Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks and appreciate your lot in life. That can be true for the 13 FBS programs in the Lone Star State. Whether they’re currently competing for conference titles or awaiting coaching searches, each of the programs in Texas can be thankful for something this season.
Baylor – Caden Jenkins
When wins have been hard to come by on the gridiron, sometimes you've got to celebrate the wins in roster retainment. Cornerback Caden Jenkins has enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign, leading Baylor with three interceptions on the year and returning a fumble for a touchdown in the miraculous comeback win against UCF. His cryptic social media posts hinted at a potential transfer, but an hour before the Bluebonnet Battle against TCU he announced his intentions to return to Waco for another year. (Yates)
Houston – Hail Maries
Dana Holgorsen wants you to know, life in the Big 12 is hard. Houston knew they were in for a dogfight this season and they've clawed to a 4–7 record. They're about where they expected, but if you peel back the onion you realize they're a Hail Mary in the final seconds against West Virginia from a 1–7 record in the conference. The only other wins have come against a UTSA team trotting out Frank Harris (who missed the entire offseason), a Sam Houston team transitioning to the FBS and a Baylor team in free-fall. It's a transition year, darnit! (Yates)
North Texas – Eric Morris's adaptability
North Texas didn't reach a bowl game after firing Seth Littrell, who made a bowl in six of seven seasons. But sometimes you've got to break it down before you build it back up. Eric Morris showed this season he can adapt on the fly, and that'll serve North Texas well in the long run. After a crushing week two loss to lowly FIU, Morris inserted Chandler Rogers into the starting role. The ULM transfer has been exceptional this season, throwing for just under 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and only four picks. Morris also introduced more four-down linemen packages on defense, which helped defeat Louisiana Tech the very next week. The results aren't there yet, but UNT's ceiling is higher with Morris. (Yates)
Rice – The AAC
Some may feel that conference realignment is a net negative for the landscape of college football, but it’s created an infusion of money for programs such as Rice. The move from Conference USA to the American will pump the dollars into the football program that’s required to take the next step. From support staff to improved nutritional options to renovations to the fieldhouse and historic Rice Stadium, the Owls can soar to new heights as they’re able to acquire better talent due to more resources. (Craven)
Sam Houston – Moving to the FBS
Sam Houston took a beating on the field in its first year in the FBS, but they slid into Conference USA at the buzzer of conference realignment for the long-term rewards. The school actually lost money airing ESPN games on campus during its national title run in 2021. Now, it gets $750,000 from CUSA media deal, as well as $1.2 million for playing non-conference opponents like BYU. The FBS move will also push them to over 30,000 students. (Yates)
SMU – Sweet, Sweet Cash
Months ago, SMU was left as one of the top dogs in the AAC when Houston finally got its golden ticket to the Big 12. The Mustangs tried knocking down the door of the Pac-12 as it was dissolving and eventually settled for an invite to the ACC. The rich Hilltop program elected to forgo television revenue for nearly a decade to make the move happen and it's privileged enough to and not be hindered by that. The program raised over $100-million a week following the announcement and CBS' Dennis Dodd recently hinted at why SMU was so desperate to find a seat at the table, money's not an issue. It's just about getting under the big tent. Financially, the Mustangs have what it takes to be considered one of the "Haves" in college football, it was just about getting in the door by any means necessary. (Johnson)
TCU – Baylor's 2023 season
Listen, if Baylor wasn't having the season from hell, people would be talking more about TCU being on the brink of missing out on a bowl less than a year after playing for a national title. A lot went into the Horned Frogs' disappointing 2023: virtually a new roster, a new (and possibly incorrectly hired) offensive coordinator, a more balanced (and thus more disadvantageous) luck of the draw, etc. But regardless, TCU can look south on I-35 and tell themselves ... well it could actually be a lot worse. Most of TCU's issues are very fixable, not necessarily easy but not things we didn't possibly see as issues heading into the season. Sonny Dykes' coaching and recruiting track records speaks for themselves as to why this year may just be a culmination of worst-case scenarios. (Johnson)
Texas – Large Humans
Steve Sarkisian took over a Texas program early in 2021 that lacked beef. The Longhorns couldn’t conduct a true spring game in those first months that Sark was on the job due to a lack of offensive linemen. That’s no longer the case. The Longhorns are the favorites to win the Big 12 and still hold an outside shot at reaching the College Football Playoff because of the improvements in the trenches. From Kelvin Banks and Christian Jones at offensive tackle to T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy at defensive tackle, Texas has the large humans to compete in the SEC starting in 2024. (Craven)
Texas A&M – Support
Not many programs could buy themselves out of an impossibly bad contract. But that’s not true at Texas A&M because of the dogged support by the 12th Man. A&M decided paying $76 million dollars over eight years was worth digging itself out of mediocrity, and good for them. Over 94,000 fans showed up to Kyle Field to watch a Week 12 game against Abilene Christian despite the firing of Jimbo Fisher and the punting of the 2023 season. A&M is one of the best jobs in America and the fan base is the biggest reasons. (Craven)
Texas State – Athletic director Don Coryell and university president Kelly Damphousse
The easy answer would be head coach GJ Kinne but Texas State's flash of success goes deeper than that. For the first time in decades, Texas State has an athletics administration aligned in vision with the university in propelling the football program forward. With success on the field comes outside attention and if the trajectory continues to point upward, other programs will come one day looking to poach the football staff as well as Kinne. When that day comes, fans should remain optimistic that the administration will make the right hires again. (Johnson)
Texas Tech – The 2022 season, and what could be
For as frustrating as this season has been at times, it's made me realize how fortunate Texas Tech was in 2022 to have its best season since the Mike Leach era. Joey McGuire's first season in Lubbock had many thinking the Red Raiders could be a darkhorse Big 12 contender heading into 2023. A six-to-seven win campaign this season was a harsh dose of reality but 2022 shouldn't be lost. If that's how things could go for Texas Tech in McGuire's first season without his imprint on the program in terms of roster construction, with Texas and Oklahoma leaving the conference, Red Raider fans should absolutely have expectations of being in the upper-echelon of the "new" Big 12. (Johnson)
UTEP – The Sun Bowl
El Paso is home to the most unique college football viewing experience in Texas. The mountains. The bowl opening to Juarez, Mexico. The Hispanic influences in the tailgate scene and across the Sun City. The Sun Bowl is tied for the second oldest bowl game in America behind the Rose Bowl, beginning in 1935 at Kidd Field. The stadium itself is a piece of history. It opened in 1963 with a Texas Western win over North Texas State. (Craven)
UTSA – Frank Harris
As a UTSA alum, I was lucky enough to sit in the press box for the historic senior night performance of UTSA’s best-ever football player – and maybe athlete in general. Harris signed with UTSA as a local star who changed the perception of Roadrunner football. He battled through injuries early in his career to emerge as the face of one of the best G5 programs in America. He set a school record for total yards in his last home game and scored three rushing and passing touchdowns in the same game for the first time in his career. Harris helped bring the first two conference championships to UTSA football and will leave with nearly 40 school records. (Craven)
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