Defense on Offense. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
As I look at the Big XII, much has changed over the years. Back in my day, there wasn't as much parity and uncertainty. Every year we knew that we would roll through Baylor, that Okie-State would start strong but allow us to come back, that Tech would put up great numbers but ultimately fall short on the scoreboard, and that OU would determine whether we were BCS-bound or not. Intentionally omitted: 2 losses to K-State because I still haven't figured that shit out.
Now you have TCU as a legitimate in-state recruiting threat and a West Virginia roster full of speedsters out of Florida. Oklahoma State is a consistent challenger who's found a way to source talent and win games (and the conference). Baylor is serving something in the dining hall that has them kicking ass in every sport. OU, in spite of some unfortunate events, will reload with players who we forgot were from Texas or just finished their stint in JUCO. Every other team in the conference will continue to spread it out on offense and hope to catch you slipping on a random Saturday when you're more focused on the Chi'lantro Korean BBQ (since Roppolo's is no longer an option) that you'll be eating after hanging out later that night.
The conference has become unpredictable, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and I see no sign of that changing. While Bryan Harsin continues rebuilding the Texas Longhorns into a unit that can control the game and outscore people, the Longhorns defense doesn't have the luxury to wait it out. The Big 12 schedule is coming and they may have to win some games (and even score some points).
I've been charged with the task of drafting two Texas Longhorns defenses.
The first draft will be a fantasy draft predicated on first ranking the most important positions to flourish in this Big XII, 1-11, and after each one, selecting a former Longhorn who played during my tenure to fill that spot.
The second draft will be selecting from the guys we have to go with this season. Being # 11 on this list doesn't mean it's an unimportant position or the player isn't talented, it's just fun to explore while we wait for the real games start. Manny Diaz will play a lot more than 11 guys every game but let's get my best / most important 11 in order.
Here's the first of 11 posts.
Fantasy Draft 1st Pick (Position & Player): Safety | Michael Huff
In the new Big XII the position I want to take care of first is an elite do-it-all Safety. That's why I'd draft Michael Huff. He's one guy I know for certain could come into this conference and be THE difference-maker for the defense. S stands for safety but with Huff, it might as well stand for Swiss Army Knife - equally strong in coverage and run support and a guy who could get everyone lined up correctly, from the core of the defense to the secondary. His game against OU in 2004 was one of my favorite performances by him and a prime example of his diversity. He somehow limited Mark Clayton to 19 yards on 3 catches, while keeping Adrian Peterson (240 yards on 32 carries) out of the end zone. There were several times in that game where Peterson broke a long run that would have gone for scores vs. most other teams. Huff, with 15 tackles and a pick, gave us a chance we would not have otherwise had in the loss. The consensus is we're loaded in the secondary this year but I don't think we quite have Huff's mix of talents (namely, his speed and instincts) roaming around back there this year. The good news is our secondary is quite good and they'll have what I consider a DB's best friend helping them - pressure from the edge.
Reality Draft 1st Pick (Position & Player): Defensive End | Alex Okafor
As we've heard before, you can only go to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had. Since I cannot have uber-Safety Michael Huff, who I believe plays the most valuable position needed to thrive in this Big XII, I have to draft the most important position / player based on our roster. In a totally different way, I believe Alex Okafor will provide an influence in the run and pass defense that I believe will surpass that of anyone else we have on the 40 Acres right. Working with Jackson Jeffcoat as a tandem cannot be overlooked and I believe they will make our DBs who are already very good, look great. But I give Okafor the slight edge based on the way he finished last season and the how he's prepared for the upcoming season.
If the league is as unpredictable as I anticipate, the Horns must maximize their opportunities on the most predictable downs in football. A defense must be able to deliver when they know exactly what's coming because those opportunities are rare. With 3rd and long, a scenario Manny Diaz's defense focuses on creating, being one of the most predictable downs in football, you absolutely need a guy you know can get to the quarterback and get the defense off the field. Any 3rd down that is converted is painful but converted 3rd and longs influence momentum exponentially and put more mileage on the legs of the defense. With his combination of length, power, and explosiveness, I strongly believe Okafor will be the executioner on those predictable downs this year. While I believe Manny Diaz can draw up blitzes to create pressure, there's nothing more valuable than being able to just rush your 4 guys up front, knowing you have a talented DE (and we have two) that could get to the QB when you need to get off the field. As far as my draft goes, Okafor is the best bet for lowest risk and highest reward. He's definitely the first guy I want to make sure is on the bus each week.
So those are my first pick(s).
There are so many philosophies to the game that affect the value of players and positions. So I ask you, what position do you think is the most important? What player would be your 1st pick this year? Which guys from the prominent eras of Texas Longhorn Football history do you think would flourish in the Big XII as it stands today?
Second Draft pick(s) coming soon...