Couldn’t we all have been Texas A&M fans last night? I’m not saying this simply because yesterday I picked the Aggies on texasmonthly.com to score the upset. And no, I’m not an alum (far from it, in fact, given a disastrous appearance at Midnight Yell practice in the early nineties as the guest of a friend who lived on campus). The truth is, A&M’s heartbreaking, last-second loss to Oklahoma State only closed out an unsettling September for most Texas teams. Houston’s Case Keenum , a Heisman Trophy candidate, is now out for the season after wrecking his knee. Texas got annihilated by UCLA at home (again). TCU remains undefeated but lost a bit of championship luster after Oregon State, one of only two ranked opponents on the Horned Frogs’ schedule, flamed out against Boise State. And North Texas is building a $78 million stadium that will open next year but may dump its head coach before the end of the season? Oh, well. Maybe October will be better, starting with …
#21 Texas (3-1) v. #8 Oklahoma (4-0)
I refuse to rehash the worst home loss in Mack Brown ’s tenure at Texas, which came last Saturday against UCLA (though I am willing to bet that DeLoss Dodds won’t be scheduling the Bruins in Austin for, say, the next fifty years). No, far better to look ahead to tomorrow’s Red River Rivalry at the Cotton Bowl. So what if ESPN’s Chris Fowler immediately pronounced that the Horns will “fall away as a contender” for a national title. Or that Kirk Herbstreit , whom a certain spouse I sign a federal income tax return with claims is easy on the eyes, opined, “It finally caught up to Texas. A lack of identity with their running game, not being able to make plays downfield in the passing game.” Wait, I’m rehashing, aren’t I?
Well, that’s because I think the story runs deeper than a five-turnover, 22-point loss. During his post-game interview, Brown looked surprisingly tired. “It was not fair to Texas fans; it was not fair to the players,” he said dejectedly. “And I’ve got to do a better job.” That made me think for the first time that the Mack Brown era could be ending earlier than 2016. If UT can win on Saturday, the Longhorns will still control the Big XII South; if they lose, the entire season goes into a tailspin. The good news is the Longhorns haven’t dropped back-to-back games since 2007. The bad news is that the defeat that season to Kansas State was followed by a loss against—you guessed it—Oklahoma. As for a possible coaching change, it didn’t ease the pressure this week that head-coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp was being talked about as a potential replacement for Mark Richt at Georgia, which has limped off to a 1-3 start.
So how dire are things for Texas? Consider that in the first four games of the year, UT has had three different leading rushers, none of whom has gained more than 62 yards. Or that starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert is ranked 11th in passing efficiency in the Big XII, ahead of only Iowa State’s Austen Arnaud . Or that the vaunted number one rushing defense in the land gave up 264 yards on the ground, proving that early season stats are often accurate but not true.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the undefeated Sooners haven’t looked so Bud Wilkinson —like themselves. They needed a gift to beat Cincinnati on the road last week, squeaking past the Bearcats 31—29. A week before that Oklahoma slipped by Air Force by only three points. For as unnerving as the entire month of September was, the second day of October will make things a whole lot clearer.
#5 TCU (4-0) at Colorado St. (1-3)
There is no doubt in my mind that TCU is the best team in the state right now. Which is why it’s such a shame that the Horned Frogs don’t have a chance to prove it outright. Sure, Saturday marks the start of conference play against the Rams, a team TCU thumped 44—6 last year. But the Mountain West is littered with cupcakes. Gary Patterson will continue to get his wins; Andy Dalton will continue to rack up the yards (see below). But it is all so predictable, particularly if Boise State can win the rest of its games, effectively blocking TCU’s upward lift. An undefeated season will end without a shot at the national title. A one-loss season eliminates hope for a BCS bowl. Who wants those options?
If there was any unexpected excitement at all in Fort Worth this week, it came when the New York Post “broke” the story that the Big East hoped to invite the Horned Frogs to join the conference, according to “a source close to the league who requested anonymity.” (Quick, how many Big East teams are currently ranked in the top 25? Answer: The same number of teams that are ranked from the Sun Belt Conference.) Sure the automatic bid for a BCS bowl is enticing, but this is a match that’s better for the Big East than it is for TCU. So how did Patterson respond to the news? “Surprised,” he texted. “I have been working on CSU.” Patience may be hard to come by for now, but TCU is no stranger to conference hopping since the dissolution of the Southwest Conference. The Horned Frogs know that the Big XII can’t survive with only ten teams. Who knows? If everything works out, it won’t be too long before TCU really can prove how good it is.
Baylor (3-1) v. Kansas (2-2)
Kansas hasn’t won in Waco since the formation of the Big XII, making the Jayhawks a welcomed addition to the Bears’ schedule. And it won’t make Baylor head coach Art Briles sad to know that Kansas will be starting a freshman quarterback. On the other hand, Robert Griffin III (or “RG3” if you’re eating at George’s),