1. Houston — Last Week: 1 (9-3)
Four of our top five college teams finished the year with a loss — the perfect summation of a down year in Texas FBS football in which no team was ranked in the final regular season AP Top-25 rankings.
The Cougars season promised the most upside in the Lone Star State, but their winning ways were marred by the media circus surrounding Tom Herman’s possible UT coaching position — scavengers eager for any news scraps concerning the No. 1 most profitable collegiate program in the world. The buzzards smelt something, and they were right; Herman’s Cougars coaching career is dead, and he will take over for the Burnt Orange in 2017.
The year began as advertised for a Houston team that lost only once last season. After an undefeated start, the Cougars got sunk by Navy Week 6, and with the Herman rumors reaching a fever pitch, could never recover their competitive equilibrium, going 4-3 in the second half of the season. A coaching announcement may be coming soon; Lane Kiffin has been linked to the opening. Since joining the AAC in 2013, the Cougars have four consecutive winning seasons and bowl berths, totaling a 38-14 record. Herman and coach Tony Levine have paved the groundwork for any coaching replacement.
Expect Houston continuing as a Texas FBS powerhouse moving forward.
2. A&M — Last Week: 2 (8-4)
The majority of Texas FBS coach could face their respective athletic departments’ executioner’s axe of unemployment this off season, and fifth year coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t the exception. For the fourth consecutive year, the Aggies started hot, but faded as every Sumlin team does down the stretch. The buyout tag —$14 million — is too high, but 2017 could mark the A&M HC’s swan song if he can’t get it going — an aged fighter struggling with endurance issues during the championship rounds in the latter parts of his career.
The positive is the sheer volume of recruits pouring into College Station; their 24 commits for 2017 leads Texas, heading by Plano East four-star linebacker Anthony Hines, Manvel four-star safety Derrick Tucker, and Cypress Creek four-star offensive tackle Grayson Reed.
The revolving door quarterback situation of the past years needs to be addressed. Trevor Knight did a solid job until his throwing shoulder was nearly torn from his body, but he is in his last year of eligibility. Keep an eye out for the possible transfer of Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
3. TCU — Last Week: 3 (6-6)
The Horned Frogs were a team I pegged as a lock for the fourth CFP berth in the preseason. After a slew of 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 6-6.
Coach Patterson ended the season with a 22 minute monologue of a press conference, stressing the importance of building a reliable foundation for next season. In their final week against Kansas State, TCU failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2006. The offense favored the passing game, despite quarterback Kenny Hill’s interception habit, throwing for 37 plays to 36 runs — an oddity considering running back Kyle Hicks totaling 954 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, Hill’s tally of 537 yards and nine touchdowns, and Darrius Anderson emerging as a viable option with 103 yards and a touchdown against UT two weeks ago.
In their previous home game against OSU, the Horned Frogs finished with a sole touchdown. TCU must win the Liberty Bowl against Georgia to ensure a winning season in 13 of the past 15 years under Patterson and 16 of 19 for the Frogs going back to 1998, during the Dennis Franchione era.
The disappointing season marked the second time since 2005 they failed to reach eight wins.
4. Baylor — Last Week: 6 (6-6)
The Bears existed in a bubble this season — an unstable dome in which outside forces condemning the school’s moral ineptitude began splintering the facade of normalcy that coach Jim Grobe stressed on his players. After Week 6, the bubble burst, the controversy surrounding Baylor clearing influencing their roster, and causing the team to drop six straight games.
How did it happen? It doesn’t help that Baylor doesn’t have a coach, or any leads for someone who will take the job. Frontrunner Chad Morris opted to stay in SMU; Jeff Brohm has been interviewed, but most names on the short list will likely go the Morris route, and stay with their program for another year until something more opportunistic shows up.
It also does nothing for the Bears that they’re down to a sole 2017 recruit — a bad sign for a team that may face stiff penalties for numerous reports of sexual abuse in the coming seasons.
5. UTSA — Last Week: 4 (6-6)
USA Today called it “college football’s best startup”, but attendance was sagging considerably for a program that once started with such upside. Initially, the start-up held a then record highest ever attendance for an NCAA Division I FCS start-up program with 56,743. After three seasons in Conference USA, in which their record steadily decline, a mere 22,380 showed up to the Roadrunners opener this year against Alabama State — an all-time low in UTSA school history.
Heralded recruiting Frank Wilson 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 6-6 record; after six years of existence, UTSA is finally eligible for a bowl game. Most of the wins and losses in Conference USA are insignificant when it comes to AP Top-25 national recognition, but credit to the young program for playing ASU and A&M close this season, losing by an average 8.5 points.
6. Tech — Last Week: 5 (5-7)
7. UT — Last Week: 7 (5-7)
8. UNT — Last Week: 8 (5-7)
9. SMU — Last Week: 9 (5-7)
10. UTEP — Last Week: 10 (4-8)
11. Rice — Last Week: 11 (3-9)
12. Texas State — Last Week: 12 (2-10)