By John P. Lopez
Never has Texas college football been on the kind of dominating roll that it is now.
Remember the late-1990s and early-2000s, when everything in college football went through the state of Florida? Look in the mirror, Lone Star state. That’s what you are on the verge of becoming. Finally.
For more than a decade, if it wasn’t the Ol’ Ball coach, it was The U or those dad-gum Seminoles capturing the nation’s fancy and no less than seven national championships between 1987 and 2001. That’s not to mention a Florida super-power being in the hunt virtually every year over that stretch. Meanwhile, football-loving Texans were mostly mired in mediocrity.
Baylor and TCU are in line to win a national championship. The sleeping giant that was Texas A&M has awoken and is one of the most-watched teams in the game, playing in the nation’s best football conference. The Texas Longhorns are coming off their best win, is winning head-to-head recruiting battles again and, well, is still Texas. Even Texas Tech, while not positioned as well as others, has reason to believe fates could turn in their favor.
But who will it be? Or, as in those beloved bygone days in Florida, will the beauty of it be that three programs or more will be in the hunt year-in, year-out and make for the greatest college football era the state has known.
There’s reason to believe the glory days are here.
In order, here are the programs best-positioned to consistently contend for a national championship for the next five-years or longer:
1) Baylor — Common sense says the Aggies should rank No. 1, based on ranking highest on all major recruiting boards and playing in the Southeastern Conference. But coach Art Briles tips the scales in the Bears’ favor. He’s on the record as saying Baylor is his long-term home, he’s signed through 2023 and in a playoff system the Big 12 offers an easier path.
How they could fail: If they lose Briles, everything changes. And given Chip Kelly’s success in Philly, if the Dallas Cowboys flop, would this good ol’ Texas boy pass on the Cowboys?
2) Texas A&M — The Johnny Football Effect has been astounding, especially considering the man in charge, Kevin Sumlin, has been superb on the recruiting trail. The Aggies have become one of the nation’s most-watched teams. Their recruiting footprint has expanded, bolstered by the SEC, and have had national top-10 classes in 2013, 2014, 2015 and have a commitment from the No. 1 recruit in 2016 already (OL Greg Little).
How they could fail: After the 2016 season, Sumlin’s buyout goes from $5 million to zero. If he gets a wandering eye, who knows.
3) TCU — Head coach Gary Patterson always gets the majority of credit, as he should, for the Horned Frogs’ rise to prominence. Still, the program has entrenched itself in North Texas recruiting circles, built facilities close to rivaling those in Austin and College Station and have a Metroplex fan base that stretches far beyond alumni. No program — not Texas, not A&M, not anyone — has a stronger foundation than TCU.
How they could fail: Beyond Patterson leaving, this remains a program that stretches every dollar to its limit, compared to what others spend. Back-to-back bad seasons could be crippling, given that they are in a Bermuda Circle of sorts when it comes to programs spending more, with more resources (OU, Texas, A&M, LSU).
4) Texas — Charlie Strong is cleaning house and changing attitudes. It’s exactly what the ‘Horns needed. Charlie Strong also is replacing a legend and already has proved to be a polarizing figure in Longhorn football circles. His status has been iffy from the moment he stepped on campus. Still, with time and one big-time, corner-turning season, the ‘Horns would vault to the top of the contenders list. We’re talking about the flagship program here. We’re talking about a deep history of contending, facilities, fan base, television power, the works.
How they could fail: Impatience and failing to realize that landing recruits no longer is as simple as saying, “We’re Texas.” The Longhorns’ biggest flaw collectively would be thinking this is the 1970s, or even the early-2000s, when just showing up was enough. With the Aggies’ national prominence and SEC membership, plus Art Briles’ magic in Waco and all the other threats, winning at Texas isn’t nearly as automatic or easy as it once was.
Just for fun, ranking the remaining eight Division I programs and where they’ll be in three years:
5) Texas Tech — These are the bad times. That’ll change.
6) Rice — What? Yeah. They’re in a conference and have the right coach that could lead to consistent bowl appearances.
7) UTSA — Is this some kind of typo? No. Larry Coker has made huge strides. Just recruit the San Antonio city limits and success will follow.
8) Houston — Expect a coaching change, soon. Then who knows? But it’s still Houston.
9) Texas State — Location, location, location. Super-fun college town and a good football history, albeit not in Division I.
10) North Texas — Always overlooked, the facilities need help, but have had their days.
11) UTEP — Just in awful straits right now
12) SMU — Once-mighty, the Mustangs will be lucky to still have a program in three years.
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