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Talking Texas Baseball With Burnt Orange Nation

We dig deeper into the weekend series with the Longhorns

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1. It's the big bad Texas coming to town this weekend. It's only two years since Nebraska traveled to Texas to take on the Longhorns for a three game series. Nebraska got swept in that series, but it was a fairly well pitched, close series. Since that time we have actually found a pitching staff, and the baseball program has been regaining steam. A large amount of great memories have happened in that time including seeing Texas football get ran over by BYU twice! Those were the good times that made us forget about Melvin Gordon. Does Texas miss the rivalries with Nebraska and A&M or are they content with sticking with playing West Virginia all day?

JA: First off, Abram and I were once described by an Aggy commenter on GBH as "a pair of long-winded tea sips", so I apologize in advance for how many words your readers will be forced to scroll through. 

This isn't the Big Bad Texas that you may remember from the Big 12. We're terrible at everything except baseball. I don't recall getting run over by BYU at all, but my memory is hazy and I'll take your word for it and assume their QB didn't rush for 500 yards with a knee brace on. The rivalry with A&M is still there, we just don't play anymore. Texas fans can talk about how they don't really care about A&M, but our post on beating the Aggies in the regional last year drew something like 50,000 page views on Facebook and got a couple of thousand likes. Those are Texas spring practice type page views. All we really missed from A&M leaving was the chance to get stomped in football in 2012 and 2013. TCU and WVU have been nice additions to the Big 12. They're competent or good in most sports and their fan bases are either relatively inoffensive or all the way in West Virginia.

While the football rivalry ended in perfect fashion for us, I definitely miss the Nebraska baseball rivalry. One of my fondest Texas baseball memories is that 2005 series in Lincoln. The NHL was on strike so ESPN was broadcasting baseball (a non-CWS first for me), Both teams were top 5 if I recall correctly, Nebraska took game one in 16 innings on a ridiculous wild pitch, Texas took games two and three with the last game shortened by travel much to the chagrin of the home crowd. Nebraska had Alex Gordon and Joba Chamberlain, Texas was on its way to a national championship. That was a helluva college baseball experience and I'm hard pressed to remember a regular season series Texas has played that quite matched it.

AO: Well, the answer to that depends on which fan you're asking, which sport you're talking about, which rivalry, and what kind of mood the fan is in. The A&M rivalry is gone on the football field--and so far, the regular-season baseball field--but proximity means the animosity and jawing back and forth doesn't stop. The manner of the Aggies' departure tends to remain the biggest argument point between fans, with each fan base clutching to its own reality as to what really happened with the Longhorn Network and whether the Texas administration was unacceptably arrogant in its dealings with A&M. And you know what? The two realities do not necessarily conflict and may well both be true. But the point is, the A&M rivalry leads to almost as many arguments and strong feelings as it did when they were still in the Big 12. On the other end of the spectrum is Missouri, whom most Horns fans have forgotten were ever in the same conference as us.

As for you guys, though, it feels like something in the middle of that spectrum. The Nebraska rivalry was intense and a lot of fun, and gave Texas fans such wondrous moments as the 1996 "Roll Left" Big 12 Championship Game, the 1998 upset in Lincoln that led to students jumping deliriously into the several fountains on campus in Austin, and the 2009 Colt McCoy "There Was Totally Still One Second Left When The Ball Hit the Ground, Guys" Big 12 Championship Game. Not to mention some fantastic baseball series. But it was a rivalry that lasted only about a decade and a half, and you guys left for a conference that, frankly, most Southerners give no thought to. I don't mean that as an insult, as the B1G is a fantastic conference by any measure. It's just not one that's in our day to day consciousness like, say, the SEC.

TCU and West Virginia have both been great football additions (what's up, Rutgers & Maryland), West Virginia has been wonderful for basketball, and TCU is one of the top baseball programs in the country. So as far as the actual watchability and on-field drama in the conference, it's as good as ever.

2. Besides Parker French who has been ace material, the Texas starting pitching appears to be hittable. Hollingsworth and Clemens appear to be going Saturday and Sunday, where they will battle Kubat and Burkamper. Does Texas have enough bullpen help if their starting pitching gets into trouble, or will the floodgates open at Hawks Field when the bullpen door opens?

AO: Don't sleep on Chad Hollingsworth. He took some time to recover from a shoulder injury to begin this season, but has lately looked like the guy who was perhaps the top reason Texas made an appearance in Omaha last year. He shut down both the Aggies in the Houston Regional, and Houston in the Austin Super Regional in decisive games during the 2014 postseason, and turned in the best start of the weekend against Kansas State last Saturday. If you'd gotten to him in February I would agree, but I wouldn't call Hollingsworth "hittable" today. As for Kacy Clemens, he is steadily improving but certainly the third spot in the rotation remains one of Texas' big question marks.

I wouldn't say you're off the hook with the bullpen, either--again, it's a group Nebraska would have been better off facing earlier in the season. The 'pen kept a fully clean sheet against KSU last weekend, giving up 0 runs on the series. The emergence of senior Kirby Bellow may be the biggest factor there, as Ty Culbreth has been great at times but struggled on occasion as well. True freshmen Connor Mayes and Jake McKenzie have also showed flashes of greatness, and seem to be getting more consistent. So getting to the bullpen does not mean the Big Red merry go round will necessarily start spinning, but there's a chance.

3. Is the Texas offense boom or bust? Texas has scored 3 runs or less 7 times while they have scored 7 runs or more six times. Are they relying on the long ball to much, or is it just inconsistent batting?

AO: I would say that's just baseball. The vast majority of teams don't score a bunch of runs every single time out. But in the big picture, I think the Longhorn offense has unequivocally taken a huge step forward so far in 2015. In fact, the idea that an opposing team's fan would think we might "rely on the long ball too much" kind of makes me giddy, considering how little power the lineup has displayed for the past few years. The team batting average is a healthy .270, and more importantly the squad has a collective OBP of .371. So what Texas is doing is consistently getting guys on base, and unlike previous seasons they have been managing to find gaps and sometimes even the other side of the fence once those ducks are on the pond.

It's true that Texas has scored three or less seven times, but they have also yet to be shut out. And I'll further point out that Texas has scored five or more in eight of the last 10 games, and the other two run totals were four and three. So, at least lately, they've been scoring runs at a consistent clip and should not be considered boom or bust at this point.

4. Will this lineup wear down? There are only 9 batters with more than 20 AB while Nebraska has 14. Does this flexibility favor Nebraska, or is Texas a more talented team.

JA: This is nowhere near the same team you guys saw in 2013. It's actually quite different from every team Augie has had since maybe 2009. The offense is legit and the pitching is talented but inexperienced. 

Regarding the lineup, Texas hasn't been very flexible because for the most part the regulars have been fantastic. I count five guys that have the talent to potentially break into the Majors one day (Barrera, Cantu, Boswell, Hinojosa, Johnson). Texas goes 8 deep with guys who either are hitting above .275 or who are struggling this year but hit above .275 last year. 

As a result, Texas is within 4 HR of matching last year's total. The team has a tendency to do its best work in the late innings and to play to the level of its competition. For example, the Horns were down 4-2 in the 8th on Tuesday against a mediocre Texas State club before scoring 3 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th to win 6-4. The offense has only been terrific through an entire series once (against a woefully overmatched Minnesota team), so Texas will definitely have some quick innings at the plate. But on the whole I would expect every part of the lineup to potentially produce runs. 

5. How stressful is it playing seven out of conference games outside the state of Texas? The teams Texas schedules are routine contenders to make the NCAA tournament, but the schedule of strength numbers and the RPI numbers are dragged down by all these home games. Texas is behind Iowa in RPI right now, yes the school that just played AIB, a school that they bought out their athletic programs.

JA: I'm not sure how Texas playing at Stanford, at Rice, at TCU, at Oklahoma St and at Baylor somehow makes the schedule home-focused. The Horns will end up playing 11 non-conference weekend games on the road this season and only 6 at home. Perhaps this question would be better directed at our Aggy friends who played Dartmouth, Penn State and Holy Cross at home for its non-conference schedule and played its first 22 games at home or in neutral locations. 

Augie likes a tough non-conference schedule and he likes going to California to "recruit" and possibly enjoy some wine tasting. Going to Nebraska probably doesn't do much for the recruiting or wine tasting, but it's definitely a positive for college baseball. Our SoS was actually top ten but then our two really tough early road non-conference series opponents Rice and Stanford tanked a bit in the RPI and that has hurt the SoS. Boyd's World has the Texas schedule at 30 and that's after playing two of the weakest programs in the conference. If Texas keeps winning series its SoS will jump after playing TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech in conference play. 

6. Texas has not had to come this far north since playing Minnesota in 2012 in Minnesota. What are your projections for the series, could you see a sweep by either team?

JA: I don't see Texas getting swept. They're really resilient and won consecutive games both at Stanford and at Rice when facing possible 4 game sweeps. I could see Texas winning one game handily and the other two being really close. If a few things break our way I could see a sweep but I think Texas probably wins the series 2 games to 1. Hopefully it'll be a fun series!

AO: Certainly either team is capable of sweeping if the breaks go right, but I think the teams are too evenly matched for that to be likely. I'll take Texas to win two out of three, with Texas winning Friday and Saturday, and Nebraska taking Sunday.