Nickel Rover of the year

Scipio Tex presented the preseason All-Big 12 list with all its typical flaws and missed names.

Ultimately these lists typically highlight the players perceived as best fairly well while still managing some glaring errors that always favor the politicking Stoops.

Similarly the preseason rankings reward Stoops and Pellini for their constant self-adulation. Stoops works the media every year like an orca released in a zoo's penguin exhibit. The best Sooner teams have handled the rest of the league like city-states dropping out of the Delian league, kill every man and sell the women and children into slavery, and the media ate it up.

Even locals like Chip Brown acknowledge the savvy and savagery of the chinless warlord when he started dropping 60's like Wisconsin and got his team voted ahead of the squad that beat them.

But I digress...what I'm going to present to you is a ranking of what I feel most qualified to rank, Texas' 10 best players.

Honorable Mention:

Kyle Hix: I like the change in running game structure for Hix but I don't love the switch to left tackle. If he ends up earning a place on this list you'll know the offense had a strong year.

Marquise Goodwin: I'm not sure what role he plays save for (hopefully) open downfield target and screen receiver extraordinaire. He has great hands but until he can become a polished receiver he's still just a really fast potential weapon for kick returns and easy tosses.

Keenan Robinson: Geoff Ketchum put him on his top 10 conference players and I really don't know why. He has a great skillset for staying on the field against spread offenses but he hasn't exhibited a nose for the ball, any particular playmaking abilities, or really much in the way of dominance. Year 2 as a starter could make a big difference of course.

As for the actual list, you might object to the equal portion of offensive representatives (5) to defense (guess) but I think the ranking within the top 10 will qualify that result. I will also remind that the defensive strength of the last 2 years hasn't come from loads of superstars but by a combination of Muschamp substitution/scheming and tremendous overall quality that prevents hides any weaknesses around the stars.

10). Emmanuel Acho: I nearly struck him from the list because he's almost a man without a position, the strongside linebacker is the first to go in a normal nickel package and that has been his assignation on the depth chart. On the other hand you have a guy with all the right tools for this league in his blitzing, closing speed, spatial awareness, and knack for getting his hands on the ball. When he doesn't see the field it's probably a function of him being 2nd at X task rather than any real inferiority while at the same time you can be certain that he'll find some snaps because of that versatility.

9). Michael Huey: Huey flashed potential as a blocker in the zone-read while possessing all the necessary strength in the base to stonewall defenders in the passing game but, I suspect, he has lacked consistency and failed to make the leap because of scheme and requirement.

Being asked to pass-block repeatedly intermittently between being asked to take on smaller guys in space doesn't breed confident bulldozers who bristle when the quarterback goes down or delight in pounding defenders. If you read some of his quotes (uh, couldn't find them) from the spring you'll hear a guy who is coming to life.

8). Barrett Matthews: Probably my most questionable pick yet this is what I expect Matthews to be asked to do this year; block defensive ends as a tight end in the running game, chip dominant pass-rushers to save Hix and Mitchell's necks in public perception, and provide the dangerous safety outlet in the passing game Texas has lacked since Ogbonnaya graduated.

That doesn't sound that impressive? Well, we'll see how he handles the league's ends and re-evaluate.

7). Malcolm Williams:
He always seems on the cusp of joining Aaron Williams or Garrett Gilbert in earning the the description of the ideal for his position. Every time I watch him from the vantage point of close proximity at a scrimmage or spring game I'm blown away by his size and speed. Even on the television set you get plays like the ones he made at Lubbock two years ago, or his first down catch with hands extended over the middle at Lincoln last year that hint at greatness waiting to explode.

Despite that, he's been denied permanent starter status while competing with lesser foes like John Chiles and Kirkendoll. Well he gets the X position all to himself this year and gameplans for Gilbert's arm+play-action routes to get him involved. Even if he remains hit-or-miss the occasional hits will send defenses reeling.

6). David Snow: In 2008 Buck Burnette exposed himself as an idiot and many Longhorn fans were scrambling to their guides to figure out who the 3rd string Center was. Then a freshman ironically named Snow stepped in amongst the potential racial tension and provided excellent play and a future for the position more promising than any since Sendlein's departure.

Then, amongst the mess of a running game and his near-complete breakdown against Gerald McCoy in Dallas trying to play right guard for hobbled Huey we lost sight of what could have been. Ever encouraging Chris Hall claimed after last season that Snow would be an All-Conference level player in his stead. On the list of positives for wrongMcCoy's former victim is the switch back to center where his smaller size (290) won't be a detriment, the changes in running game structure, and the lack of elite nose guards in the league. An upcoming guy on the list is probably the toughest he'll face and those matches don't count.

5). Curtis Brown: Scipio's 3rd best corner in the league was been battle-tested by Michael Crabtree and Dez Bryant his sophomore year and with Aaron Williams playing inside actually drew most of the difficult outside assignments last year as well.

Teams targeted him in the endzone and came up empty time and time again. From the left corner (facing the field) of the Longhorn side in Dallas last year I watched OU throw the fade at Curtis Brown at least twice only to see him bat the ball away in one of the harder plays a corner can make. His still light frame has probably been a major culprit in him not being the physical run defender guys like Cedric Griffin or Aaron Ross were but he's a guy even Texas would take as the no. 1 corner in most years of the Akina tenure. Really there isn't much higher praise.

4). Kheeston Randall: Mack Brown told the story of his recruitment as the 6'5" 267 pound kid walking into his office and saying, "Coach, I'd like to play for Texas." and Mack responding, "I don't know who you are, but sure."

Next he was a 6'5" 275 pound kid playing tackle in mop-up duty and catching some attention from Muschamp as a kid "...who was going to have a big career at Texas".

The following season he was a 288 pound question mark attempting to replace Roy Miller and a focus in speculation on how vulnerable Texas might be up the middle in run defense. Oklahoma St. targeted him and found a 6'5" wall, one of the most underrated parts of the defense was Randall's play which, even more than covering a weakness, proved a strength at times.

This season as a 295 pound feature he could be the key to the front seven. He has the strength to hold up a center in the middle and defend either gap with his length and quickness (useful with everyone switching to the 3-4) while he has also shown some proclivity towards interior pass-rushing. Dedfischer says he plays a little high, I say he's just tall, when I see him get blown off the ball I'll complain. The last two Muschamp defenses have been built on interior disruptor Roy Miller, and then Lamarr Houston, Randall is next.

3). Garrett Gilbert: I'm totally sold out on him having a strong year at this point so what the hell, I'm sure that whatever happens with the post-Colt offensive adjustments Gilbert will be the playmaker whose talents the coaches seek to maximize...and not just because Greg Davis is the quarterbacks coach.

Lake Travis' champion is most often compared to Chris Simms of the Mack-era Texas quarterback talents and while I don't personally have a problem with Simms as a positive comparison I think people that jump to that comparison are forgetting the Major's strong arm and knack for the deep ball in the attempt to find another NFL prototype in the past.

If he has the same head for audibles that the Major had and Colt couldn't master (remember Greg Davis simplifying the offense for Colt after the second Kansas St. debacle? This is what he was talking about) then Texas will have a blend of leadership and traditional QB talent that hasn't existed for the other phenomenal signal callers Mack fielded.

2). Sam Acho: If Sam Acho is up to the task of moving inside on a regular basis to make room for the talents of Eddie Jones and Alex Okafor it will be an enormous positive impact for the team even if his sack and tackle totals from last year are cut in half.

It's clear that Acho is a team leader and the qualities that make him great (hustle, intelligence, technique) basically summarize the strongest features Muschamp has brought to Texas. I still expect to see Acho playing on the edge ('cause he told me he would) on 1st and 2nd down and as quietly as is now possible having another highly productive season as the older jack of all trades Acho.

1). Aaron Williams: Teams didn't throw at the Baron of Intercepshire last year. Nebraska attempted a jugular strike deep against him and lost the ball. Landry Jones got picked off by Aaron while attempting to throw the ball out of bounds. The media and coaches wouldn't even throw him a bone in their postseason All-Big 12 team.

The man is an eraser. Last year Muschamp used him as the nickel/interior corner because he's stronger against the run than the postal service and probably because it's so fun to watch coming from the edge on the corner blitz. I've already speculated similar use for him in that role unless Muschamp has plans for more 4-3, a different nickel package or Aaron just moving back outside and another corner moving in. Maybe some zone cover-2 robber, I don't know but you can be sure that Muschamp will find ways to prevent teams from ignoring Aaron when possible. If not, he's still erasing 1/5 of every team's skill options virtually every play, every week.

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