I like Texas. I spent five years working for the Dallas Morning News, primarily covering college football and basketball. I love places like Austin and San Antonio and even love parts of west Texas.
I still remember one of my first football trips, flying over the great state of Texas on a Friday, getting a sense of what "Friday Night Lights' was about by seeing those high school stadiums lit up in the darkness as I went from Dallas to places like Austin (U of Texas), Lubbock (Texas Tech) and College Station (Texas A&M).
Football is important in Texas. Maybe not with the overpowering sense of urgency you feel in the deep South about the SEC, but close.
I remember covering a game in Waco against Baylor on Saturday afternoon and then speeding up I-35 towards Fort Worth for a Saturday night Southwest Conference showdown between TCU and SMU. I was cruising well over 70 when I saw Smokey come from behind an overpass, his lights flashing, and I'm thinking,"" I'm toast.""[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
"Going pretty quick,''said the trooper. What's the hurry?''
"I"m running late, "" I offered. ""I just saw Texas beat Baylor in Waco and now I'm going to see TCU-SMU.'
"Really,' said the trooper. "That was a good game for the Horns. Two games in one day? What do you do?''
"I cover college football for the Dallas Morning News,'' I said, sensing a small window of escape.''
""Really,' he said. ""Well SMU' s going to kick the Frogs butts tonight, Ok. Just ease up the rest of the way.''
And that was my official welcome to Texas football.
Thirty-five years later, I still am following the state of Texas football and right now, especially among the schools from the Power 5 conferences (SEC, Big 12) there are some problems.
Lots of them, to be frank.
In the first weekend of the 2017 season, three of the teams from the Texas schools in the SEC and Big 12 (Baylor, Texas A&M, and Texas) not only began their season with a loss. All were characterized by a degree of embarrassment, which is part of the DNA profile of losing efforts in Texas football at every level. Teams from Texas just don't lose, Bubba. There has to be a reason.
During the season, we will take a weekly look at the state of Texas football in the great state of Texas.
Let's begin, as most things do with the University of Texas.
I covered UT football for almost a decade--five years in Dallas and then as the national college football writer for the Boston Globe and I hadn't seen a really great Texas team. But then Mack Brown arrived in town and the Longhorns got real good, real quickly. So I took a trip to Austin (not a chore) and was talking with long time Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds with some writers, including TMG's Rankman (Chris Dufresne, then of the Los Angeles Times). I noted that I hadn't been to UT in several years. "Why is that?'' asked the affable Dodds. I said: "I don't know, Deloss, you tell me.''
Brown eventually got UT back on top, winning a national championship, 41-38 over USC, in one of the great games in college football history.
But the eyes of Texas have not been smiling on the Horns for awhile. Three three straight sub .500 seasons cost Charlie Strong his job and brought in Tom Herman, from the University of Houston, via Ohio State. Things would be different quickly, right? This is after all, Texas.
Not exactly. Maryland, a bottom tier Big Ten team came to Austin on Saturday and pounded the Longhorns defense into ground chuck, posting a 51-41 defeat on Herman's Hermits, the most points ever given up by a Texas team in the opener.
"I don't know if shocked is the right word,' said Herman after the game. ""Maryland is a very tough team. Very disappointed.''
For a team, whose fans still have expectations of competing with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for the Big 12, that would be a mild description.
Expectations among the Longhorn faithful still focused on winning eight games.
That is still possible, of course, but from the opening game results, it will not be easy.
Baylor is a great Baptist University. There are good people down there, who have the right intentions. But in the past several years, the Bears have gotten very good in football and basketball, but their moral compass has been shattered. Primarily under former Baylor football coach Art Briles,, the Bears turned into a program covered with pond scum, with numerous cases of sexual abuse of women by members of the football team which went either unreported or ignored.
The results were ugly, a vetting of the athletic program, going from former University President Ken Starr, to athletic director Ian McCaw to Briles and most of his staff.
Former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe came in for a transition season last year and then Matt Rhule came in this year with great (eight wins?) expectations.
The opening game against Liberty University was characterized by an an ironic twist. The game was scheduled several years ago by McCaw, who was fired in June of 2016 and hired by Liberty President Jerry Falwell in November of last season--that move created some interesting tweets and Facebook measures.
So there was McCaw back in Waco over the weekend, "catching up' with some old friends. But he also said Liberty was in Waco for a "purpose''
Final score: Liberty 48, Baylor 45, which is not the way Rhule, who came to Waco from Temple, wanted to begin the next step in his coaching journey.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's seat was not as warm as Charlie Strong's at Texas last season, but it was heating up as another season of disappointment ended for the Aggies.
Here's the problem. For the last three seasons, Texas A&M has started the season by going 6-0, 5-0, and 5-0 and climbing into the Top 10 in the rankings.
For the last three seasons, the Aggies have folded, collapsed, choked, finishing 2-5, 3-5, and 3-5.
There are other problems as recruiting classes labeled as great have eroded and the Aggies have found unusual ways to lose.
But nothing will top what happened on Sunday night at UCLA, when the Aggies roared to a 44-10 third quarter lead and then followed the script of Aggie teams of the past, allowing UCLA, led by QB Josh Rosen, to fashion the second greatest comeback in FBS history by posting a 45-44 victory.
It got worse when the Aggies learned that their starting QB Nick Starkel, who had won the job as a redshirt freshman, was knocked out with a foot injury that will require season-ending surgery.
Sumlin didn't throw anyone under the bus, other than himself after the game ""You don't explain it,' he said. "No excuses. We just didn't get it done as coaches.''
No they didn't and the reaction from Aggieland was predictable.
A member of the Aggie Board of Trustees, obviously not a Sumlin fan, minced no words. ""I"m only one vote,' Tony Buzbee, a Board Member for seven seasons posted on Facebook after the game. "But when the time comes, my vote is that Sumlin needs to go. In my view, he should go now.''
Ah, yes, the state of football in the great state of Texas.[/membership]