What a difference a week makes. TCU is now the only team from Texas ranked in the top 25. A reporter made the case that Mack Brown was being encouraged to retire (of course said reporter, Berry Tramel, is from Oklahoma, but in all fairness, I floated a similar proposition in last week’s column before the OU game). A&M shot itself in the foot against Oklahoma State, and then did it a few more times to ensure the loss on national television. And Texas Tech rallied from 24 points down against Iowa State, only to lose anyway. That means Baylor—yes, glorious 4–1 Baylor!—is the most exciting Texas team in Big XII. Now, if only the Bears can stand the pressure in the Cotton Bowl …
Texas Tech (2-2) v. Baylor (4-1)
Since the formation of the Big XII, in 1996, only three teams have won the South Division: Oklahoma (seven times), Texas (five times), and Texas A&M (twice). For the past eleven seasons, only the Sooners and the Longhorns have held the title. That has left the Bears and the Red Raiders forced to jostle for position in the standings, with Baylor typically at the bottom and the Red Raiders somewhere in the middle. That could change this year. Just as the game at the Cotton Bowl last week clarified the outlook for Texas’ season (hello, Alamo Bowl!), tomorrow’s contest between Baylor and Tech will do the same. Tech limps in with two consecutive losses to two consecutive South Division teams. Baylor hasn’t beaten Tech since 1995 but is rolling along this season, having already equaled its win total from last year. In a dominating performance against the Kansas Jayhawks last week, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III threw for 380 yards and 3 touchdowns and led his team in rushing. A win in Dallas will put the Art Briles’ Bears on a different level. As for Tech, Tommy Tuberville has to draw the line in the sand against Baylor. A loss against a team that for so long had been a doormat will end whatever is left of his honeymoon in Lubbock—and likely move Tech to the Big XII cellar. One key matchup to watch is Griffin against Tech’s Jarvis Phillips, who leads the country in interceptions and interception yards. A big defensive play early could be enough to short circuit the Bears.
#5 TCU (5-0) v. Wyoming (2-3)
Question: What happens when the country’s 119th ranked offense (Wyoming) meets the country’s third ranked defense (TCU)? Answer: The Horned Frogs earn their 19th consecutive regular season win. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton may have looked a bit sluggish in the first half last week against Colorado State, but as long as he stays healthy, there’s nothing to stop him from putting up huge numbers. Of greater interest is what the future holds for the Frogs. Already the Horned Frog nation is feeling the bite of the polls, sitting at number 5 since the second week of the season. Two things can help bolster their chances: First, conference opponents Air Force and Utah, currently ranked 25th and 10th, respectively, need to continue to win until they meet TCU. Second, the undefeated teams above them (Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, and Boise State) have to throw in a bad week as well to give TCU some lift.
Texas A&M (3-1) v. #11 Arkansas (3-1) at Cowboys Stadium
Which game will be fresher on Aggies’ mind on Saturday? Last year’s embarrassing loss to the Razorbacks in Arlington, 47–19? Or last week’s heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 38–35? Either way, times have been tough in College Station. For each big game that was supposed to show just how far A&M has come under head coach Mike Sherman, the losses continue to mount. Aggie quarterback Jerrod Johnson has thrown four interceptions in two consecutive games, giving him the most in the Big XII. Despite Johnson’s talent, you can bet that Sherman won’t wait too much longer to call up Ryan Tannehill, a junior from Big Spring, if Johnson continues to sputter. A post-season appearance in the Holiday Bowl is starting to feel as far away as a shot at the national championship. But perhaps the neutral site will bring some luck. Even if you’re not an Aggie fan, in this hard-luck season we can all agree on one thing: No one likes Arkansas.
Houston (3-1) v. Mississippi St. (3-2)
The Cougars were off to a strong start to win another West Division title. Then the Cougars lost Case Keenum, their star quarterback, for the season in the game against UCLA (Keenum’s rating of 159.26 still rates higher than any other Texas quarterback; see list below), then lost his backup one quarter later. That left head coach Kevin Sumlin suiting up two true freshmen quarterbacks, Terrance Broadway and David Piland. Though Broadway guided the Cougars to a win over Tulane, the sudden uncertainty of the position puts the team’s 18-game home winning streak on the line when it hosts the SEC’s Mississippi St. It doesn’t help that receiver James Cleveland, who had 131 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State on the road last year, is suspended for the game. The good news is that it is a non-conference game, which means Sumlin has time to find the right formula if he needs it. Regardless, this week’s performance will go a long way toward finding out if Houston still has what it takes to repeat in the West Division of C-USA. You can be sure that SMU and Rice are paying close attention.
SMU (3-2) v. Tulsa (3-2)
Last week the Mustangs snapped a ten-game road losing streak to Rice in high fashion. Quarterback Kyle Padron threw for 371 yards and 3 touchdowns. Aldrick Robinson racked up 148 yards receiving. But it wasn’t all offense. SMU’s first score was a 32-yard interception return by Sterling Moore. To add a little razzle-dazzle, in the third quarter Ja’Gared Davis returned a blocked field goal for 77 yards. Does this mean that the Ponies, which are 2–0 in conference play, are pushing toward the next level? A win against the Golden Hurricane will keep SMU in the race for the West Conference title and put them in a position to make a run against Houston on October 23. But if SMU’s return to prominence is going to happen this year under June Jones, the Ponies will have keep that spark alive on offense, defense, and special teams.
Rice (1-4) at UTEP (4-1)
So how good is UTEP as the Miners approach the midway point of the season? They’ve already equaled their win total from last year, but it’s an open question whether wins against teams like Arkansas Pine-Bluff, New Mexico, and New Mexico State really count. And while teams like Houston remain out of reach—the Miners’ sole loss this year has come on the road against the Cougars—Rice will answer a lot of questions. The Owls edged UTEP by one point last year; if the Miners hope to move up in C-USA, they need to show improvement this week. Otherwise, it’s a long, slow drop toward the bottom.
North Texas (1-4) v. Arkansas State (1-4)
The one-point loss last Saturday in Denton to Louisiana-Lafayette didn’t really matter in the scheme of things. That’s because of the far greater loss North Texas endured that Friday, when wide receiver Josh Rake died after being critically injured in a car accident. (In 2004, Andrew Smith, a quarterback at Bay City who had led UNT to its first bowl win since 1946, also died in a car accident). This week the Mean Green play at home against Arkansas State. Few teams have been as decimated by injury as North Texas; the team has twelve starters on the sidelines, including first-string quarterback Nathan Tune, who dislocated his hip in the final series at Rice on September 11; backup QB Derek Thompson, who later broke his leg, and Riley Dodge, who had initially been moved from quarterback to wide receiver because of injury but broke his wrist filling in against Lafayette. That leaves Chase Baine, a standout at Lake Dallas who has never thrown a pass in a college game, to take on the Red Wolves of Arkansas State.
Now that we’re moving toward the middle of the season, let’s take a look at the leaders from Texas schools in various categories. Who’s on the list—and who isn’t—might surprise you.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor: Rating of 151.4 (1,351 yards and 11 TDs)
Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M: Rating of 137.2 (1,274 yards and 12 TDs)
Andy Dalton, TCU: Rating of 137.2 (907 yards and 6 TDs)
Ed Wesley, TCU: 70 carries for 497 yards and 6 TDs
Lance Dunbar, UNT: 105 carries for 477 yards and 2 TDs
Zach Line, SMU: 64 carries for 460 yards and 5 TDs
Aldrick Robinson, SMU: 22 receptions for 421 yards
Kris Adams, UTEP: 18 receptions for 419 yards
Lyle Leong, Texas Tech: 29 receptions for 376 yards
I’ve never been a big fan of sportswriters making predictions about games, though I’ve played College Football Pick ’Em under the team name of Brave Combo for years. But our friends at Dave Campbell’s Texas Football have done it well. Here, in ranked order, is how their editors picked the first five weeks of the season:
TCU: Actual record: 5-0 Predicted record: 5-0 Accuracy 100% (Only seven more wins to live up to expectations.)
Baylor: Actual record 4-1 Predicted record: 4-1 Accuracy 100% (DCTF even predicted the correct loss, against TCU.)
UTEP: Actual record: 4-1 Predicted record: 4-1 Accuracy 100% (The loss to Houston was in the cards.)
Houston: Actual record: 3-1 Predicted record: 3-1 Accuracy 100% (But no one could have predicted the loss of Keenum.)
SMU: Actual record: 3-2 Predicted record: 3-2 Accuracy 100% (Good news for the Mustangs: they’re predicted to win this week as well.)
North Texas: Actual record: 1-4 Predicted record: 1-4 Accuracy 100% (According to DCTF, Dodge will be out of work at the end of the season.)
Rice: Actual record: 1-4 Predicted record: 2-3 Accuracy 80% (It only gets worse from here.)
Texas A&M: Actual record 3-1 Predicted record 4-0 Accuracy 75% (Oklahoma State!)
Texas Tech: Actual record 2-2 Predicted record 3-1 Accuracy 75% (They didn’t see Iowa State either.)
Texas: Actual record: 3-2 Predicted record: 5-0 Accuracy 60% (This one, simply put, is off the rails.)