The college football regular season officially concluded over the weekend with the conference championship games. UTSA won a thriller at home against Western Kentucky to secure the program's first conference title. Baylor knocked off Oklahoma State in an equally exciting contest the next morning when a fourth down stop inches from the end zone provided the Bears with their third Big 12 championship. Houston was overwhelmed in the AAC title game by a Cincinnati squad offically in the College Football Playoff.
In this edition of the 411, we look at four truths from the weekend, and also ask a question and make a prediction as we head into bowl season.
Dave Aranda can build a powerhouse: The Big 12 landscape is changing with the impending exodus of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC. A power vacuum will exist at the top of the conference as the new power plays shuffle for power. The likes of Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech couldn’t compete financially against Texas and Oklahoma, even if the on-field performance was better. That handicap no longer exists for a program such as Baylor without the Longhorns and the Sooners. Baylor can be a powerhouse in the new Big 12 because it is on an even financial playing ground with TCU, Tech, Houston, and Cincinnati.
The one caveat is keeping Aranda. The stoicism practiced by Aranda would make Marcus Aurelius blush. He’s perfect for the Bears. Aranda also seems content with Waco. He stated again after winning the Big 12 championship that his personality fits well with the Baylor athletic program, and in a new Big 12, the heights reached on Saturday afternoon in the win over Oklahoma State can become a regular occurrence.
Baylor was ascending under Art Briles before scandal brought down the program. Matt Rhule followed and had the Bears back in Big 12 title contention before bolting for an NFL job. Baylor should be fine if Aranda does leave for a “higher profile” job. The administration has proven capable of hiring quality head coaches in essentially every sport. But keeping Aranda would signal a warning shot to the future Big 12 that Baylor isn’t going anywhere as a title contender.
UTSA a team of destiny: Storybook endings rarely happen in real life. The 2021 season for the Roadrunners feels like a made-for-television special concocted in a backroom by script writers surrounded by cigarette smoke and the smell of cheap whiskey. UTSA’s football program is 10 years old. It took adding women’s soccer in the early 2000’s. It took the New Orleans Saints not moving permanently to San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina. It took an athletic director with courage such as Lynn Hickey. And that was just to get to the first season under Larry Coker.
Flash-forward 10 seasons and two head coaches and Jeff Traylor’s squad hoisted the Conference USA title in front of over 40,000 fans in the Alamodome. UTSA finished the season 12-1 and are headed to it second consecutive bowl game in two years under Traylor. The Roadrunners only qualified for one before his arrival. And they did it organically. There were only 11 players from San Antonio on the roster inherited by Traylor. UTSA won the C-USA championship with 29 players from the 210.
It took two shootout wins over Western Kentucky, a 21-point comeback against Memphis, and a last-second touchdown throw against UAB, but the Roadrunners were historic in 2021. And with Traylor on a 10-year contract, the journey isn’t over yet with UTSA moving up to the AAC in a year or two.
Houston is a conference championship contender in 2022: If we can assume that Houston plays at least one more season in the AAC before departing for the Big 12, the Cougars should be amongst the favorites to win the conference. Cincinnati, which beat Houston on Saturday to claim the title and head to the College Football Playoffs, is a senior-ladened team likely to undergo plenty of changes in the offseason.
Houston, on the other hand, should return most of its impact players. Quarterback Clayton Tune is only a junior. Alton McCaskill set a school record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a freshman with 17. Nathaniel Dell, who finished the season with over 1,100 yards receiving, is only a sophomore. The team’s best offensive lineman – Patrick Paul – is a redshirt freshman. The defense is loaded with talent.
The Cougars won 11-straight between the Week 1 loss to Texas Tech and the AAC championship game to Cincinnati. Head coach Dana Holgorsen’s program is poised for a long period of success as it transitions into a new-look Big 12.
Experience matters: Sam Houston and Incarnate Word were locked in a shootout to advance to the third round of the FCS playoffs. UIW, led by quarterback Cameron Ward and an explosive offense, was new to the stage. Sam Houston, conversely, was on a 21-game winning streak dating back to 2019 and are the defending FCS national champions after winning the 2020 title earlier in 2021. Sam Houston leaned on that experience in a win over SFA earlier in the year, overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit in the Battle of the Piney Woods. Sam Houston again leaned on that experience late against UIW to come up with a goal-line stop on fourth down to advance further into the playoffs.
Can Texas Tech lure Quinn Ewers to Lubbock? The hottest free agent in college football, especially in Texas, became Ewers as soon as the former Southlake Carroll quarterback announced intentions to transfer from Ohio State. Ewers, who should still be a senior in high school, is expected to choose between Texas and Texas Tech. He grew up a Longhorn fan, but he also de-committed from Texas during his recruiting cycle before bolting to Ohio State. Texas Tech employs Joey McGuire as its head coach. A legend in the DFW area, and a guy who can hire Carroll head coach Riley Dodge to be his quarterback coach in order to help entice Ewers out west. Landing Ewers would truly put the Big 12 on notice and give McGuire his first victory at Texas Tech. It’d also mean several highly touted 2022 prospects would immediately begin considering a college future in Lubbock.
Texas wins more bowl games than it loses: Eight of the 12 FBS programs in Texas qualified for a bowl game, and it appears that each of the eight will receive bowl invitations thanks to the creation of a new bowl game scheduled to take place in a to-be-determined location in the Lone Star State. That is good news for North Texas because the 6-6 Mean Green were likely getting left at home if not for the new bowl game. Bowl games are wildly unpredictable, but I’ll take the Texas teams to at least go 5-3 over the next month.
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