Now we move to step three of the Texas Longhorns’ recovery process: Road testing.
The Longhorns (2-0) have proven they can win a marquee national game as a home underdog, and they handled business as a 30-point home favorite against a weak opponent.
Shane Buechele is the focal point of the California game, where Texas started as a 4-point favorite and has been bet up to 7½.
Handicapping 101 has always suggested you bet against a freshman quarterback in his first road game. There are powerful numbers to back that up, with more than 65 percent losing that first real test away from home over the last 30 years. In general, first-time starting QBs, even the older ones, have tended to fail at nearly a 60-percent clip.
Turnovers are the biggest problem, followed by taking needless sacks, having tunnel vision on route progressions and often playing in a scaled-down playbook to help the rookie.
Things may be changing. With many high schools running sophisticated, spread pass offenses and young quarterbacks spending summers in elite camps, they are better prepared than ever for the challenges of college ball and playing on the road.
A look back at the last several years shows progress. Of the last 30 starting freshmen QBs in the FBS, 12 won their road debut and their teams were 13-17 against the spread. Include redshirt freshmen in the equation, and first-year quarterbacks are 21-29 over the last 50 games and 23-27 vs. the line.
Granted, those aren’t good numbers, but they’re definitely an improvement after losing at a 65-percent clip.
Buechele has plenty of other things working in his favor.
Cal has a terrible defense, allowing 945 yards and 76 points over its first two games. The Golden Bears are particularly inept at stopping the run, ranking 125th of 128 FBS teams. Not only that, but the Bears have one sack. Period.
Texas is fourth in the Big 12 in rushing, averaging 204 yards per game, and can simply pound it down Cal’s throat, allowing Buechele to pick his spots for throwing. He should have all the time in the world.
Cal hasn’t been a good home team for a long while, going 7-18 vs. the line over the last 25. As for crowd noise and that sort of thing, nearly 10,000 Longhorn fans are expected at the game, mitigating the Bears’ advantage.
Buechele is likely to be bitten by freshman-itis and play poorly in one of the next three gams, but it probably won’t be this one.
The pick: Texas by 14. People are dwelling on last year’s first four road games, in which the Horns were outscored 150-30. In case you haven’t noticed, folks, it’s a new year. And Cal lacks the run/pass balance it had in 2015.
Big 12 view: Too much is on the line for Oklahoma (+2) against Ohio State for the Sooners not to pull this one out in Norman. The Buckeyes, with one of the most inexperienced FBS teams, will struggle to score behind an offensive line that isn’t likely to gel until late in the season. … TCU (-24) over Iowa State: The Frogs should rebound and romp in the conference opener.
Editor’s note: The original version of the story has been updated to correct the ranking of Texas’ rushing offense.