Welcome back to the 411 across the state of Texas after Week 3 of the college football season. On paper, it was a light slate without many consequential games. But, as we know, paper don't play football. Wyoming pushed Texas. Two former Southwest Conference foes rekindled a conference rivalry in Third Ward when TCU outlasted Big 12 newcomer, Houston. North Texas won its first game of the Eric Morris era and Rice completed the "Clutch City Sweep" by knocking off Texas Southern a week after beating the Cougars.
The 411 provides four truths, one question, and one prediction.
Texas survives and advances: The first three quarters caused PTSD for the Longhorn faithful as Texas slept through the first three quarters of a Week 3 matchup with Wyoming – a team that knocked off Texas Tech in Week 1. Maybe the slumber was expected, even if a player-only meeting on Tuesday was supposed to set the alarm. Getting excited for a game against Wyoming a week after knocking off Alabama isn’t easy, but it is what championship-level teams do. At least it is what the championship level teams of Texas’ past do.
Still, Texas won 31-10 thanks to a big fourth quarter that included a long touchdown catch and run by Xavier Worthy and an interception return from Jerrin Thompson. The defense allowed a touchdown on the first drive of the game and then forced six straight punts to close the first half. The Cowboys only scored three points the rest of the way. This Texas defense might be the best in the nation – it is at least top five through three games.
The Longhorns don’t need style points. An 11-1 regular season record plus a Big 12 championship is enough to reach the College Football Playoff. A 12-0 regular season and a loss in the Big 12 title game – think TCU in 2022 – would also probably do the trick. This isn’t the 2000s when the Longhorns blew out team after team. The margins are smaller in modern college football thanks to the portal. Texas will be in multiple dog fights in Big 12 play. As long as they finish like they did against Wyoming, Texas is in store for a monster year.
Maybe TCU is still a Big 12 contender: It isn’t that TCU is great, or even as good as last year, but the Horned Frogs might be a Big 12 contender again in 2023 because someone must contend with Texas and Oklahoma before they ride off to the SEC, right? RIGHT? The Week 1 loss to Colorado doesn’t look as bad in the rear-view mirror considering the play of the Buffs and the fact that the Horned Frogs had no clue what was coming as the first team to play Deion Sanders’ group.
TCU wasn’t dominant in the win over Houston. The Cougars had their chances to make this a real game in the first half (more on that later), but the Horned Frogs slowly grounded Houston and turn the screws in the second half, outscoring them 16-0 over the last two quarters. Quarterback Chandler Morris was fine through the air – 314 yards and two scores on 37 attempts. It was his willingness to run – reminiscent to his 2021 performance against Baylor – that provides some positive vibes. He earned multiple first downs with his legs, finishing the game with 53 yards on the ground.
The Big 12 isn’t great. Baylor and Texas Tech are 1-2. Oklahoma State and Kansas State lost in Week 3. The league holds losses against the likes of Miami – the Ohio version – Rice, South Alabama, and Texas State. Wyoming pushed Texas for three quarters. No one trusts Oklahoma. The Big 12 is ripe for the taking.
We saw the recipe for TCU in the second half against Houston – play defense and run the damn ball. TCU averaged five yards a carry. That number jumps to 5.6 when sack adjusted. Emani Bailey ran the ball 23 times for 126 yards. Trey Sanders added 48 yards on eight attempts. The defense only allowed 1.3 yards per rush and turned Houston over twice on top of two turnovers on downs.
Texas State soars: The win over Baylor might not be your normal Power Five victory (because Baylor stinks, more on that later), but that shouldn’t dim the excitement in San Marcos. New head coach G.J. Kinne has awakened the sleeping giant at Texas State. It is a huge school with a big enrollment and alumni network located in a beautiful city that’s close to major airports and big cities. What we’re seeing through three weeks is exactly what the Bobcats envisioned when they moved up to the FBS ranks a decade ago. But the coaching staff could never get it right. Either the team wasn’t good, or the alignment wasn’t good, and most of the time, it was both.
Not anymore. Kinne’s bunch scored 76 points – the second-most in school history and the most since 1920 – in front of the ninth-largest crowd in stadium history. This is a week after the Bobcat faithful helped UTSA pack the Alamodome with nearly 50,000 fans.
Texas State scored 11 touchdowns in the win, including eight on the ground. Backup quarterback Malik Hornsby rushed for over 100 yards. Nine different receivers caught a pass. Starting quarterback TJ Finley completed 17 of 21 passes. The 132 points scored through three games in 2023 is the most for the Bobcats since 1981 and they’re currently the 12th-ranked scoring offense in America. A one-score loss at UTSA is the only thing keeping Texas State from a perfect record heading into Week 4. Next up is a winnable game against Nevada at home. A 3-1 start is within reach, and that’d put Texas State three Sun Belt wins away from bowl eligibility.
Intrastate rivalries are good: The current landscape of college football is painful. We’re losing the rivalries that made the sport unique. It wasn’t the crowning of a true national champion that made college football the most fun sport in America – that didn’t really start happening until the implementation of the BCS and even that is arguable. It wasn’t the money flowing in from television deals or from playoff games. It was because of local rivalries that created passionate fan bases.
The dissolution of the Southwest Conference back in the 1990s taught most of us that nothing is sacred. It was hammered home when the Houston and TCU, along with Rice and SMU, were left out of the merger into the Big 12. We lost even more when Texas A&M bolted for the SEC. We lose even more in 2024 when Texas follows. The game against TCU and Houston, while not exactly entertaining or nationally important, was a reminder of a better time. A time when we didn’t care about national headlines or revenue. A time when it was good enough to beat your rivals for bragging rights.
Is UTSA really an AAC contender?
The Roadrunners have limped – literally – to a 1-2 start after the Friday night home loss to Army, which snapped UTSA’s seven-game home winning streak. They had won 17 of their last 18 home games. It is the second straight season for Jeff Traylor’s squad to start 1-2 on the season. The Roadrunners rebounded to win Conference USA for the second consecutive year last season, but this group feels different.
Star quarterback Frank Harris couldn’t start the Army game because of a toe injury. It was the first time since the Army game in 2020 – also a home loss – since Harris wasn’t UTSA’s starting quarterback, a streak stretching 36 games. UTSA was 28-8 in that span. But, admittedly, it wasn’t the offense that let the Roadrunners down in the 37-29 defeat to Army. Eddie Lee Marburger threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions. The rushing attack averaged 5.5 yards a carry.
Maybe it is just an Army thing. UTSA lost to that group in 2020 and allowed 35 regulation points in an eventual overtime win over the Black Knights in 2022. They’re now responsible for two of UTSA’s last nine losses. As Alamo Audible pointed out: Army is 2-0 against Jeff Traylor in the Alamodome. Everyone else is 1-19.
The road to a conference title is harder in 2023 thanks to the move up to the AAC. A North Texas fan pointed out on Twitter that UTSA is now 5-6 outside of conference play since the start of 2021. Two of those losses came shorthanded in bowl games. Two more were to Houston, one of which was in triple overtime. The fifth was a loss at Texas and the last was the Army game.
The health of Harris is the top priority. My best guess is that he also sits out the Tennessee game in Week 4 to be ready for the conference opener against Temple on Oct. 7. The good news for the Roadrunners is they get an open date in Week 5 to heal. UTSA’s defense won’t face another offense like Army’s the rest of the season since Navy isn’t on the schedule.
History says the Roadrunners find a way to bounce back and contend alongside Tulane and SMU for the title. The eye test through three weeks suggests that this team might not be as good as it was the last two seasons.
Baylor starts 1-5
Bad news for the Bears – the schedule won’t allow the Baylor to ease into the Big 12 schedule. They earned their first win of the 2023 campaign on Saturday with a 30-7 win over Long Island. It was the 18th time that Dave Aranda’s team has scored at least 30 points in his 39 games in charge. The reason that’s important? Baylor is only 2-10 when allowing 30 or more points. Baylor went 12-2 and won the Big 12 in 2021 because of a stingy defense that only allowed 30 points once during that 14-game span – a loss to TCU in the regular season.
Winning that way consistently is hard if you can’t recruit like Georgia or Alabama. The Bears haven’t figured out a way to replace defensive stars such as Jalen Pitre, Terrel Bernard, and J.T. Woods. The margins for victory are smaller when the defense isn’t elite, and the Bears defense is no longer elite because the personnel isn’t elite. Take away that the 2021 season and Aranda is 9-16.
Baylor is 1-2 entering the Week 4 home game against Texas – the last for a long time between the two storied rivals. The Longhorns struggled to knock off Wyoming last week, ensuring the Bears get the best from a Texas team with playoff aspirations thanks to a win over Alabama in Week 2. After Texas comes a trip to UCF – the best of the Big 12 newcomers – and a home game against Texas Tech. It feels more likely that Baylor loses all three than wins at least two. Even a 1-2 record over the next three gives Baylor a 2-4 record heading into the second half of the schedule.
College football is cruel. It feels insane to think that a coach who led a team to a conference title and the best win total in school history can be on the hot seat 19 months later, but here we are in Waco. Aranda is in danger of posting a third losing season in four tries as a head coach. And with no real momentum on the recruiting trail and dwindling attendance in the stands, Baylor must turn it around soon or risk pushing the reset button after the season.
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