bad as Texas' overall stats were, what might have been even more jarring was the complete and total lack of big-play potential. If this were purely a bad-play-calling, bad-coordinator issue, we might have expected the stats to play out like this with the talent Texas' supposedly has on scholarship: poor success rates, poor standard downs success, often bailed out by big plays or passing downs success. And to be sure, Texas had the success rates and standard downs part down pat. But the big plays never bailed them out, and they got even worse on passing downs.

Was it youth? Obviously bad things sometimes happen with a first-time starter at quarterback; plus, by the end of the season, Texas was starting a true freshman (Trey Hopkins) at left guard and had plenty of true and redshirt freshmen scattered throughout the depth chart. But at the same time, the tackles were both three-year lettermen, the running backs were experienced, and receivers like James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams had seemingly been around forever. So if it wasn't experience ... was it talent? Did Texas, TEXAS!, just not have the horses? We'll see soon enough, of course. Harsin and Applewhite still have plenty of one-time blue-chippers at their disposal; they just have to figure out a) what to do with them and b) what they're made of.

Speaking of Harsin, here is Boise State's offensive footprint from last year:

Gilbert will be a junior in 2011. Unless your name is Carson Palmer, you make your biggest leaps between years one and two, and between years two and three, so whatever Gilbert is going to be, he’ll be most of the way there in 2011. And if he just isn’t up to snuff, Connor Wood and Colt McCoy’s brother Case are hovering behind him. Whoever the starting quarterback is, he will have the whole stable of running backs of different sizes – big Cody Johnson (592 yards, 4.4 per carry, +4.2 Adj. POE, 6 TD), quick Fozzy Whittaker (351 yards, 4.4 per carry, -3.0 Adj. POE, 2 TD) and fast D.J. Monroe (195 yards, 8.5 per carry, +1.6 Adj. POE, 1 TD) – returning, along with incoming five-star recruit Malcolm Brown. One continues to think there's a breakthrough back in that bunch, but that has not been the case recently. Texas fans have a lot of hopes pinned on Brown's shoulders, but in an offense that might stress the run more, somebody better step up. It doesn't really matter who.

An improved running game would improve life for Gilbert in and of itself, but he will still need to throw the ball occasionally, and who the hell is going to be catching his passes? Gone are Kirkendoll (707 yards, 13.6 per catch, 58% catch rate), Williams (334 yards, 13.9 per catch, 53% catch rate), Marquise Goodwin (324 yards, 10.5 per catch, 53% catch rate, redshirting due to track obligations) and John Chiles (418 yards, 14.4 per catch, 64% catch rate). They were solid, but in an offense that ranks 107th in Passing S&P+, everybody is replaceable, at least as long as replacements exist.

Other tidbits:

  • So ... do replacements exist? Well, Mike Davis (478 yards, 10.2 per catch, 67% catch rate as a freshman) is the default No. 1, but he'll need to break a few more big plays; his 6.8 yards per target average will need to improve to at least the 8-9 yard mark if he is going to be a solid No. 1. The No. 2 is ... uh ... DeSean Hales (75 yards, 7.5 per catch, 53% catch rate)? Former blue-chipper Darius White (one catch in seven targets as a freshman)? An incoming freshman like Jaxon "Yes, That Shipley" Shipley or Miles Onyegbule? Recently converted cornerback Bryant Jackson? All are possibilities, none are guarantees. And if they were to actually get something out of the tight end position this year, that would certainly be a change.
  • Stacy Searals could be the single most important of all of Texas' new coaches. He takes over as the head of an offensive line that has underachieved for years. Compared to the rest of the offense, the line was nearly a bright spot, but it will need to be brighter despite being rather inexperienced. Only three players with starting experience return with 40 career starts, 19 of which have gone to center David Snow. As with all Texas positions, there are plenty of blue-chippers through which to sort, but there were last year, too.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 23 9 38
RUSHING 38 19 52 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 11 5 20 27
Standard Downs 28 15 35 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 8 2 15 2
Redzone 62 75 64
Q1 Rk 18 1st Down Rk 18
Q2 Rk 35 2nd Down Rk 12
Q3 Rk 33 3rd Down Rk 39
Q4 Rk 6

First things first: Texas' defense was not really the primary problem in 2010. Texas fans got frustrated with the D at times, and to be sure, this unit wasn't quite as good as those from the last couple of seasons; but the primary source of frustration was likely the simple fact that fans had long since given up on the offense and expected the defense to make all the plays.

That said, this defense did have some holes. The front seven was solid when it came to attacking the quarterback -- they were second in Adj. Sack Rate and eighth in Passing Downs S&P+. Once they had a team leveraged into passing downs, they teed off as well as ever. But they were vulnerable in standard downs, particularly against the run. There was a very clear correlation between an offense's Rushing Success Rate rankings and Texas' Adj. PPG Allowed.

For 2011, not only must the Longhorns learn the techniques of a new defensive coordinator, but they must do so with a potentially thin front four. The ceiling is ridiculously high, of course -- blue chippers abound -- but the depth could be a problem. Tweener Alex Okafor (22.0 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks) moves to end after oscillating around the line, and soon-to-be sophomores Jackson Jeffcoat (11.5 tackles, 6.0 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU) and Reggie Wilson (3.5 tackles) could take steps forward; they will need to replace departing starters Eddie Jones and Sam Acho (combined: 27.0 TFL/sacks), which is a tall task. The tackle position, meanwhile, has one stud -- Kheeston Randall (31.0 tackles, 13.0 TFL/sacks, 3 PBU) -- and a couple of interesting sophomores in Calvin Howell and Ashton Dorsey.

Other tidbits:

  • In baseball, they say defense matters most up the middle (catcher-2B-SS-CF). If the same could be said in football, Manny Diaz will like what he has to work with in 2011. Randall, middle linebacker Emmanuel Acho (68.0 tackles, 12.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FF) and safeties Blake Gideon (55.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 4 PBU, occasionally maligned in his time in Austin), Kenny Vaccaro (49.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 8 PBU) and maybe Christian Scott (44.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FF, suspended indefinitely for being an idiot) are back as well. Cornerback could be an interesting position to watch. Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams (early entry) depart, but there are options aplenty, and a great front seven can work wonders for new cornerbacks.
  • Coming out of the SEC West, Diaz has a lot of both recent experience and relative success against the spread. Like Kansas’ defense does in basketball, Texas will attempt to make offenses’ choices for them and force them to call certain plays to certain areas of the field. Diaz's MSU defenses were outstanding in standard downs (seventh in Standard Downs S&P+) and adept at leveraging teams into less-comfortable passing downs. In other words, his defense in Starkville was good in all the ways Texas needed to be good and wasn't last season.

Texas's 2010 Season Set to Music

A Tribe Called Quest's "What?" Which is what I found myself saying throughout every second of the Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State debacles.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Here.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 11
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 3
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -12 / -1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (8, 6)
Yds/Pt Margin***** +3.4

If the coaching staff gels even halfway, signs point to Texas bouncing back like round ball. They recovered only 17 of 56 fumbles that took place in their games, a staggering 30.3 percent; in the previous five seasons, only five teams (2007 Wyoming, 2008 Florida, 2009 Florida, 2007 Western Michigan, 2007 Tennessee) recovered fewer than 30 percent of all fumbles. While it's not a guarantee that Texas will automatically fall on more bouncing balls in 2011 (Florida did, after all, land on the list in 2008 and 2009), odds are still pretty good. If they had recovered 50 percent of all fumbles, that would have made a staggering difference of almost plus-1 turnovers per game; in a season where they lost four games by eight points or less, that could have made a significant impact. It wouldn't have made them a truly "good" team, of course (nothing was saving that offense), but at least we'd be talking about their "incredibly disappointing Alamo Bowl season" right now.

So if Texas a) gets at least a small handful of immediate contributions from the incoming, highly-ranked recruiting class (particularly if star running back Malcolm Brown is ready from Day One), b) gets a jolt of energy from a young, hungry group of new assistants, and c) gets a normal number good bounces after a year in which they got none, then there's little reason why they can't be a Top 25 team again in 2011. The pieces are in place for that. But if the new management and the personnel do not immediately click, or, of course, if a lot of their four-star offensive players just simply aren't as good as their Rivals rankings suggest, then it is certainly feasible that improvement will be marginal.

When other talented teams (other Texas teams, for that matter) have a "down season," it means 9-3 and 'only' a Cotton Bowl (or, in other conferences, Outback Bowl or Chick-Fil-A Bowl) bid. Texas' 2010 fall was alarming in its magnitude, no matter what kind of bad coaching and bad breaks were at hand. And no matter how "re-energized" Mack Brown says he is now, there is no guarantee that Texas will simply rebound in 2011 like nothing happened. And because of that, any optimistic projection is full of risk. When you're thinking about the Big 12 this season, you're basically ranking the nine teams not named Texas, then throwing a dart against the wall.

 

 

Be sure to purchase your Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 today! The college portion is available for just $5, and if you pre-order the entire book, you can download the college portion instantly.

---

* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

***** Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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