Mailbag Q&A: Talking 'Bout Alabama vs Texas A&M, USC and Texas Football

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterMarch 15, 2013

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanMarvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

You've got questions and I have the answers—you just may not like them. 

Every Thursday is mailbag day and via my twitter account or B/R messaging system, I'll pick the best submitted questions and post them every week.

As of Thursday, March 14, there are 168 days until the first FBS college football game kicks off on Thursday, August 29, as noted on my daily college football countdown on Twitter. 

College football can't come fast enough and naturally, everyone has questions. 

First up, C_Football_Newswire wants to know what the deal is with Texas' defense.

Actually, you're right, it's not a talent issue—it's a combination of coaching and schemes. Texas had some injured linebackers throughout last year and younger guys had to step up, some of them true freshman. 

Unfortunately, Texas gave up a lot of big plays due to the defensive backs either cheating in the box or blitzing.  The middle of the field was ripe for big gains on a screen play or a simple dive play because once the ball-carrier got past the line of scrimmage, only two or three defensive backs were covering the rest of the field. Blitzing is an inherent risk but even more so with a Texas linebacker unit that didn't live up to expectations.

It's no accident that Texas was ranked No. 102 in giving up long plays from scrimmage and No. 122 in yielding long rushing plays—the linebackers weren't making the plays. Moreover, the strength and conditioning coaches need to work those kids a little harder—the Longhorn defense looked gassed in several games, most notable in the 2012 Red River Rivalry. 

I deconstructed Texas' defense complete with tutorials and videos so you can see why the defense struggled last season.


Stewart Townsend asks a great question. 

The question is, will anyone beat Alabama this year? I'm a big fan of Johnny Manziel—he was No. 1 on my Heisman ballot—but I tend to get a little cautious over a second-year quarterback repeating his freshman success. Will he suffer a sophomore slump? 

This year the Aggies return six starters on offense and five on defense—I wouldn't call the team decimated but losing almost half of your offense and more than half of your defense is concerning, unless you're head coach Nick Saban, of course. Some big impact players like tackle Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore are huge losses, so we'll have to see how well head coach Kevin Sumlin reloads. 

The real problem for A&M is how well prepared will the team be after playing Rice and Sam Houston State? And how will the loss of Kliff Kingsbury (to Texas Tech) affect Manziel?

On the flip side, how well will Alabama handle opening with Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome in Week 1 and then taking a bye before traveling to College Station, Tex. on September 14?

Last year's loss probably still bothers Saban—in the end, it didn't matter—so I expect Alabama to go into this game fresh and healthy and to leave with victory in hand.

Finally, Roderick Cochran asks an interesting question.

I think USC is that team.

Lane Kiffin, according to Athlon Sports, has college football's biggest hot seat. A preseason No. 1 team that ended up going 7-6—including a stunning 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl—needs to prove that 2012 was just a fluke and it's not one of those "overrated" teams.

The Trojan defense seemed to be the biggest weakness last season but Kiffin has taken appropriate steps to make adjustments; defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin resigned and in his place is Clancy Pendergast.

If the defense improves then hey, everything else should fall into place. If the defense doesn't improve—that's almost unfathomable considering the talent on the roster—and the same head-scratching play calls by Kiffin make more appearances, then we'll know the problem with USC wasn't at the assistant coaching level—it started at the top. 

Oregon and Stanford have been USC's daddy for the past several years—UCLA beat USC last year and two-in-a-row by the Bruins could signify a new shake up in the Pac-12 South. 

That's a huge monkey on Kiffin's back. Let's see how the team handles that burden.