Your unofficial playbook for watching college football in Texas during the weekend of October 16.
As the season enters week seven, here are five burning questions that are on the mind of fans across Texas.
Is Mack Brown going to be forced out?
If Jerry Jones hasn’t fired Wade Phillips yet, do you really think that DeLoss Dodds is going to dump Mack Brown after back-to-back losses? (Of course, Jones should have fired Phillips a long time ago, but I digress.) Yet that’s the chatter coming from some parts of the 40 Acres. It’s true that the Longhorns are out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2000. And it’s true that Brown has never lost three games in a row in single season at Texas, which may be very hard to avoid on the road against Nebraska tomorrow. Yet what’s the fastest way to get people to stop talking about your losses? To win.
So what happens if he doesn’t? Well, the danger isn’t so much about losing to Oklahoma or even to a resurgent Nebraska. Where it would get tricky is a loss at home on Nov. 13 to Oklahoma State. Even worse would be dropping a game to programs like Baylor or Texas A&M. Texas’s stock has already been downgraded for the year; disasters like that could move it to junk-bond status. But assuming that doesn’t happen—and my bookie assures me that it won’t—the Longhorns could still end up second or third in the Big XII South. And as of this week, the Horns are still ranked number one by rivals.com in the 2011 recruiting race. Brown, whose current contract runs through 2016, remains a great presence who represents the university well. A tough year this year does not mean hard times forever. Simply put, he’s still worth the money. And he’s still one of the best coaches in the country.
What does the future hold for the rest of the Texas teams in the Big XII South?
In the short term, the future means taking a back seat to the Oklahoma teams, both of whom remain undefeated. The Aggies are 3-2, having dropped consecutive games (that sounds familiar) to Oklahoma State and Arkansas. As for those three wins, Texas A&M has beaten Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, and Florida International. In other words, those victories are all frosting and no cake. The Aggies have a chance to turn things around in College Station this weekend against Missouri, but they must take care of the football. A&M ranks number two in the country in turnovers, thanks in large part to Jerrod Johnson’s nine interceptions in the past three games. If that doesn’t change, Mack Brown might outlast yet another head coach in College Station.
That leaves Baylor and Tech, who played last week in the Cotton Bowl. The Red Raiders’ Tommy Tuberville got his first thank-goodness-for-small-miracles win, and the rest of the season will be spent trying to stay one game ahead of Baylor in the division race. As for the Bears, despite the vast improvements head coach Art Briles has made and the great play from Robert Griffin III, the odds remain that they will come in dead last in the South, without having won a single division game. If that doesn’t prove they are in the wrong conference, I don’t know what does.
Does TCU have a shot at the national championship?
A mathematical shot, yes. Last week the Horned Frogs rooted for then-undefeated Kansas State to knock off then number seven Nebraska, which would have dropped a top-ranked undefeated team down in the rankings. The results? Nebraska throttled the Wildcats 48—13. This week the Horned Frogs hope Texas can beat Nebraska for the same reason. You know who else hopes that Texas can beat Nebraska? Mack Brown.
The good news is that South Carolina upset undefeated, top-ranked Alabama instead. Assuming TCU wins tomorrow against BYU, it’s widely held that the Horned Frogs will debut at number three in the season’s first BCS poll. The bad news is that Boise State is expected to be number one. Assuming both teams win out, it’s hard to imagine that they would play for the national championship, even if current number one Ohio State and number two Oregon, neither of which are burdened by a pesky conference championship, stumble between now and December 4. And despite the fact that TCU has a harder schedule and plays in a tougher conference than Boise, the past may very well come back to haunt the Horned Frogs. The loss in the Fiesta Bowl to the Broncos could be all the ammo that pollsters need to break the deadlock. So what’s the rule for TCU? Being perfect is only the starting point.
Here’s how the entire BCS bowl picture could shake out for TCU. Only tens spots are available: two for the title game, plus the Orange, Fiesta, Rose, and Sugar bowls. Automatic berths go to the conference champs of the six power conferences, and one additional team from each of those conferences can qualify for an at-large bid. TCU has to hope that the top teams in the SEC or the Big XII start to pile up two losses during the season to make room. Otherwise, if Ohio State and Oregon hold on, Boise may be the team with the last at-large bid, even if TCU is perfect in the regular season once again. Simply put, it would be a lot easier if Boise would self-destruct and get out of the way.
Will Houston win the West Division of C-USA?
For the Cougars, 2010 may well be measured in “before Keenum got hurt” and “after Keenum got hurt.” Since Case Keenum’s season-ending injury against UCLA and the subsequent injury to his backup Cotton Turner, head coach Kevin Sumlin has been forced to start two different freshmen quarterbacks. Though the Cougars should blow past Rice on Saturday, a showdown with the Mustangs is looming next week, who also remain undefeated in conference play. Without Keenum in the mix, the Mustangs have a great chance to take a huge step back from, quite literally, the dead. The winner of next week’s game will control the division and play for the conference championship. It won’t be long before we find out how far SMU head coach June Jones has really taken the Ponies—and how far they can go.
Is the Todd Dodge era over at North Texas?
The Mean Green are 1-5 with six games left. The last game of the season is against the Big XII’s Kansas State. That means Dodge needs to win five in a row just to break even. That’s simply not possible with the staggering amount of injuries the team has dealt with, including being down to a fourth-string quarterback who threw his first college pass last week. Add to the fact that wide receiver Josh Rake died in a car accident, and you have a truly tragic situation. Will those circumstances be enough for a reprieve from athletic director Rick Villarreal? Who knows, but the mood is dark. When asked by the College Confidential blog if he would have his son Riley play for him again, Dodge replied, “ I would probably say no.” As for a coaching change, many fans have already moved on, floating names like Jim Leavitt, Hal Mumme, Dennis Francione, and even Mike Leach as possible replacements. After a quick reality check on three of those names, a potential candidate has to be worried about the number of coaches who have lost their careers in Denton. He might be less concerned about what he could do to improve the program and instead consider the ways the school has thwarted its own improvement.