So what happened to college football in the state of Texas? That’s what Deadspin asked last week, wanting to know why the so-called power teams in the state have fallen on hard times. The best way to answer that is simply to remind people of the story of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun before plummeting back to the ground.
Neither Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas Christian nor Baylor finished last season ranked in the Top 25. The schools are losing recruits out of the state left and right. Coaches and athletic directors have been fired.
As to what happened to these various college programs, all of the answers are related to issues of hubris. Take, for instance, Baylor, which floundered in the wilderness for many, many years after departing the Southwest Conference. The school poached Art Briles from the University of Houston and found lightning in a bottle with Heisman-winning QB Robert Griffin III.
But Baylor had sexual assault problems. Various football players were implicated in the conduct, and it came to pass that the coaches and the administration knew about what was happening yet chose to ignore the issue because winning football games was more important than the safety of female students.
The reputation of Baylor has seriously suffered, and the reputation of Briles has been ruined. The football program has nearly been destroyed. Texas Tech officials, meanwhile, attempted to destroy the reputation of a football coach, but instead appear to have descended back into the depths of nothingness.
Tech has historically been a mediocre football team. Mike Leach was forced out and his replacement, Tommy Tuberville, slinked away to coach at Cincinnati. Kliff Kingsbury may be an offensive mastermind, but he has no clue how to coach the other side of the ball — Tech’s defense was so bad last year that it would have struggled to stop a decent high school offense. The team finished 5-7 last year, so of course no decent players want to go to the school — let alone live in Lubbock.
It’s perhaps wrong for Deadspin to have included TCU in this list. The Horned Frogs did have a disappointing season last year, going 6-7, but TCU has won at least ten games in six of the past nine seasons. Gary Patterson is the winningest coach in TCU history, and there is no reason to doubt that TCU, which bounced around multiple minor conferences before joining the Big 12, is on the rank downward to joining Texas Tech and Baylor.
But no programs are suffering from hubris as much as the Aggies and the Longhorns. And these current problems likely couldn’t happen to two more deserving college football programs.
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The Aggies have always had visions of grandeur, but the football team has rarely come close to that success. The Aggies got tired of dealing with UT and split for the SEC, where now they have to deal with Alabama. To help deal with the big boys of the SEC, the Aggies went out and hired Kevin Sumlin from Houston. Sumlin’s Houston teams weren’t known as defensive powerhouses, and they also weren’t known for stellar performances in big games. That trend has continued for Sumlin’s A&M squad, which has also suffered from Sumlin’s continued inability to recruit a quarterback — Sumlin’s successes came with Case Keenum at Houston (recruited by Briles) and with Johnny Manziel (who was recruited by Mike Sherman). And it surely doesn’t help Sumlin that he has been given the message that he needs to win this season.
The Longhorns are supposedly one of the prestige programs of college football. They play in a huge stadium that is usually sold out. The school has its own TV network. It also thinks that it is better than everybody else in Texas. There’s just one problem: Since forcing out Mack Brown, Texas has struggled to win games, which led to the Longhorns doing like Texas Tech (where Kingsbury had been offensive coordinator), Baylor and A&M and stealing a head coach from the Houston Cougars.
New head coach Tom Herman is arrogant enough for UT, though he has only two years of head coaching experience. And sure, the Cougars fell apart at the end of last season when the rumors of Herman splitting for another job were rife. He's a bit thin-skinned, and he doesn’t handle criticism well, which makes him a perfect fit for UT. So if any school is getting hit with a little karma, it’s Texas, which thought it was too good for everybody else, and now finds itself just hoping to get back to parity with the dregs of the Big 12.
Can Herman turn around UT? Will Sumlin and Kingsbury save their jobs? What happens with Baylor and TCU? A new college football season is fast approaching, and soon it will be known if the so-called power teams of Texas will return to that power status.