Commentary

Is Texas the top team? The Big 12 schedule might not tell us

Originally Published: October 18, 2008
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas has scored 101 points in its past two games, thrashing rival Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry and beating Missouri even worse in its first game this season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

In the Longhorns' 56-31 rout of No. 11 Missouri at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, Texas led 35-0 late in the first half and amassed nearly 600 yards of offense in the game.

As far as auditions went, the Longhorns were more impressive ranked No. 1 than any other team that has been ranked in that spot this season. A week after beating Oklahoma in a game nobody thought it would win, Texas routed Missouri even more convincingly.

"I think it's hard to play hard every week, and this team has done that," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I don't think the last two [Texas teams] did."

Yet we still don't know whether the Longhorns are the best team in college football.

And we still might not know two weeks from now, after Texas has hosted No. 8 Oklahoma State and played at No. 7 Texas Tech.

Even during what is being called the most difficult stretch in Texas football history -- the Longhorns have never played four ranked opponents in a row -- it won't face a team as menacing as it would face in the Jan. 8 BCS Championship Game in South Florida.

For whatever reason, Big 12 teams don't play defense anymore.

The league that was once known for its physical play and running games as much as anything else has been transformed into some sort of collegiate arena league.

All of the sudden, the Big 12 looks like what the WAC used to be.

We're confident we can play with anybody. We know the Big 12 has some really, really good defenses.

-- Texas split end Quan Cosby

Against Missouri, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy completed 29 of 32 passes for 337 yards with two touchdowns. That's a 90.6 percent completion rate. As unbelievable as that sounds, it's not far off McCoy's accuracy rate this season. Through seven games, McCoy has completed 81.2 percent of his passes. The NCAA single-season record is 73.6 percent, set by Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper in 1999.

McCoy might have completed all of his attempts against Missouri if the Tigers hadn't somehow managed to knock down three passes at the line of scrimmage. Otherwise, McCoy would have had a perfect night.

"I guess I need to stop having three batted balls," McCoy joked afterward.

McCoy can laugh now -- it's been that easy for Texas.

Think it would be that easy against Southern California? Or Alabama? Florida? Georgia? How about defending national champion LSU?

Probably not.

Just don't tell that to Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, whose SEC pedigree has helped transform the Longhorns into the best defensive unit in the Big 12.

"The biggest thing I look at in the SEC right now is transition," Muschamp said. "You have two returning quarterbacks at Georgia and Florida, and those two programs are performing at a high level offensively. I get a little frustrated hearing about how bad Big 12 defenses are playing. The offenses in the SEC aren't lighting up the scoreboard right now."

But a few Big 12 schools might want to install triple-digit scoreboards. Texas felt really good about its 45-35 upset of then-No. 1 Oklahoma last week in Dallas. Then the Sooners gave up 491 yards in a 45-31 victory over Kansas on Saturday.

"I think we were tested pretty well last week," Texas receiver Jordan Shipley said. "We were down 11 points twice."

But the Longhorns haven't been tested the way they will be. Entering this weekend, half the SEC's 12 teams were ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense. Only three Big 12 defenses ranked in the top 40, and half the league's teams ranked 70th or worse.

Conversely, seven Big 12 teams were ranked in the top 30 nationally in total offense, including five of the top 11. Georgia was the only SEC team ranked in the top 35, and half the league's teams were ranked 74th or worse.

"John Wooden said it a long time ago: Offensively, you can have an off night," Muschamp said. "You can't have an off night defensively."

That's a good thing for Texas. The way the Longhorns are scoring, their defense won't have to be stellar down the stretch during the rest of Big 12 play.

Texas' defense, which was one of the worst in the country in 2007, has played remarkably well during Muschamp's first season. The Longhorns have played well despite starting two freshman safeties and having a first-year starter at cornerback.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesBy playing in the Big 12, Colt McCoy sees several subpar defenses.

The Longhorns allowed five touchdown passes to Oklahoma's Sam Bradford last week but were better against Missouri's Chase Daniel. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 318 yards with two touchdowns. Daniel was sacked twice, and Texas often was able to pressure him with only a three- or four-man rush.

"If you can rush three and get pressure, you can play anything you want," Muschamp said.

The Texas offense did whatever it wanted against Missouri.

"We're confident we can play with anybody," Texas split end Quan Cosby said. "We know the Big 12 has some really, really good defenses."

Just not as good as the ones Texas might face in the postseason.

In the Big 12, even a team like Missouri still has a fighting chance. The Tigers, who were ranked No. 3 in the country just a week ago, have allowed 126 points in their three biggest games of the season: an opening win over Illinois and deflating losses to Oklahoma State and Texas the past two weeks.

But as long as the Tigers keep scoring, they'll have a chance to play in the Big 12 championship game in Kansas City.

"That's a Cinderella story right there," Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin said about the possibility of facing the Longhorns again.

And Missouri's defense can wear the dresses.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

ALSO SEE