Number Three: Texas
After winning the national championship in 2005, Texas seemed to be in for a rather large rebuilding year when Vince Young decided to forgo his senior senior in lieu of the NFL Draft, but things went pretty well for the Longhorns. Colt McCoy did better than expected, and truthfully the Longhorns would have probably won the Big 12 and made a third consecutive appearance in a BCS bowl game had McCoy not suffered a shoulder injury down the stretch.
The fact that the Longhorns are ranked fourth in the pre-season Coaches' Poll -- considering how much pre-season polls are influenced by how a team finishes the previous year and also considering that Texas struggled down the stretch last year -- says quite a bit about just how good the Longhorns can really be.
Colt McCoy returns at quarterback, and he should lead one of the nation's best offenses. McCoy was a surprise to everyone a year ago with his play, and if he stays healthy he will probably end up an All-American. Limas Sweed will be the team's star receiver, and he's just another in a long line of fine Texas wide-outs the past several years, but the position has a lot of depth as well, with Quan Cosby and Billy Pittman. Jermichael Finley is the tight end, and he's one of the best receiving threats in the country from that position.
The running game, too, should be strong with Jamaal Charles and a slew of other talented backs. The only real concern is the offensive line, which has to make a couple of replacements, notably right guard Justin Blaylock. However, they do have some experienced and talented players ready to fill the holes, and it shouldn't be a major problem.
The defense, too, should be very good again. Though co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has moved on to become the head coach at Iowa State, Duane Adkins -- the other co-coordinator from a year ago -- will assume the reins, and the scheme as a whole will be basically the same.
The front seven of the Longhorn defense will be one of the best in the country. The linebacking corps, in particular, is one of the best you'll find anywhere. They finished third in the country last year in rushing defense, and should be about as good again in 2007.
The secondary is the only real concern, where they have to replace Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin. Despite having those two very talented players, though, the Horns were torched last year, finishing 76th in the country in pass efficiency defense. All things considered, even with a couple of key losses, that will probably improve in 2007.
Saying that the Longhorns will make the BCS Title game is a bit of stretch, in my eyes, but it is possible. A Big 12 team has played in the BCS Title game four of the past five years, and it wouldn't be shocking if it happened again this year.
Though the schedule isn't easy -- it never is when you are in the Big 12 -- it is not that bad. The Oklahoma game is obviously the big one, and while the Sooners are good, they do have some question marks in the front seven, and they have a lot of big question marks regarding the quarterback position. They do have to travel to College Station, but Texas A&M has never been that good under Franchione, and that may continue this year. Moreover, the Horns will certainly be looking to exact revenge from a year ago. Also, Missouri -- who many feels to be the favorite in the Big 12 North -- is absent from the regular season schedule. Ohio State, too, is absent, and that's a big help. All told, the out-of-conference schedule consists of Arkansas State, TCU, Central Florida, and Rice. Bottom line: it's not a easy schedule -- again, never is in their conference -- but it's certainly manageable.
The simple truth is just that this team has a lot going for it. They have a great passing game with a very good quarterback and dangerous receivers, and the running game should be very good as well. Moreover, Colt McCoy has a good degree of mobility for a quarterback, and that only helps the offense when protection breaks down. Beyond that, the defense is going to be one of the best in the front seven, and should still be a good defense even if the secondary struggles. And, of course, it never hurts to have a head coach with a national championship ring on his finger.
Again, making the BCS championship game may be a bit of a stretch for the 'Horns, but it is very much possible. At the very least, Texas should be the favorite to win the Big 12, and should make a very strong run at their third BCS game in four years.