1. Texas — Last Season: 7 (5-7)
No other program boasts the hype that UT has opening the 2017 season and for good reason. This is arguably the most exciting unit since the coach Mack Brown era.
Losing running back D’Onta Foreman is an absolute blow, but the returners are a sturdy bunch. QB Shane Buechele leads 16 other returning starters in a system governed by the staff that made coach Tom Herman great in Houston.
Newly initiated defensive coordinator Todd Orlando helped turn the Coogs into one of the best defenses in the country the last two years and will be relied heavily on to resolve the worst Longhorns squad in two decades.
There’s plenty of concerns on both sides of the ball, but on paper, these Longhorns are the true frontrunners for Lone Star FBS glory.
2. Baylor — Last Season: 4 (7-6)
After a promising start, the Bears dropped six straight games to close out the season — barely clinging to their early season success for a postseason berth. Somehow, Baylor closed the FBS as the sole Texas program to clinch a bowl victory.
New hire Matt Rhule has already resurrected the near dead Waco squad, resuscitating a team choking on the scandals of past mistakes. After the Bears were ranked dead last in FBS recruiting with a mere signee, coach Rhule focused Baylor’s efforts on Texas players, nabbing 20 total.
Lake Travis champ Charlie Brewer will serve as backup to Zach Smith, and will likely be Waco’s ball-slinger of the future; DeSoto’s Xavier Newman will carry his experience with the best o-line in Texas to starting in the absence of Kyle Fuller, assisting a front that allowed 26 sacks last season; Jalen Pitre, who was previously alone in the class, will have a shot at starting on a depth chart thin from transfers following Art Briles departure.
Coupled with a favorable schedule, Baylor has a nice shot at their eighth consecutive bowl game.
3. Houston — Last Season: 1 (9-4)
Natural disaster and tragedy has a strange way of shuffling the cards of fate in the sports world. Case in point: the Houston Cougars. Already displaced from home and facing a UTSA opener cancellation, the Coogs has the hopes of their battered city placed firmly on their padded shoulders, playing each game in honor of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. What was once a rebuilding year could be a triumphant continuation of AAC dominance, and UH has the tools for such a construction of championship glory.
Aggies transfer quarterback Kyle Allen has big shoes to fill for Greg Ward Jr., as does coach Major Applewhite compensating for the job change by coach Tom Herman. However, AAC rookie of the year Ed Oliver leads an experienced unit that ranked No. 4 in rushing defense last season.
Expectations aren’t as high as Herman’s program that was near CFP consideration, but this could still amongst the top dogs fighting for the division title.
4. UTSA — Last Season: 5 (6-7)
Heralded recruiter Frank Wilson – and now longterm UTSA head coach – came into a program coming off consecutive losing efforts (4-8, 3-9) and lead the Roadrunners to claw and scratch their way to a 6-7 record. After six years of existence, UTSA finally made – and lost – a closely contested New Mexico Bowl.
With another year of experience for the 13 starters returning, and a collection of primarily 3-star recruits that takes the cake as the best Roadrunners class in history, expectations are high for the young program that played ASU and A&M close this season, losing by an average 8.5 points.
5. TCU — Last Season: 3 (6-7)
After numerous offensive injuries, and a defense that looked nothing like the hyped unit that was billed as the most experienced in the Patterson era, the Horned Frogs finish the season 6-7.
Because of this, no one is selecting them on the AP-25 after the majority voted TCU into the upper echelons of the ranking.
The disappointing season marked the second time since 2005 they failed to reach eight wins.
If quarterback Kenny Hill can put the haunting reminders of an FBS leading 13 interceptions behind him, he still has numerous returning weapons at his disposal: lead rusher Kyle Hicks and receivers Taj Williams and John Diarse return to provide a stable effort.
6. Texas A&M — Last Season: 2 (8-4)
7. North Texas — Last Season: 8 (5-8)
8. Texas Tech — Last Season: 6 (5-7)
9. SMU — Last Season: 9 (5-7)
10. Rice — Last Season: 11 (3-9)
11. UTEP — Last Week: 10 (4-8)
12. Texas State — Last Week: 12 (2-10)