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Jake Shaw on Baylor’s BCS math, top performances and more.
As the college football calendar turns to its final weekend of the regular season, the number of storylines could not be more plentiful.
The SEC title game should get top billing this weekend, likely edging out the Big 10 championship. The ACC’s will get some attention, too, if only for the novelty of Duke in the biggest underdog role since David. Even the MAC title game on Friday night will draw more looks than usual, since Northern Illinois is a win away from a second straight BCS appearance.
But lost in all of this is a story equally compelling but grossly overlooked — even in its own state. There’s a Texas program that can win its first outright conference title in more than half-a-century, but it’s not Baylor, who with a win over Texas — coupled with an Oklahoma upset of Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game — would get sole possession of the Big 12 title. And obviously, it’s not Texas, which has a chance for a title, too, but it hasn’t been that long since Mack Brown hoisted a Big 12 trophy.
In yet another memorable college football season in the state of Texas, only Rice has complete control of its destiny in terms of a conference championship.
Not Baylor or Texas. Not preseason top 10 Texas A&M. Not homebound TCU, a dark horse pick for preseason Big 12 champs. Not Houston, two years removed from a conference title.
Only the Owls will guarantee themselves a conference title with a victory Saturday. Beat Marshall, whom the Owls host at 11 a.m. Saturday in Houston (since the computers like Rice more than Marshall), and Rice is your 2013 Conference USA champion.
Big deal, you might say. Rice has fielded some good teams lately, such as the 2008 team that won 10 games but lost the conference tiebreaker to Tulsa. It’s not that big of a surprise. And, sure the Owls won a conference title in 1994, the final year of the Southwest Conference.
But so did Texas Tech. And Baylor. And TCU. And Texas.
Rice, along with those four programs — all 4-3 in league play that year — shared the title since Texas A&M (10-0-1 that year, and 6-0-1 in the SWC) couldn’t win it, part of the punishment for running afoul of the NCAA’s rules.
To get a better perspective of just how long it’s been since Rice won a conference title it didn’t have to share with anyone else, consider this: About six months after Rice won its last outright title, its current head coach was born. That coach, David Bailiff, is 55 years old now. As long as Bailiff has walked this earth, Rice has not won a conference championship.
Kind of explains why, instead of focusing solely on preparing his team, he’s getting the message out to Houstonians about the big game Saturday at Rice Stadium.
“We need the city of Houston to come out and support this game,” he said at his Monday press conference. “These young men deserve it.”
Standing in the way of the championship might be a polar opposite program of Rice in so many ways. Marshall’s a public university located in a medium-sized town with a medium-sized student body. Rice’s student body, the second-smallest in the FBS ranks, has carved out a small space in the fourth-largest city in the country.
We won’t get into an academic comparison for Marshall’s sake.
The differences carry over to the field. Marshall relies on a fast-paced aerial attack; Rice wants to pound it at you and bleed the clock. Marshall has scored 45 or more points in its last five games, all wins, including 59 last week against East Carolina to clinch the CUSA East. Rice has scored under 20 in two of its last four games, including 17 last week in the West-sealing win over Tulane.
It’s a compelling matchup, and the angle of Rice trying to end a 56-year conference title drought only ups the intrigue. The national media may be overlooking it, but I hope the rest of the country, and particular Texas, doesn’t.
Fight on, Rice.
> Week 12 Game Balls: It’s an admitted copout to give the game ball to multiple players and not just one, but it’s impossible to single out just one player on the Rice defense during its 17-13 win over Tulane.
Five players had at least four tackles, but none had more than the five by CB Malcolm Hill. Seven different players were credited with at least a half TFL. Overall, Rice held Tulane to no first downs and just 10 yards in the first half and only 123 yards for the game. It was exactly the kind of defense Rice needed with its offense having an off day.
> Baylor DB Orion Stewart, who led his team with eight tackles and returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown in a 41-38 win at TCU.
> Houston DB Adrian McDonald, who had 13 tackles and an interception in Houston’s 34-0 shutout of SMU.
> North Texas RB Brandin Byrd, who rushed for 251 yards on 26 carries and 3 TDs, including a long of 91, in a 42-10 win at Tulsa.
> Texas WR Mike Davis, who caught four passes for 112 yards and 2 TDs in a 41-16 win over Texas Tech.
> UTSA QB Eric Soza, who capped his career with 271 yards and a TD passing to lead UTSA to a 30-10 win over Louisiana Tech.
> Top Tweet(s): It’s amazing how expectations shape an opinion. Go back to September 8th. That was the day after Texas A&M, ranked seventh nationally at the time, won its tuneup against SHSU in advance of No. 1 Alabama coming to town. It was also the day after BYU simply ran over Texas, 40-21.
On September 8th, Texas fans probably wondered if they’d make a bowl. Texas A&M fans wondered if they’d be No. 1 if they upset ‘Bama.
Almost three full months later, how are both fan bases feeling now? Texas A&M is on the fringe of the top 25, has lost twice as many games as a year ago, and will likely lose its two best players to early entry into the draft. Texas isn’t exactly well off, but the Longhorns will have a chance to — at worst — win a share of the Big 12 with a victory over Baylor on Saturday.
So who had the better season? Glad you asked.
I look forward to offseason full of pointless Twitter debates about whether Texas or Texas A&M had a better season.
— Max Olson (@max_olson) December 1, 2013
Twitter debates, office debates, Sunday school debates — you can hear them all now. They might not be on-field rivals anymore, but put a Longhorn and an Aggie in the same room, and they’re sure to argue. And, of course, nothing will be settled until the two meet again, whenever that may be.
> Buy/Sell: Only four Texas teams have games this weekend: Texas travels to Baylor, Rice will play for a C-USA title, and SMU hosts UCF. Don’t tell the Mustangs their game is the least important of the three. SMU needs to upset UCF, which has already clinched a share of the AAC title, to become bowl eligible.
I don’t see that happening, which leads me to my buy/sell for this week. I’m going to sell on June Jones being SMU’s coach next season. It seems coaches get contract extensions every offseason. But not since August of 2010 has Jones added more years to his contract. Not after that 2010 season, when Jones went 7-7 and tied for the CUSA West title; not after 2011, when he went 8-5; and not after last season, when we went 7-6, capped by a bowl win over a Fresno State that’s turned out to be a pretty good football team.
So with his current contract set to expire after 2014 and SMU closing in on a losing season, why would SMU extend him now? That’s one of two choices the program has. Give him more years on his contract to prevent him from becoming a lame duck in 2014, or cut ties and go in a new direction.
The latter seems most probable. Remember, it was Jones who tried to leave SMU in the first place — only to have Arizona State reverse its decision to hire him away from SMU. For some reason, SMU let him return, but the damage was probably done then. Watching SMU this year, other than the play of Garrett Gilbert and a few receivers, this team seems uninspired. Questioning effort is dangerous, but I do wonder if Jones is giving as much of himself as he did when he first arrived.
Whether or not he is, I just don’t see him back at SMU next year. Especially if things get ugly against UCF on Saturday.
> My Power Poll ballot
This is what I turned into the DCTF offices for the Week 14 edition of the Power Poll.
3. Texas A&M
5. Texas Tech
9. North Texas
11. Texas State
The rationale for my order: For the first time all year, Texas A&M has dropped out of my top two. Four losses will do that to you. Texas, unbelievably, has a chance to move to No. 1 if it can upset Baylor. Houston seems cemented at fourth, Texas Tech at fifth, although Rice could climb higher with a win over a dangerous Marshall team. TCU probably can’t crack the top six now and is barely holding off UTSA and North Texas. I don’t see the bottom three changing barring an SMU upset of UCF this weekend.
> Irrational fan coach of the week: What, you thought I could go an entire column without mentioning Gary Patterson’s incendiary comments following an emotional loss to Baylor that culminated his toughest (i.e. worst) season in Fort Worth?
Patterson’s had trouble in the past controlling his tongue. He went off on June Jones following a loss to SMU that knocked TCU out of the rankings in 2011. Saturday night, following the 41-38 loss to Baylor where his TCU team — with nothing to play for but pride — nearly upset a top 10 team, Patterson chose not to focus on his team’s gritty effort. Instead, he singled out a Baylor player, Ahmad Dixon, who was ejected from the game for a justified targeting penalty.
Patterson has reason to be upset about one of his players taking an illegal hit (though Patterson did return that player to the game despite reports the player, QB-turned-WR Trevone Boykin, had concussion-like symptoms). Every coach should defend his players.
But insinuating that Art Briles, one of the most respected coaches in the business, has no class? That’s what Patterson did when, talking about the program Briles runs, he told the media: “If that’s what class is, then I don’t want to be it.”
Simply put, if Patterson had previous grievances with Briles, the moments following a loss aren’t the best time to do it. It comes across as petty, immature, and unable to handle losing. And if this only comes down to the Dixon play, can Patterson really make a judgment on Briles based off one play from one game? Not hardly.
Patterson probably doesn’t like Baylor. He probably doesn’t like any other Big 12 team. It’s not his job to like them, it’s his job to beat them. He didn’t do that much this year, and I think that’s the root of this issue.
This program has faced more stress and adversity in two years in its new conference than it had in all its years in the Mountain West. Saturday was the day it boiled over.
Think about it. If TCU scores a touchdown in the final seconds, rather than its third interception of the game, to beat Baylor 45-41, does Patterson rant and rave about Briles? On the contrary. He likely praises his team for their effort. Something he should’ve done anyway, win or lose.
> Leftovers … Credit North Texas for bouncing back in a big way from the UTSA loss by pounding Tulsa, but the performance was a week late. UNT has won eight games, with a chance for nine because of a bowl trip, but the way UNT played both before and after the UTSA game makes me think they played way too tight that Saturday. That’s not to take anything away from UTSA’s performance, I just think UNT didn’t handle the situation well, something that cost the program a chance for a conference title. …
If you’re Texas A&M, you have to lock up Kevin Sumlin. He’s won 19 games in his first two years (could get to 20 with a bowl victory) and produced a Heisman winner. He’s an attractive candidate for other jobs, be it collegiate or the NFL. Having said all that, the 2014 season will be very important. It will mark the first time in his six-year head coaching career that he’ll start a quarterback that his predecessor didn’t recruit for him. Sumlin definitely made the most of Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel (who I assume leaves for the NFL), but he didn’t sign them. Secondly, Sumlin’s never built a good defense. He inherited a top 50 defense at Houston, yet Sumlin’s defenses ranked 101st, 111th, 103rd and 62nd in total defense during his four years at Houston. He inherited an average defense at Texas A&M, but his defense has gotten worse, ranking 58th last year and 106th this year. As much as he’s accomplished, he still has something to prove. …
At the program’s weekly Monday press conference, Baylor QB Bryce Petty ever so casually said he’s coming back for his senior season. That’s not something people close to the program doubted. But I also am starting to think Lache Seastrunk will return for one more season. He might be NFL-ready, but an injury that cost him about one-third of the season might motivate him to come back to Waco. That and the thought that this offense, which would return seven other starters, has the potential to be even better in 2014.
The final word: After the way the 2012 season ended, had you told me a former Big 12 team would be in the SEC title game, you could’ve given me 1,000 guesses and I still would not have picked Missouri.
Contact Jake Shaw by email whether you loved, hated, were excited by or depressed by this column.
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com. Contact him by email whether you loved, hated, were excited by or depressed by this column.