The best college football team in Texas this season was … LSU?
Obviously. Not just because they’re national champions. Houston’s favorite school that’s not the Longhorns or the Aggies (sorry Coogs!) also beat both of those teams. Hey, remember when the Tigers tried to hire Tom Herman (and, for that matter, Jimbo Fisher)? Way to geaux, Ed Orgeron!
But, seriously, the best team in Texas was … Texas A&M.
Texas A&M-Commerce, that is. The Lions (11-3) avenged a regular season loss to third-ranked Tarleton State in the first round of the Division II playoffs and also survived a trip to Mary Kay Stadium—Mary Kay Stadium!—in Golden, Colorado, beating the Colorado School of Mines—the Colorado School of Mines!—in the second round. That’s more meaningful postseason action than we’ve gotten from our FBS teams in the past ten years.
But okay, enough fooling around. Here’s our actual rankings of the best college football teams in Texas for the 2019 season.
1. Baylor (11-3)
The Bears get here because of math. Before head coach Matt Rhule left for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, Baylor won eleven games, beat Texas, TCU, and Texas Tech (plus Stephen F. Austin, Rice, and UT-San Antonio) on the field, made the Big 12 championship game, and were the only Texas team in a New Year’s Six bowl. The Bears also finished thirteenth in the final AP poll. They even beat up on UTSA more handily than Texas A&M did. That said …
2. Texas A&M (8-5)
You’d have to be a real SEC homer to rank the Aggies ahead of the Bears, but it’s not hard at all to pick them over Texas. The knock against A&M is that they didn’t beat any significant team (apologies to UTSA, Lamar University, and Texas State). Two of the Aggies’ four SEC wins came against the Mississippi teams that fired their coaches.
On the other hand, the Aggies played and lost to three teams (Clemson, Alabama, and LSU) that were ranked number one on the day of the game, plus Georgia (number four at the time) and Auburn (then number eight). They were basically the mirror image of LSU, as the national champions played and beat five teams that finished in the top eight of the final AP poll. (Plus Texas, which was ranked ninth at the time. Oh, and unranked Texas A&M.)
Conference versus conference comparisons and college football transitive properties are a fool’s errand, but it’s safe to say that if Baylor had played Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU (having also lost to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl), they’d have four more losses. And you can’t tell me the Aggies wouldn’t have given Oklahoma as much of a game as the Bears and Longhorns did, especially given how poorly Oklahoma fares once they have to play an SEC team or Clemson in a College Football Playoff game.
3. Texas (8-5)
Quick, what’s your favorite memory of the Longhorns season?
Still there? The correct answer is, numerous Devin Duvernay plays. And the Alamo Bowl. Thanks to that postseason win over Utah, 8-5 definitely looks a lot better than 7-6, but this was still a year of unmet expectations in Austin. It ended with Tom Herman firing both of his coordinators. Plus Duvernay’s headed for the NFL (though quarterback Sam Ehlinger is not).
Texas “beat” the Aggies in the final AP poll, finishing at number 25 (A&M, as the first of “others receiving votes,” wound up twenty-sixth). That was largely on the strength of UT’s win over former College Football Playoff contender Utah, whereas A&M had to settle for beating Oklahoma State—like Texas, an 8-5, tied-for-third-place Big 12 team—in the Texas Bowl.
Texas did give LSU a far better game than Texas A&M did, but LSU wasn’t quite yet LSU at that point, and Texas didn’t actually get better later in the season (if only due to injuries). As with Baylor, you can’t tell me the Longhorns would have actually beaten any of those teams the Aggies couldn’t handle.
4. SMU (10-3)
This was still the Mustangs’ best team since the eighties, but what seemed like a magical season really went sideways after that first loss to eventual AAC champion Memphis. Losing star wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. to injury didn’t help, but in the end, SMU also didn’t have enough of a defense. They lost two of their last three games (and three of their last five) and were lucky to have ducked two of the four best teams in the conference (University of Central Florida and Cincinnati).
It stinks that the AAC doesn’t get to play in better bowl games (even the Texas Bowl would be a step up for the AAC). It stinks even more that the Mustangs’ Boca Raton Bowl bid found them playing Florida Atlantic in the Owls’ own home stadium, though the trip was probably still preferable to playing in Frisco (where the Mustangs finished in 2017). However, since they lost, 52-28, no one can complain that we’re underrating the Ponies.
In the end, SMU probably would have gone 7-6 or 6-7 as an SEC or Big 12 team. The Mustangs finished thirty-third (i.e. eighth in “others receiving votes) in the final AP poll, which means they still haven’t been ranked at the end of a college football season since 1984.
5. TCU (5-7)
Lost to SMU, beat Texas, played Baylor and Oklahoma close. The Horned Frogs were the class of the Big 12, along with Baylor, in 2014 and 2015, but they really missed a chance to take advantage of both Baylor’s fall from grace and UT’s continued lean years.
Still, they have head coach Gary Patterson. They’ll be back.
Who had the worst season?
Gotta go with University of Houston (4-8). The Cougars made a big, expensive splash by firing Major Applewhite and hiring West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, a rare instance of a coach leaving a Power 5 conference (the Big 12) for a lesser perch (the AAC). “We’ll fire coaches at 8-4,” UH president Renu Khator reportedly said (bragged?) in 2016. Did she mean 4-8?
What UH became known for this season was becoming the first team in college football to “tank” by redshirting key players for next year, including star quarterback D’Eriq King, while Holgorsen installed his system and brought in his own recruits. That didn’t sit well with lineman Justin Murphy, a graduate transfer who’d joined the Cougars via UCLA and Texas Tech, and shared his take on UH’s season via—what else in 2019?—a Twitter thread.
Murphy’s gripes aside, it might have been an okay plan, except that yesterday, King announced that instead of using his last year of eligibility in Houston, he’s entering the transfer portal. Arkansas, where former UH offensive coordinator Kendal Briles now works, and LSU are among the teams mentioned as potential destinations.
Who’s already the most overrated team for 2020?
Depends who you ask. In Vegas, it’s still, as always, the University of Texas. According to ESPN, Caesar’s has already installed the Longhorns as the ninth most likely team to win the national championship, at 25 to 1. That is not presumably based on the assessment of professional gamblers.
But ESPN’s Mark Schlabach isn’t buying it. Having been burned by the “Texas Is Back” hype last year, he’s got the Horns at number 24 in his “too-early” 2020 ranking, behind both Baylor (20) and A&M (11).
But it’s Banner Society’s Alex Kirshner who probably had it most right, hours before the championship game:
Not done yet with my preseason top 25, but getting closer to a final ballot:— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) January 13, 2020
9. Notre Dame
18. Virginia Tech
T-23. Texas A&M
Until proven otherwise !
Biggest questions for 2020
Baylor: Who’s the new coach?
Texas: Will we play in another New Year’s Six bowl? And if not, who’s the new coach?
A&M: Are we paying Jimbo $75 million to keep finishing third or fourth in the conference like the last two guys? Because we can’t afford a new coach?
SMU: Is our coach going to interview with Baylor?
UNT: Are we gonna go 4-8 again and fire Seth Littrell, or win nine games again and lose him to a bigger school?
Texas Tech: Will we be good enough next year to play Mike Leach and Mississippi State in next year’s Texas Bowl?