Your unofficial playbook for watching college football in Texas during the weekend of October 23.
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If there two things that college fans love to debate, it’s how their team could be playing better and how unfair the polls are. So after the release of the first BCS poll of the season on Monday, why not throw one more (highly subjective) ranking into the mix? Therefore, I present TEXAS MONTHLY’s first statewide poll of its college football teams.
#1 TCU (7-0): There was time when this pick would have caused a stir, but no longer. The Horned Frogs remain undefeated and debuted at number five in the BCS poll, a number that had to have disappointed fans in Fort Worth. Because of the quality of their opponents, it’s easy for critics to dismiss the fact that they are scoring 40.1 points per game (seventh in the nation) or allowing only 9.3 points (first in the nation). It doesn’t help that quarterback Andy Dalton has disappeared from the Heisman race or that there’s no signature player on the rest of the team or that the defensive unit doesn’t even have a cool nickname. In short, TCU hasn’t been able to build any national buzz that could help capture the imagination of the country. That leaves TCU at the mercy of other teams. But when SEC West foes Auburn (ranked number four in the BCS) and LSU (ranked number six) meet on Saturday, the results will probably leave TCU standing still, regardless of the outcome. But as for our statewide poll, does that mean TCU could beat Texas? The best direct evidence we have is the shared game against Wyoming. Texas beat the Cowboys 34–7; TCU beat them 45–0. That’s pretty much a wash, and it tells me that it would be a wonderful treat to see TCU play Texas in the future. Hmm, what bowl would that be?
#2 Texas (4-2): Remember, dear reader, when I wrote last week that the fastest way for the Longhorns to get people to stop talking about their losses was to win a game? Well, hello Nebraska! Mack Brown showed us that with the right game plan and better focus, this Longhorns squad was not ready to write off the season. The pollsters rewarded Texas with an AP ranking of 22 and a BCS ranking of 19. Now comes the late-season grind: Not all of the opponents are marquee teams, but a loss to a sinking program like A&M or rising ones like Oklahoma State and Baylor could wipe out their gains. But if they win out, Texas will find itself back in the national conversation—and back on track. The Longhorns won’t play a role in the Big XII championship, but each win helps them increase their bowl stock.
#3 Texas Tech (3-3): Welcome to the part of the list that gets muddy and the elbowing for position in the bottom half of the Big XII South heats up. It’s difficult to argue that the Red Raiders don’t deserve to be ahead of the Baylor Bears, given that they beat them in their head-to-head match-up in the Cotton Bowl. Yet it seems clear that two questions have been raised about head coach Tommy Tuberville, whose undefeated 2004 Auburn team came as close to a shot at the national title as one can get. First, does he really want to be in Lubbock after all? Second, what has he done to maximize the talent on the roster? For sure, he has tried to recalibrate a team that always had a split personality under Mike Leach: all offense, no defense. But the numbers so far are disheartening, having given up 32 points per game (99th in the nation). Tech should end up with a winning record in 2010, but that’s only because Weber State and Houston round out the schedule.
#4 Baylor (5-2): The feel-good story of the year is on the border between greatness and irrelevance. Here are the upcoming teams on the schedule: number 22 Kansas State, number 19 Texas, number 14 Oklahoma State, unranked Texas A&M, and number 1 Oklahoma. In that scheme, a win against the Aggies is the line in the sand. Anything less than that leaves the Bears with no division wins and last place in the Big XII South. Baylor is better than that. Now they need to prove it.
#5 Texas A&M (3-3): Mock me all you want for giving the Aggies such a relatively high ranking. (Years ago I wrote that it would be a mistake to fire R.C. Slocum; who’s laughing now?) But I still don’t believe that even the better Conference USA teams currently have the size or the depth to compete with the struggling Aggies (though Houston knocked off the Big XII’s Oklahoma State and Texas Tech last year, this year the teams simply aren’t as strong). Missouri thoroughly dominated Texas A&M in College Station last week, prompting head coach Mike Sherman to say, “We should take out everybody, including myself… . We could have fired everybody today.” Even CNN commentator and A&M alum Roland Martin joined the battle, blasting the coach’s abilities. Such are the troubles in Aggieland. It makes the days of R.C. Slocum seem downright blissful.
#6 SMU (4-3): Last week’s loss against Navy really slowed SMU’s momentum. The Ponies had a 14–0 lead at the half, but mistakes doomed them in the last two quarters. The good news is that SMU is still in position to make a run through the West division and play for a conference title. That would be huge news for a program that is taking incremental steps under June Jones. Even better, the key game for the Mustangs comes at home tomorrow against Houston, which this year just isn’t the same old Houston.
#7 Houston (3-3): This is simply not how the season was supposed to go. Case Keenum was poised to be a Heisman trophy candidate, a win over a power conference team was in the works, and the Cougars would never, ever lose to Rice. The first article of faith evaporated with a season-ending injury in a loss to a Pac-10 team, the second in an October 9 loss to Mississippi State, and the last one in an upset to (supposedly) lowly Rice. It’s not that freshman quarterback David Piland couldn’t keep up. He did, after all, throw for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns. Yet he threw an early interception that set up a Rice touchdown and then fumbled a snap on fourth and inches to seal the game. That’s why tomorrow’s game against SMU is the key to the season. Kevin Sumlin has been criticized by some for coasting on players brought in by Art Briles; another stumble and the Cougars’ run to the top could have a shorter life than anyone expected.
#8 UTEP (5-2): Last week the Miners, who could have capitalized on the Houston loss to Rice, couldn’t score a single touchdown and could barely make a tackle against UAB. Highly touted quarterback Trevor Vittatoe turned in his worst performance of the season against a secondary that gives up an average of 238.7 yards a game. Those are the opportunities that a mediocre team can’t afford to blow. In fact, blowing those opportunities makes a mediocre team even worse. The winning record doesn’t reflect the quality of this team.
#9 Rice (2-5): What’s fair? Being ranked higher than North Texas, the only road win Rice has had this year. What’s not fair? Being ranked two spots below the only other team the Owls have beaten, which happens to be much better. But such are the vagaries of college football. (It’s not fair that I wasn’t smart enough to be accepted to Rice or strong enough to play football, but you don’t hear me complaining.) The Owls will be fortunate to pick up two more wins this season, but that would be the best case. And despite the win against Houston, there’s nothing on the horizon to suggest that Rice will climb the polls.
#10 North Texas (1-6): The deed is done. After 6 wins and 37 losses, the Todd Dodge era is over and offensive coordinator Mike Canales has been named interim head coach. Fans have been floating some high-profile candidates as replacements (Jim Leavitt, Mike Leach), but both carry baggage on their coaching résumés. Even more difficult will be the fact that higher profile schools—with deeper pockets—will also have job openings toward the end of the season that will be far more appealing than coaching in Denton. But one thing is for sure, it takes more than a coach to build a program. No school proves that like North Texas.