Despite being light years away, or least on the other side of a warm summer of dodging hurricanes, it’s never too early to talk a little college football. Their fans might think the Longhorns will win the National Championship every year, but all eyes will not be upon the University of Texas; many will be paying close attention to their arch nemesis — the Fightin’ Aggies of Texas A&M.
The Aggies departed the Big 12 and head to the big bad Southeastern Conference, which has produced the last six BCS national titles. Good news for the Ags is the fact they got rid of a bore of a coach in Mike Sherman and took offensive-minded Kevin Sumlin away from the University of Houston. Regardless of how it took place, TAMU needed a change.
TAMU goes from playing some patsies in non-conference to one of the toughest schedules this season. Aggies will open the season at home against Louisiana Tech, who nearly defeated TCU in a bowl game last season and return a ton of offensive weapons. Opening the season with a loss at home would really damper things.
The biggest question in College Station will be who is going to start at quarterback? Johnny Manziel? Jameill Showers? Matt Davis? Or true freshman Matt Joeckel? The offensive line is legit, so whoever it will be should have plenty of protection. I’ll tell you this — receiver Ryan Swope will flourish with this offense.
There are South Carolina State and Sam Houston State on the docket, so the Aggies won’t go winless, but don’t expect the Maroon and White to give Sumlin a free pass this season. Aggies want to win now, but they won’t.
Did you realize that Texas has gone 6-11 against Big 12 teams in the past two seasons? Have no fear. Mack Brown will save the day (insert eye roll here). The ’Horns will open the season 3-0 with wins over Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss before they get a week off and have a real test at Oklahoma State.
Tons of starters are back on offense, but they need to settle on a quarterback already. Sophomore David Ash or junior Case McCoy? Their top four receivers are returning, as are running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.
Six starters return on defense led by senior defensive end Alex Okafor and junior Jackson Jeffcoat. The secondary looks good with Kenny Vaccaro.
I like the ’Horns chances to have a good year unless the offense sputters. If that side of the ball is a mess again, they’ll struggle to win eight games.
TCU finally has its chance in a BCS conference, and return their quarterback, running back and top three receivers from a year ago. After a nasty offseason, which involved several arrests of players, the Horned Frogs should get off to a fast start with such a soft schedule, which includes Grambling State, Kansas, Virginia, SMU, Iowa State and Baylor. But their remaining schedule looks like this — at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, Kansas State, at Texas and Oklahoma. Nowhere to run there, but at worst they’ll have eight or nine wins.
Texas Tech defeated No. 3 Oklahoma on the road but then failed to win six games. Nearly every starter is back on both sides of the ball, and they too will get a quick start to the season by playing Northwestern State (of the Southland Conference), at Texas State and New Mexico. No improvement this season and Tommy Tuberville is as good as gone.
Baylor fans, last year is probably as good as it will ever get. Gone is your Heisman Trophy winner in RGIII, but don’t sleep on coach Art Briles. His offense will provide some scoring power but nothing like what you’ve seen over the last few years. Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk will likely be called upon to make plays, but with your three main offensive weapons gone, there’s going to be some growing pains. Opening the season at home against SMU on Sunday, Sept. 2 is a must-win.
The Houston Cougars had themselves a dream season as the Coogs went 13-1 and finished the year by dominating Penn State, 30-14 in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas.
Gone is head coach Kevin Sumlin and their offensive leader in quarterback Case Keenum. The school promoted Tony Levine as head coach, and he turns to sophomore David Piland, who started eight games in 2010 for the injured Keenum and threw for 2,600 yards. Returning is last year’s leading rusher, junior Charles Sims, but the big key will be the receivers.
The schedule is favorable for UH as they play just four road games, one being at SMU in Dallas. Expect a drop-off, but don’t expect Houston to miss out on a bowl game in its final season in Conference USA.
SMU hammered Pitt in the Compass Bowl, 28-6, but limped into that bowl game after losing four of its last six games. Coach June Jones also has a quarterback problem, but he hopes to have Garrett Gilbert in uniform. For that to happen, Gilbert has to take 27 college hours this summer and graduate from the University of Texas in order to be eligible this year.
If they can avoid a late season downer, SMU should compete for the C-USA West Division title.
Rice is, well … Rice. Ten starters are back from last year’s 4-8 group. The running back department looks good with Charles Ross and Sam McGuffie, who needs to play up to his offseason hype, but the quarterback position is weaker than a strip-club drink.Junior Taylor McHargue will be the No. 1 guy, and that’s not saying much. McHargue has been injury-prone and has yet to prove he’s a leader.
Expect the same 15,000 Rice fans to show up for home games to gallantly cheer on sixth-year head coach David Bailiff’s efforts. The good news is the Owls play UTSA, a first year school, for homecoming on Oct. 13. The bad news is Rice fans will be stuck with Bailiff for a while after another losing campaign.
The WAC has become a mess of a conference, losing Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State. Enter Texas State from the Southland Conference and upstart program UTSA. Texas State went 6-6 last year, and one of its wins came against Lamar, 46-21. Dennis Franchione leads the Bobcats into FBS play with 16 returning starters including their quarterback and top rusher from last season. Expect a rough go in their first season in their new conference as they play Houston, Texas Tech and Navy in non-conference.UTSA went 4-6 last season under former Miami Hurricane coach Larry Coker. The Roadrunners did play tough in two losses against Sam Houston State (22-7) and McNeese State (24-21) and they will play South Alabama, Texas A&M-Commerce, Georgia State and Northwest Oklahoma State, but they won’t be too competitive with the likes of Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State. It’s only their second year of football, but kudos to UTSA for stepping out of the Southland Conference for bigger money.North Texas looks to improve on a 5-7 season under second year coach Dan McCarney. They finished the season winning two of their last three, so that’s a plus, and quarterback Derek Thompson returns. They must find a running back to replace a 1,200-yard runner and learn not to give up so many points on defense.
Chad Cooper can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at cooper [at] theexaminer [dot] com.