Texas squeaks past Baylor to hold onto the top spot in the Texas FBS rankings

Tom Herman and the Longhorns are rolling. Tim Warner/Getty Images

Texas has 12 FBS teams. Each week we rank them based on season-long performance, the prior game, and success relative to their competition. These are the updated rankings following Week 7 and looking forward to Week 8.

No. 12: UTEP

Coming off their bye week, UTEP will go up against 4-2 Louisiana Tech in week 8. At this point of the season the Miners have shown no real threat and do not seem to be breaking their winless streak anytime soon.

No. 11: Rice

The Owls may have hit rock bottom this past weekend as they were throttled by UAB 42-0. This marks their sixth straight loss and the fifth time this season they have allowed 40 or more points. The Owls will go up against the 4-2 FIU Panthers in Week 8 who defeated a solid MTSU team this past weekend.

No. 10: Texas State

Texas State suffered a disappointing loss by just two points to Georgia Southern this past weekend and fell to 1-5. The Bobcats schedule will not get much easier the rest of the way, so hope of a more successful second half is dwindling.

No. 9: UTSA

The Roadrunners three game winning streak came to an abrupt end in Week 7 when they were dominated 31-3 by Louisiana Tech. Luckily UTSA will have a chance to bounce back in Week 8 when they face off against a 2-3 Southern Mississippi team who also lost in embarrassing fashion to UNT this past weekend.

No. 8: SMU

The Mustangs will return to action in Week 8 after their bye week and will look to get the second half of their season off to a good start against 2-3 Tulane. SMU will hope to get some momentum before they head into a couple difficult matchups with No. 20 Cincinnati and the 5-1 Houston Cougars.

No. 7: TCU

The Horned Frogs struggled yet again in Week 7 when they lost to Texas Tech 17-14. After getting off to a 2-0 start this season, TCU looks like a completely different team that is struggling mightily to find its identity. The Horned Frogs have a big test facing them in Week 8 when they will face off against No. 9 Oklahoma. Coach Patterson will need to find some way to motivate and bring his team together if they are to have any chance of taking down a very good OU team.

No. 6: Baylor

Despite suffering a loss in Week 7 the Bears were able to jump TCU in this week’s rankings. Baylor was able to take No. 9 Texas to the wire in a 23-17 loss where they missed on three chances to score in the red zone with time running out. The Bears have looked completely capable of competing with any team that lines up against them this season and will look to upset a wounded West Virginia team in Week 8.

No. 5: UNT

A strong 30-7 victory over Southern Mississippi was not enough to keep UNT from falling one spot in this week’s rankings. While the Mean Green still hold a very impressive record of 6-1, their strength of schedule is hurting them the most at this point in the season. With that said North Texas has a big match-up to look forward to in Week 8 against the 5-1 UAB Dragons , in which a victory over UAB would benefit them in making another push in these Texas FBS rankings.

No. 4: Texas Tech

Texas Tech added another impressive victory to their belt this season after defeating TCU 17-14. It is also worthy to note that the Red Raiders were able to accomplish this feat without Freshman phenom quarterback Alan Bowman who is currently sidelined with a lung injury. The Red Raiders should have an easier go of things against Kansas in Week 8 who has shown improvement this season but have still only won two games. If the Red Raiders are able to remain healthy for the rest of this season, they should be a legitimate threat to the top teams with championship hopes in the Big 12.

No. 3: Houston

With a solid 42-20 win over East Carolina in Week 7 Houston was able to hold onto the No. 3 spot for another week. The Cougars have not looked back since their Week 3 loss to Texas Tech and seem to be building momentum as they head into the back half of the 2018 season. Houston will look ahead at another opportunity to extend their three-game winning streak against a 2-4 Navy team this coming weekend. While their one loss will almost certainly keep them out of any playoff talks, the Cougars are still in a good position to win their conference and land a spot in a significant bowl game.

No. 2: (17) Texas A&M

Texas A&M slipped past South Carolina in Week 7 by just three points and escaped from suffering a damning third loss of the season. While the Aggies are a very talented team, another loss would almost certainly drop them out of the Top 25 yet again and greatly impact their chances of being selected for a top tier bowl game. In other words, A&M will be fighting for their lives for the remainder of the season and cannot risk anymore slip ups. The Aggies will have a chance to rest in Week 8 but will return from their bye week with the challenging task of facing off against the 22nd ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs.

No. 1: (7) Texas

The Longhorns hold onto their six-game win streak along with the No. 1 spot in this week’s rankings. Texas fans received a good scare last weekend when the Baylor Bears came just six points away from upsetting UT and possessed the ball in the red zone while time expired. The Longhorns proved their resiliency under late game pressure and impressed the voting committee enough to move up two spots to No. 7 overall in the national rankings. The excitement will be put on hold for a week as Coach Herman and his team will get to enjoy their well-deserved bye week. With that said, the Longhorns will need to remain focused over their time off as they will kick off the second half of their season with three very difficult matchups vs. Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Texas Tech.


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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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