Texas Football: Breaking Down the Longhorns Ranking in the AP Preseason Poll

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2012

Texas Football: Breaking Down the Longhorns Ranking in the AP Preseason Poll

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    We are less than two weeks away from the start of the season and the Texas Longhorns are going to start the season right where they should after being ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press preseason poll

    Contrary to what critics are saying is a ranking earned by name and not by merit, the Longhorns are easily a Top-15 team right now. The defense is going to be the best it has been in years and the offense is going to have the playbook wide open in year two under Bryan Harsin.

    Here is a breakdown of Texas' ranking and what it means for the Longhorns as they build up toward their September debut.

The New SEC-Style Approach Is Catching Attention

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    A big part of the reason Texas is ranked No. 15 in the AP poll is that it has taken an approach that has proven successful the past few seasons in the SEC. Specifically, the Longhorns are no longer dependent on game-changers like Vince Young and Colt McCoy, but rather on a smash-mouth style of football led by a stalwart defense and power running game. 

    After following the loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game with a disappointing 5-7 campaign, head coach Mack Brown made a conscious decision to remodel this team in the mold that has been working wonders for the dominant conference.

    And who could blame him? The SEC has only won the last six national championships, including the 2009 championship over Texas. 

    This is the second season under this new regime down in Austin, and this team now has both the talent and the system to get it done in this style. The writers know that, and this is why Texas will start the season at No. 15. 

The Quarterback Issue Is Still Holding This Team Back

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    With the defensive talent and depth at running back on this team, the case could be made that the Longhorns are Top-10 caliber team in 2012. However, they will never get that type of designation until something happens to dispel the concerns at quarterbackor at least the lack of one.

    With less than two weeks until the first snap of the ball at DKR, the Longhorns still have to make a decision as to who will start at quarterback: David Ash or Case McCoy? Ash was the assumed starter after his model of efficiency performance in the Holiday Bowl, but apparently the decision has not been so clear-cut.

    This indecision has made everyone nervous, especially since quarterback ineffectiveness has been the downfall of this team the last two seasons. Whatever Brown's reasoning is for keeping fans in the dark for this long, the preseason poll ranking was not factored in because it is the reason this team is not knocking on the door of the Top 10. 

    Then again, this squad could live without any extra expectations being heaped on needlessly.

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What Are the Rival Sooners Doing at No. 4?

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    Already there are people grumbling that Texas is over-ranked thanks in large part to its name, you have to wonder what they have to say about the fourth-ranked Sooners.

    This offseason has been anything but kind to the Sooners, who are expected by many to win the Big 12 this season thanks to the arm of quarterback Landry Jones. They are now up to five suspensions for the offseason, including starters Jaz Reynolds and Stacy McGee. And then there's this Kenny Stills weirdness.

    I'm not sure if Bob Stoops is losing that locker room or if somebody put something in the water in Norman, but this team could be in some serious trouble if things do not turn around. We have already seen how Landry Jones performs without his wide receivers, of which three are either suspended or off the team. Jones had only one touchdown against five interceptions in the four games (two losses) after Ryan Broyles tore his ACL last season. 

    This is not the fourth-best team in the country right now, and Texas needs to take advantage if the Sooners have a down year in 2012.

Other Teams Texas Should Catch

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    With how things are shaking out up in Norman, the Longhorns have a great chance to come out on top in the jumbled Big 12 this season. But first, they have a few teams to catch.

    As of now, West Virginia is the team to beat in the Big 12. The Mountaineers have the best, most dynamic offense and they are led by a battle-tested quarterback in senior Geno Smith. This is the type of team that has embarrassed Texas in the past, and beating them in Week 5 is paramount to its success as a team.

    It could happen. Smith is turnover-prone and struggled against LSU last season, whose defensive scheme and talent are comparable to that of Texas this season. 

    If Texas wins this game, then Top 5 is very plausible by the team the final poll comes out. Teams like Clemson, Michigan and South Carolina are consistently inconsistent. Michigan State and Wisconsin have serious holes to fill on offense. Arkansas has an unproven new head coach, and even Florida State at No. 7 is not a slam dunk given its history.

    If the quarterbacks can avoid the mistakes they made last season, this team has a real chance to play its way into BCS-contention. But first, it needs to go out and prove something.