Who Really Runs Texas Football?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

One of the ways in which Texas A&M continuously tweaks rival Texas since the former’s move to the SEC is with the hashtag “WRTS.” For those unversed in Twitterese, that translates to We Run This State, a not-so-subtle declaration that the Aggies are the foremost players in the Texas football landscape.

With the backing of college football’s most recognizable conference, a charismatic head coach in Kevin Sumlin and success on the Texas football recruiting scene, the Aggies earned the right to chirp.

But Baylor and TCU might have the most deserved claims to the crown in the Lone Star State over recent years.

Two Texas football programs are ranked in the Top 10 of virtually every preseason poll — and neither one is Texas or Texas A&M.

Baylor and TCU both knocked on the door of the inaugural College Football Playoff, and either could land in the second edition of the four-team tournament. For the Bears and Horned Frogs, now is a time of almost unprecedented success and the culmination of a years-long process to own the Texas football scene.

The 2010 season is a reasonable point at which to start, since it marked the beginning of a new decade. In fairness to Texas, the 2009 season saw the Longhorns reach the BCS Championship Game and send a finalist to the Heisman Trophy presentation. That Heisman finalist — quarterback Colt McCoy — was injured early in the title game, but had he remained healthy, Mack Brown may very well have won his second championship.

There’s no question that for much of the time from 2009 back, Texas owned the state. But 2010 is where the shift begins — and it’s dramatic.

2010

TEAM RECORD (CONF.) vs. TOP 25 (final polls) POSTSEASON FINAL RANK (AP/COACHES)
Baylor 7-6 (4-4 Big 12) 0-4 Lost Texas Bowl, 38-14 vs. Illinois N/A
TCU 13-0 (8-0 Mountain West) 1-0 Won Rose Bowl, 21-19 vs. Wisconsin 2/2
Texas 5-7 (2-6 Big 12) 1-3 None N/A
Texas A&M 9-4 (6-2 Big 12) 2-4 Lost Cotton Bowl vs. LSU, 41-24 19/21

TCU’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin was the culmination of a decade-long ascent up the college football ranks, and arguably the moment that put the Horned Frogs on the Big 12 radar. Wisconsin was the only team ranked in the final poll TCU beat, but the Frogs blasted 10-win Utah and Baylor by more than 70 combined points.

TCU was the first of four ranked opponents that beat Baylor. The other three were all part of the Bears’ brutal final stretch, as they finished the regular season with Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Texas A&M’s surprising Top 20 finish inspired confidence in the pollsters the following offseason, as the Aggies were trendy picks to contend for the Big 12 championship in their final season as members. Meanwhile, the beginning of the end for Mack Brown was afoot following a disastrous first campaign without Colt McCoy behind center.

A loss to Texas A&M in the season finale kept Texas out of a bowl game — the only of the Lone Star State’s current top four programs to get shutout in 2010.

2011

TEAM RECORD (CONF.) vs. TOP 25 (final polls) POSTSEASON FINAL RANK (AP/COACHES)
Baylor 10-3 (6-3 Big 12) 2-2 Won Alamo Bowl, 67-56 vs. Washington 13/12
TCU 11-2 (7-0 Mountain West) 1-0 Won Poinsettia Bowl, 21-19 vs. Louisiana Tech 14/13
Texas 8-5 (4-5 Big 12) 1-4 Won Holiday Bowl, 21-10 vs. Cal N/A
Texas A&M 7-6 (4-5 Big 12) 2-4 Won Texas Bowl, 33-22 vs. Northwestern N/A

The 2011 season put Art Briles and Baylor on the map. Not only did the Bears beat Texas for a second consecutive season, but they also knocked off the Big 12’s other behemoth, Oklahoma, in a game that effectively sewed up the Heisman Trophy for quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Griffin’s Heisman campaign started with a stellar, Week 1 defeat of TCU, and its culmination helped build Baylor’s new football facility thanks to the influx of attention and revenue.

Though TCU fell short against Baylor, the Horned Frogs finished another Top 15 season and said farewell to the Mountain West by beating Boise State on the Smurf Turf to claim the league crown for a third consecutive time.

2011 marked another farewell due to conference realignment: the end of the storied Texas-Texas A&M rivalry. The Longhorns avoided a .500 finish and extended A&M’s season of frustrating near-misses with a comeback win to help the Aggies pack their bags for the SEC.

Texas’ 8-win finish seemingly gave the program something on which to build, but it was A&M, in its flirtation with 11 wins, that was truly progressing toward a bright future.

2012

TEAM RECORD (CONF.) vs. TOP 25 (final polls) POSTSEASON FINAL RANK (AP/COACHES)
Baylor 8-5 (4-5 Big 12) 2-2 Won Holiday Bowl, 49-26 vs. UCLA N/A
TCU 7-6 (4-5 Big 12) 1-2 Lost Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 17-16 vs. Michigan State N/A
Texas 9-4 (5-4 Big 12) 1-2 Won Alamo Bowl, 31-27 vs. Oregon State 19/18
Texas A&M 11-2 (6-2 SEC) 3-2 Won Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma, 41-13 5t./5

Texas A&M’s claims to running the Texas football landscape gave rise thanks to its 11-win 2012. With Kevin Sumlin brining the explosive offense that made Houston successfully in his time there, the Aggies turned the SEC on its head.

Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman, and arguably the biggest individual star college football has ever seen. Manziel’s notoriety, combined with the exposure and revenue of the SEC, helped improve A&M facilities and give the Aggies more of a national presence.

Baylor took a step back without its Heisman winner, but Briles continued to demonstrate his offensive acumen in a season that finished much stronger than it started with wins over ranked opponents Kansas State and UCLA. The defeat of K-State effectively kept the Wildcats out of the BCS Championship Game.

TCU took lumps in its Big 12 debut, but the Horned Frogs beat Texas on Thanksgiving night — a win that helped the program put its stamp on its new home right away and kept the Longhorns out of the Big 12 title conversation. Still, with its first Top 25 finish since 2009, Texas looked headed in the right direction.

2013

TEAM RECORD (CONF.) vs. TOP 25 (final polls) POSTSEASON FINAL RANK (AP/COACHES)
Baylor 11-2 (8-1 Big 12) 1-2 Lost Fiesta Bowl, 52-42 vs. UCF 13/13
TCU 4-8 (2-7 Big 12) 0-4 None N/A
Texas 8-5 (2-6 Big 12) 1-3 Lost Alamo Bowl, 30-7 vs. Oregon N/A
Texas A&M 9-4 (4-4 SEC) 1-4 Won Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Duke, 52-48 18/18

Baylor claimed its first Big 12 championship in 2013, but a late-season loss to Oklahoma State and Fiesta Bowl no-show against UCF soured an otherwise landmark season for Briles and the Bears. Still, Baylor heading into the week before Thanksgiving in contention for a BCS Championship Game berth showed just how much the Texas football scene was turned on its head from the previous — oh, 100 years or so.

Otherwise, 2013 was not exactly a banner year. TCU regressed considerably in its second year of Big 12 membership, while Texas’ unfulfilled promise resulted in the ouster of Mack Brown. Brown attempted to reshuffle things early in the season, firing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after a disastrous showing against BYU, but it was too-little, too-late by that juncture.

Manziel returned to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in 2013, though his invitation arguably could have gone to teammate Mike Evans, instead. Regardless, Manziel was again one of college football’s most exciting quarterbacks — at least, until a late-season injury slowed him and the Aggies.

Porous defense and a hurt Manziel brought A&M back down to Earth after their incredible 2012, though a big comeback in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl was a fitting send-off to the Man Who Rebuilt Kyle Field.

2014

TEAM RECORD (CONF.) vs. TOP 25 (final polls) POSTSEASON FINAL RANK (AP/COACHES)
Baylor 11-2 (8-1 Big 12) 2-1 Lost Cotton Bowl, 42-41 vs. Michigan State 7/8
TCU 12-1 (8-1 Big 12) 2-1 Won Peach Bowl, 42-3 vs. Ole Miss 3/3
Texas 6-7 (5-4 Big 12) 0-4 Lost Texas Bowl, 31-7 vs. Arkansas N/A
Texas A&M 8-5 (3-5 SEC) 0-4 Won Liberty Bowl, 45-37 vs. West Virginia N/A

Baylor and TCU split the Big 12 championship, though Baylor’s head-to-head victory in an instant classic effectively means Art Briles claimed his second consecutive title. Quite an accomplishment for a head coach who, upon his arrival from Houston, was seen as entering a no-win situation.

Baylor’s on-field success is translating into recruiting wins, as well. The Bears are built to win for years to come, including this coming. Baylor is a preseason pick of the Associated Press to play in the College Football Playoff.

Of course, the Bears must hold off TCU. Last year’s 12-1 finish was a new, high watermark in the program’s long build. Gary Patterson long ago established himself as one of college football’s finest coaches, but last year’s total offensive transformation under offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and instantaneous acclimation to the Big 12 truly cemented Patterson’s place on the national scene.

Texas A&M’s trajectory in the SEC has been somewhat the opposite of that of TCU in the Big 12, with the Aggies slipping each season since joining. And yet, A&M remains more success than rival Texas, which has to tickle those in College Station.

Charlie Strong’s defensive chops were evident in his first year at Texas, so the Longhorns at least have a foundation on which to build.

Texas may be the least successful overall of the state’s top four programs in the last half-decade, but the Longhorn name brand guarantees it’s only a matter of time before Texas football flourishes once more.

Does Burnt Orange still run the state? Or is it A&M, with Texas’ sole SEC presence? Baylor and TCU may be new to this whole dominance thing, but there’s no denying that the Bears and Horned Frogs have the most collective success of recent years with TCU boasting three conference titles, two Top 5 finishes and wins in the Peach and Rose Bowls; and Baylor owning two Big 12 championships.