DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
By George Somerville
The cry in the early part of the year was “Texas is back!”. A perennial, hopeful cry for Longhorn fans and a mocking response for anyone outside of Austin. But quietly in Waco and on the outskirts of Dallas, there are signs that Texas is indeed back. And for two programs who have been out of the limelight for some time…
The Baylor Bears
Baylor football began as far back as 1899, but the first thing that struck me when I visited the campus in Waco is the seven foot statue of Robert Griffin III. In fact it’s hard to miss in what is as beautiful a setting that you will find a football field on.
But this is a team that has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. In between that successful Baylor team of 2010 and now, it experienced a near disastrous collapse of its program which nearly ended football in Waco.
The Art Briles era, while successful came at huge cost with the football program mired in a sexual assault scandal, resulting in Briles, the program’s athletic director and the University’s president all being dismissed. I won’t go in to the details here, but as a result, the football program fell into free fall post 2010.
Fast forward to today and Head Coach, Matt Rhule’s team has risen to a 9-0 season, having beaten the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Iowa State, Texas Tech and most recently, TCU along the way. Rhule is now considered one of a new breed of wunderkind being hotly touted as a soon to be NFL head coach.
Which is hard to dispute, such is the transformation of this football program. Sure – you can level the accusation that the Texas recruiting talent pool is perhaps greater than anywhere on the planet. But. Waco isn’t Austin or Dallas or Houston so arguably it is difficult to recruit. Indeed with Oklahoma and Lincoln Reilly on the other side of the river and that wily ol’ fox Les Miles recruiting at Kansas, the region is a hotbed of recruitment competition.
But nonetheless, Rhule’s team have surprised many this year by their play.
It is the Baylor defense which has really been transformed, with DL James Lynch being the standout in this stellar season. Lynch’s play is getting him recognised as one, if not the best defensive lineman in the state right now.
So with Texas and Oklahoma falling in quick succession, Baylor is quickly shaping up to be the best football team in the Big XII right now. And that theory is going to be put to the test in the next and last three games of the season with the Bears facing Oklahoma, Texas Longhorns and then Kansas in the last game of the season.
There is no doubting this is a tough end to the Bears’ season, but winning through would place them in the CFB Play-off conversation. And rightly so. In doing so, the Bears defense will need to nullify a rampant Sooners offense this Saturday in what should arguably be this week’s must not miss game.
But at the top of this article, I mentioned two teams from Texas. And while there is a lot of focus being put on the Bears, equally impressive things are happening on the outskirts of Dallas. So, what about those SMU Mustangs?
SMU football started back in 1915. But for most the SMU program is best known for its truly exciting “Pony Express” team in the late 70’s which featured Eric Dickerson and then latterly receiving the “Death Penalty” handed out by the NCAA for repeated code violations, closing the football program in 1987. While many argue that it took a full 20 years for the program to get back up and running, it is debatable that only now are the SMU Mustangs back on firm footing.
Which brings me back to today. Today the good people of Dallas are enjoying a football team under Sonny Dykes which has gone 9-1 including an impressive, if surprising win against local rivals TCU. When the program was ranked #25 in the AP poll a few weeks ago, it was the first time that SMU had been nationally ranked since 1986.
Masters Of The Transfer Portal
Quarterback Shane Buechele who wasn’t yet born when the demise of the program happened, is a transfer from Texas, deciding to move on when it was clear that Sam “we’re baaack” Ehlinger had the starting job locked down. Reggie Robertson Jr is also a transfer, from West Virginia. In fact Coach Dykes has reversed the recruitment outflow from the DFW area code to such an extent that players are calling him up to ask if they can transfer back home. Dykes is using the transfer portal to maximum impact.
Buechele has transformed the program. A Dallas native, Buechele was impressive during his time with the Longhorns, being the first QB to pass a 3,000 yard season since Colt McCoy. However it wasn’t to be and he left with Tom Herman’s blessing and good wishes.
And he landed at the right place. Head Coach Dykes has an impressive CV working with QB’s. Amongst others he has developed the careers of Jared Goff and Nick Foles. And this is where we see the change in Buechele. While has a good arm his most impressive trait this season is his consistency. A 64.8 percent completion, 2,122 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, helping the Mustangs jump from No. 80 to No. 11 in total offense and No. 53 in scoring offense to No. 6 in the nation. In the impressive victory over Temple, all six SMU touchdowns came from the hands of Buechele. Eight different receivers caught passes.
And herein lies the irony for the SMU football program. In the year that the team can finally say it has rid the ghosts of NCAA decisions past, the NCAA decides that players can be paid for their likeness. Go figure.
But Texas is back. Just not in the way we thought.
Feature Image Credit: BaylorBears.com
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.