Football

New season brings opportunity for Texas’ college football teams

Look for Baker Mayfield to lead Oklahoma to the Big 12 title in 2017.
Look for Baker Mayfield to lead Oklahoma to the Big 12 title in 2017. AP

As citizens of the United States, as well as citizens of the world, most of us learn quickly about life’s iron-clad certainties: death and taxes.

As college football fans, we discover a third inevitable component as it relates to our favorite teams: change.

Unlike in the NFL, where a star quarterback can dominate the league’s playoff picture for more than a decade, the greatest college players wear their school’s colors for only four seasons. Roster churning is an essential part of every off-season, with a fresh crop of recruits and transfers headed to all 128 FBS football programs before games resume next fall.

That guarantees things will be different in college football next season … vastly different in some venues. A fresh shuffle of the deck in 2017 should be welcome news to fans of all 12 major-college programs in Texas.

For the first time in 49 years, none of them cracked The Associated Press’ postseason poll, released Tuesday. The stunning top 25 shutout shows there is plenty of room for improvement on every campus. That applies at Houston (9-4), which led the Lone Star State in victories, as well as Texas State (2-10), which topped the list in losses.

It particularly applies to the Power 5 programs that pundits monitor to gauge the quality of the state’s teams in comparison to peers at the national level: Texas (5-7), Texas A&M (8-5), Texas Tech (5-7), TCU (6-7) and Baylor (7-6). All five have a long way to go to become conference title contenders or College Football Playoff participants next season.

But in college football, remarkable turnarounds occur on an annual basis. Colorado, which finished 10-4 and played for last year’s Pac-12 championship, was 4-9 the previous season. TCU, a 4-8 team in 2013, finished 12-1 the next season after the emergence of quarterback Trevone Boykin.

TCU quarterback commit Shawn Robinson discusses Foster Sawyer's departure, and Aledo's Chuck Filiaga says a two-week break from playing football is plenty.

Multiple schools will experience positive changes to their records next season and every team in Texas is eligible to be one of them. Based on what we know today, here is a look at how things could change throughout the state and the nation next season:

Fresh faces in local places: Texas’ Tom Herman has won more games the past two seasons (22) than any college coach in the Lone Star State. But he won them at Houston before taking over for Charlie Strong, who was fired after posting a 16-21 record in three seasons in Austin. First-year Baylor coach Matt Rhule, who led Temple to consecutive 10-win seasons the past two years, takes over a program scarred by the sexual assault scandal that led to the departure of coach Art Briles and his staff. At TCU, the offensive play-calling duties apparently will transfer to Sonny Cumbie, the team’s quarterbacks coach, after former play-caller Doug Meacham was announced Thursday as Kansas’ new offensive coordinator. Cumbie and Meacham shared the co-offensive coordinator title last season.

Hottest coaching seats: For a second consecutive off-season, the state title goes to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies’ coach, ranked No. 3 nationally by CoachesHotSeat.com, topped the national charts at this juncture last season but kept his job with an 8-5 finish. He is closely pursued by Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury (No. 18), who probably needs a bowl victory next season to return in 2018.

Knee-jerk favorites: Within 24 hours after Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 in Monday’s gripping College Football Playoff title game, a dozen organizations posted “way-too-early” top 25 rankings. Nine selected Alabama as next year’s national champion and two included TCU among its ranked teams: ESPN (19) and the San Jose Mercury-News (20). By cobbling together the lists, here’s the way-too-early consensus on the preseason top 10, with each team’s average finish in parentheses: Alabama (1.3), Ohio State (3.3), Southern California (3.8), Florida State (4.0), Clemson (5.9), Oklahoma (6.6), Penn State (7.1), Washington (7.3), Michigan (10.2) and LSU (10.8).

Setting the odds: At the Bovada Sports Book, opening odds for the top six favorites to win next year’s national title included Alabama (4/1), Florida State (7/2), Ohio State (15/2), Michigan (9/1), Oklahoma (9/1) and USC (9/1). Among teams from Texas, opening odds included Texas (28/1), Texas A&M (66/1), TCU (75/1) and Baylor (250/1). No other teams from the Lone Star State received individual odds.

Turnaround teams to track: Texas (5-7), Michigan State (3-9), Notre Dame (4-8), Arizona State (5-7) and UCLA (4-8) cratered last season but return intriguing rosters. Personnel/coaching changes make it difficult to repeat last year’s success for Clemson (14-1), Western Michigan (13-1), San Diego State (11-3), Temple (10-4) and Minnesota (9-4).

Dubious fresh wrinkle: The Big 12 brings back its conference championship game this season. It will feature a rematch of a regular-season contest, pitting the top two teams in the final standings Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium. Although the move clearly cheapens the regular-season matchup, it is expected to generate $3 million per school and analysts suggest it will enhance the league’s opportunity to place a team in the College Football Playoff. Only once has the Big 12 had a playoff team in three seasons.

Bold prediction: The top two teams in the Big 12 standings the past two seasons, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, will square off Dec. 2 in Arlington. But OSU, after earning the top spot in the regular-season standings by winning the teams’ Nov. 4 meeting in Stillwater, Okla., falls to Oklahoma in the rematch. That triumph seals another Big 12 title for OU but it costs the league a CFP berth because OU posts an 11-2 record that includes regular-season losses to Ohio State (Sept. 9) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 4).

Big 12 breakdown: A look at the Big 12 power rankings, from top to bottom, heading into spring drills: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, TCU, Texas, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas.

CFP bracket breakdown: A projection of the four participants in next season’s College Football Playoff bracket: Alabama, USC, Florida State, Penn State.

Impact quarterbacks (Baylor edition): Few things energize a team more than a proven quarterback. Two players fitting that description have Baylor connections. Auburn landed Jarrett Stidham, a five-star prospect from Stephenville and former Baylor player, who will compete for the starting job in spring drills. Stidham could make that team an overnight SEC and national title contender. Baylor added a graduate transfer last week in Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, the Wildcats’ starter in the 2014 Pac-12 championship game. Solomon lost his job while battling injuries the past two seasons but should be a welcome veteran presence in Waco.

Other impact QB transfers: Fresh faces with immediate eligibility project to be taking most of the snaps next season at Arizona State (Alabama transfer Blake Barnett) and Pittsburgh (USC transfer Max Browne). Two other former Alabama quarterbacks (Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell) also seek new homes as graduate transfers with immediate eligibility. So does former Notre Dame starter Malik Zaire, who has indicated plans to wait until after spring drills to finalize his destination. Among Big 12 teams, look for a major impact from West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, a transfer from Florida who spent last season on the Mountaineers’ scout team.

TCU quarterback quandary: The digits in TCU quarterback Kenny Hill’s touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (17-13) were too close together for success in a spread offense last season. Veteran backup Foster Sawyer has transferred to FCS Stephen F. Austin in search of a starting job. Shawn Robinson, a four-star prospect expected to enroll in January, joins the mix for next season, although coaches would prefer to have him redshirt.

TCU’s best option would be for Hill, a transfer from Texas A&M, to follow the blueprint of former West Virginia QB Skyler Howard and make significant off-season strides heading into his senior season. Howard, a White Settlement Brewer graduate who began his college career as a walk-on, raised his completion percentage by 6.3 percent (to 61.1), cut back to 10 interceptions (from 14 as a junior) and raised his passing efficiency rating by 11.9 points (to 146.6) in his final college season. West Virginia’s record jumped from 8-5 to 10-3. Hill is capable of making comparable, or larger, strides in all of those areas. Doing so would allow Robinson, 17, a redshirt season.

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch

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