The question is this. Which program in the state of Texas sports the best football program?
Is it Baylor?
The Bears are the highest ranked. On Sunday, the defending Big 12 Champions were rated 10th in the Associated Press poll. They held the same spot in USA Today’s preseason poll revealed earlier this month. Yet Baylor missed a chance for real separation with other teams in the state when it stumbled in the Fiesta Bowl. In Bryce Petty, Baylor also has a top Heisman candidate, with the Bears hoping the quarterback will bring the trophy back to Waco for the second time in three years. On Saturday, the Baylor players were able to practice for the first time in their new $266 million stadium. Yet the Bears must fill huge holes in its defense for it to continue all its momentum into 2014.
Is it Texas A&M?
The Aggies were the surprise SEC team in 2012, with Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman as he led the team to an 11-2 record and a Cotton Bowl victory. A&M was thought to be a darkhorse contender for the national championship this time a year ago, but the Aggies faltered a bit to 9-4. Kyle Field is in the midst of a $450 million renovation. The football team officially has moved in to its spiffy locker room with its $16 million refurbishment.
A&M boasted three first rounders in May. They’ve won three straight bowl games and coach Kevin Sumlin, as he goes into his third season in Aggieland, has made College Station a destination spot for the top recruits in the state. But Manziel left early for the pros, leaving A&M with no proven quarterback. The Aggies also have huge question marks on defense, which was one of the worst in the country in 2013. This season will be telling for the A&M program, with the Aggies facing six teams ranked in the preseason top 25. Take a step back in the rabidly competitive SEC and Sumlin’s recruiting momentum could dry up quicker than an August rain shower.
Is it Texas?
The Longhorns are the last team in the state to win a national championship (in 2005) and the last to play for one (2009). UT was ahead of the curve in stadium renovations, getting those out of the way over the past decade. The Longhorns have their own network and are the richest athletic program in the country. For context, they’re so used to winning big that a coach with only eight victories in the regular season gets pushed out, while another one 100 miles down the road with the same regular season record gets a big raise.
But Texas, even with its riches, obviously is in a state of flux. Today’s recruits were in middle school the last time the Longhorns were on top of the college football world. It’s national reputation took another hit when no Longhorn was drafted in May. Charlie Strong is establishing his program and his recruiting base. Texas will face three top 10 teams and no one knows whether quarterback David Ash can stay healthy an entire season. Yet because the Longhorns have recent big winning history, if they get it back, no one will question whether it will stay.
So who is the best program in the state? The situation is too fluid, but it’s currently colored a lot more green and maroon than burnt orange.
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