The state is split between teams still playing for 2023 and fan bases of teams with losing records wondering what coaching staff changes are on the horizon. The Longhorns kept Big 12 and College Football Playoff hopes alive by flexing a “five-star culture” in a road win over Iowa State. Frank Harris added to his legend in San Antonio with a record-breaking performance on senior night. And TCU-Baylor became the most played football game between two teams from Texas in what is now called, for some reason, the Bluebonnet Battle.
The 411 provides four truths, one question, and prediction from around the Great State following Week 12.
Texas is class of Big 12: The Longhorns didn’t quite clinch a berth into the Big 12 championship game after the 10-point victory over Iowa State, but Texas can practically see AT&T Stadium in Arlington when they closed their eyes for bed. The Big 12 tiebreakers require a doctorate in convolution, but the simplest path for Texas is to knock off Texas Tech on Black Friday. That would also keep College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Texas won 10 regular season games for the first time since 2009. Steve Sarkisian reached the 10-win mark as a collegiate head coach for the first time in his career. The only player who started their careers at Texas with any experience playing past the New Year is Christian Jones, who signed in 2018 and was on the squad for the Sugar Bowl run. This is new territory.
Legendary Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden put it best: Teams lose big in year one and close in year two. They win close in year three and big in year four. Texas is in year three aka the “win close” year, and that’s exactly what the Longhorns are doing. The win over Iowa State wasn’t pretty. Neither was the victory over TCU or Kansas State. Or Houston or Wyoming. You get my point.
Texas is the clear class of the Big 12 from a talent standpoint, even the Oklahoma team that knocked the Longhorns off in the Cotton Bowl. The hard part isn’t being better than your opponents. The tough part is proving it. Texas can make a statement against Texas Tech on Black Friday, and then give the CFP a possible conundrum with a win in the Big 12 title game. This program wants to get back to being champions. The talent is there. The culture appears to be, too.
Evolution at SMU: Don’t feel bad if watching this SMU team feels like something out of the bizarro world. The Mustangs built a reputation as a program that leans on a high-flying offense reliant on a great quarterback and skill weapons to hide a lack of physicality in the run game and on the defensive side of the ball. Rhett Lashlee has officially flipped that script.
His Mustangs average 185.55 rushing yards a game, which is 28th nationally and third-best in Texas at the FBS level behind Texas State and North Texas. That provides balance for a passing offense that still top 20 in the country. SMU ranks sixth nationally in scoring offense and Preston Stone played his best football of the season in the second half of the Week 12 win over Memphis that put SMU one win away from the AAC title game.
But that’s not the evolution. SMU always scores a lot of point. The Mustang defense is the reason that SMU is the odds-on favorite to win the AAC, which likely earns them a spot in a New Year Six bowl. Scott Symons’ crew ranks 15th nationally and tops in the Lone Star State in scoring defense at 18 points per game, which is 15 points fewer than last season. The unit has 36 sacks – nine more than last season despite two fewer games played. The secondary is allowing 30 passing yards per game less and are one interception from matching last year’s total.
Baylor requires a change: Baylor was fortunate to only lose by four possessions in the road loss to TCU. The Horned Frogs turned the ball over twice in the red zone during the first quarter and only led 14-10 at halftime. The game ended 42-17 to drop Baylor to 3-8 on the year with a home game against West Virginia slated to end the third losing season in four tries under Dave Aranda. Remembering that this program won 12 games, a Big 12 championship, and a Sugar Bowl less than 24 months ago gets harder by the day.
Aranda is 23-24 as a head coach at Baylor and 11-22 in the three years outside of 2021. The Bears are 2-12 in their last 14 against FBS competition and 6-11 against the Big 12 since the start of 2022. They are 0-6 at home this year against FBS teams and are on a four-game losing streak. The recruiting class before Aranda arrived (2019) ranked 29th nationally per 247Sports composite. Aranda hasn’t signed a class that ranks better than 35th. The 2024 class currently ranks 61st in the nation.
These #TXHSFB coaches know November: The Texas high school playoffs begin as the calendar rolls into November. UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor and Texas Tech head coach Joey McGuire each won three state titles in previous lives as Texas high school coaches. The goal there is to get through district and peak in November for a chance to play in November.
Traylor and McGuire are still excellent at that. Traylor improved to 13-1 in November as a college head coach with a Friday night win over South Florida. McGuire is 5-1 in November after knocking off UCF. The Roadrunners qualified for one bowl game and zero conference title games in the nine years before Traylor. They’ve clinched their fourth straight bowl already and are one victory away from playing in their third consecutive conference title game. McGuire is one of only two coaches in Texas Tech history to lead the Red Raiders to bowl eligibility in each of the first two years on the job, joining Mike Leach.
What is the mood in Houston?
Monitoring the potential seat temperature for Dana Holgorsen at Houston in 2023 is an exercise in whiplash. The Cougars realistically believed that bowl contention was possible as new members of the Big 12. A win over UTSA at home in Week 1 was a positive sign, but the non-conference loss to Rice turned on the seat heaters. The Hail Mary win over West Virginia at home – the team Holgorsen left for the Houston job – felt like a defining moment that would buy Holgorsen another year to build a ship capable of handling Big 12 waters. As did the rally against Texas that fell short the next week.
Holgorsen told Sam Khan at The Athletic that his buy out was “impossible” before the season because of an extension Holgorsen received after the 12-win 2021 season. (As an aside, please stop giving huge extensions to head coaches after one great season. Ask Texas A&M, Baylor, and Houston if you need more than my word). With money needed for NIL and facility upgrades, Houston would rather not call Holgorsen’s bluff.
But the plain truth is that Houston has lost four of its last five, including to fellow Big 12 newcomer Cincinnati. The Week 12 loss at home to Oklahoma State – a week after the Cowboys were disarmed at UCF – eliminated Houston from playoff eligibility with one game left on the schedule. A loss at UCF would mean a 4-8 season for the Cougars with losses to two of the other three newcomers. Houston didn’t play BYU this year.
At least three coaches get fired in Texas: We’re one-third of the way there with Texas A&M relieving Jimbo Fisher of his duties after Week 11. It’d be shocking if at least two more coaches weren’t fired by the end of the season in what could be a wild coaching carousel in the Lone Star State at the FBS level. UTEP is 3-8 and Dana Dimel only has one year left on his contract. Rice needs six wins for Mike Bloomgren to feel safe. Baylor is a mess. Houston might get antsy. That’s four more possible to add on A&M.
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