Posted: Wednesday September 22, 2010 12:04PM ; Updated: Wednesday September 22, 2010 6:20PM
Stewart Mandel

Texas' dominant D, Shoelace's Heisman odds; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

Texas D might be nation's best, but offense must improve before Big 12 slate

Tim Tebow precedent could bode well for Denard Robinson's Heisman chances

ACC has plenty of talented coaches and QBs, but the defenses are a mess

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Texas' defense might be the best in the nation, but QB Garrett Gilbert will have to avoid mistakes for the Longhorns to survive the Big 12 gauntlet.
Texas' defense might be the best in the nation, but QB Garrett Gilbert will have to avoid mistakes for the Longhorns to survive the Big 12 gauntlet.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

You'll have to excuse me if, over the next couple of weeks, I morph into a pseudo-Alabama beat writer. After Andy Staples and I drew straws (well, it was a little more involved than that), I ended up booking my flights to Fayetteville for 'Bama-Arkansas this weekend and to Tuscaloosa for Tide-Gators the next. My goal is to incorporate as many Nick Saban climbing-the-mountain metaphors as possible into my game columns.

However, we've got another interesting gauntlet looming in the Big 12. In its next three games, Texas hosts UCLA, meets Oklahoma in Dallas and, after a bye week, visits Nebraska. By Oct. 17, the 'Horns may well be the new No. 1 or 2 team in the country -- or be staring into the face of an Alamo Bowl season. Some of the natives are nervous.

I'm not sure what to take from this Texas-Texas Tech game. It was hard watching all those errors, but the D was spectacular, keeping Tech under 150 total yards. In the end, UT got the win, and knowing you can win when so many things go wrong is at least a small comfort. But should I be mortified by the utter lack of progress showed by the O so far, or have faith that this D will keep us in any game?
-- Alex P., Austin, Texas

At this point, I think it's safe to say that much of the Texas coverage this offseason focused on the wrong side of the ball. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert was being mentioned as a dark-horse Heisman candidate based off of a two-touchdown, four-interception performance in the BCS championship game. Last Saturday in Lubbock, he threw ... two touchdowns and three interceptions. Mack Brown spoke confidently this summer about the Longhorns' transformation back into a power running team. Texas averaged 2.2 yards per carry against the Red Raiders.

But Texas' defense? It's so freaking good. Brown said before the season he thought this defense had a chance to be the best of his 13-year tenure, and he may be right. Texas receiver James Kirkendoll said this week, "I feel we have the best defense in the country," and he may be right, too. For me, it's a toss-up between the 'Horns and Ohio State.

Will Muschamp, Texas' great defensive coordinator, is working with a deep, experienced and very versatile unit. It starts with the secondary, where he has five well-tested veterans (cornerbacks Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown and safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott) who are so reliable, Texas can afford to take risks up front. But he really hasn't had to take risks yet, because the front four can rush so effectively. The emergence of true freshman end Jackson Jeffcoat allowed Muschamp to move Alex Okafor and, at times, star Sam Acho, inside. Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson are both big-time linebackers.

But can Texas expect to beat Oklahoma on Oct. 2 and Nebraska on Oct. 16 (I'm not that worried about UCLA this week) solely with its defense? I doubt it, because those teams have pretty good defenses themselves. I do believe Gilbert will only get better as the season progresses, but I don't have much faith in that running game. The Longhorns' offensive line simply is not physical enough and none of the tailbacks are elite difference-makers. Gilbert will have to do a better job of avoiding mistakes, and the defense will have to be flat-out dominant, for Texas to make it through that stretch unscathed.

Heisman winner on a 7-5 team? If Denard Robinson continues to put up the numbers he has, he should be in the Heisman talk ... but will he? The Heisman has been only going to a BCS bowl-bound (usually championship game-bound) player. If Robinson puts up 400 yards per game all season, but the Wolverines' defense plays like it did against UMass and costs Michigan games, will Robinson have any chance to win the doorstop trophy?
-- DM, Columbus, Ohio

First of all, it's a big presumption to think Robinson will keep up his current pace (410 yards per game of total offense) throughout Big Ten play. It's probably a safer bet that Michigan's defense will in fact cost the Wolverines at least four games. But let's say he does continue to put up ridiculous numbers. Recent history has favored the star player from a national-title contender, a la Mark Ingram last season. Six of the past seven winners played in the BCS championship game. Therefore, it stands to reason that should Michigan fall from the national rankings, guys like Terrelle Pryor, Kellen Moore, Ryan Mallett (he'll need to knock off Alabama this weekend) and perhaps even Nebraska frosh Taylor Martinez will start hogging the spotlight.

SI VideoMandel & Staples debate Heisman favorite

But there is one notable precedent for Robinson: 2007 winner Tim Tebow, the exception to the "six of the past seven" stat above. Tebow played for a 9-3 team that was out of the BCS title chase by mid-October, but his statistics were just so absurd -- most notably the 51 rushing and passing touchdowns -- that it was hard to argue he wasn't the most dominant player in the country. Robinson will have two things going for him: One is that he's already at the top of most Heisman lists, so it's going to take more than just one bad game to fall out of the discussion. The other is that he'll end his season facing Pryor head-to-head. If both are in the mix, and especially if the Buckeyes are playing for a spot in the BCS title game, Michigan's record might not matter if Robinson goes out and shreds the Buckeyes' defense -- a very tall task.

The Mandel Initiative
Source: SI
Stewart Mandel and Mallory Rubin sit down to discuss the latest college football news, while Oregon State beat writer Lindsay Schnell joins the show to discuss how the Beavers are prepping for Boise State.
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