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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Contrarian View: Low Voter Turnout Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing

If you're young and single like me and live in the Cultural District of one of the nicest cities in America, then you don't have to look very far to find something interesting to occupy your time and attention on weekends (or anytime). I still pick up a copy of Fort Worth Weekly once a week, though, if only to keep up on what's going on in my neck of the woods. FW Weekly has the social scene in Cowtown covered, and I sometimes enjoy their articles on local, off-beat stories as well. When it comes to political commentary, though, the publication leaves a lot to be desired. Example: an opinion piece by one Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue in last week's issue entitled "Apocalypse by Apathy."

Wheatcroft-Pardue laments the "tragedy" of "how few" people voted in the recent midterm elections. He starts off with an anecdote about an elderly woman he encountered while block-walking on the North Side a few weeks before the election. (For those of you not familiar with Fort Worth, the "North Side" is a largely Hispanic, poorer-than-average area on--where else--the north side of town. To many locals, it has two components: the Stockyards and "the ghetto". It is an important source of votes for Democrats.) This woman told him that she was "sick of the government and all the things they’re doing." He deduced that she would not be voting in this election and offered one possible cause: "the grab bag of pseudo-hysterical news coverage, much of it without context or common sense, that she and the rest of us had endured these past months."

I can't say I take issue with his characterization of the media coverage of and seemingly incessant punditry concerning ISIS and Ebola, two things Wheatcroft-Pardue specifically mentioned in the next sentence, but I don't recall seeing or hearing any "pseudo-hysterical news coverage, much of it without context or common sense," of things the government has been doing (save for the inane ramblings of MSNBC's on-air talent about crazy conservatives enacting voter ID laws and curtailing women's "reproductive rights", a newly popular euphemism for butchering unborn children), which, according to the writer, was what this woman actually referenced as making her "sick".

But to the meat of the article: Wheatcroft-Pardue reminds us of President Obama's post-election statement that he’d heard "everyone who voted" as well as "the two-thirds of voters who chose not to" and suggests, "Maybe we should all try to do likewise. This poor woman I talked with on a Saturday morning in October represents so many of those who chose not to vote."

Stop right there. The sentiment, which Wheatcroft-Pardue evidently shares, that the President expressed with his one-third/two-thirds remark is based on an assumption that the Americans who were eligible to vote in this election but chose not to were sending a message by not voting just as those of us who did vote sent a message with our choices at the polls. If you agree with that, then it begs the question: What message do you think these non-voters sent by not voting? To attribute the deliberate choice millions of Americans made this year to not vote to "apathy" is unfair and incorrect. Do Wheatcroft-Pardue and others who think like him (I assure you there are many.) honestly believe that none of these people determined that they had no good options on the ballot or nothing worth voting for or made another thoughtful, principled decision not to vote?

The cynical explanation for low voter turnout propounded in this article and elsewhere also allows individuals and groups whose policies and ideas were soundly rejected in the latest election to delude themselves--and try to convince others--that a lot more people actually agree with them and share their vision for America; they just didn't turn out to show their support when they had the chance. I have to admit: that is a tempting thought, and I almost fell victim to it in 2012, though I quickly realized that there was nothing to substantiate it. Also, 2012 was not nearly as bad for Republicans as 2014 has been for Democrats. Even as we were devastated by the re-election (by a substantial margin) of Barack Obama and Democratic victories in nearly every tight U.S. Senate race, ill-gotten though they were, those of us on the right could take solace in the fact that the GOP retained a sizable majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and dominated the election at the state level. There is no comparable consolation prize for left-wingers in the results of this election cycle.

Wheatcroft-Pardue goes on:

In this go-round, 17 percent of the electorate — generally older, whiter, more affluent than the general population — got to change the course of our nation and perhaps our planet, effectively vetoing what a larger, more representative electorate OK’d in 2012. I don’t think anyone should feel good about that.
I do. Here's why: Aside from the obvious importance of protecting minority rights from the tyranny of the majority, voters who vote in every election are by definition more "engaged" than those who only vote in presidential election cycles. While Ken is correct that the midterm electorate is typically "older, whiter [and] more affluent than the general population," we are also better-informed and more likely to keep up on important issues and know where the candidates stand on the issues and understand the consequences of our votes than the electorate in years when the presidency is on the ballot. It's curious (and disturbing) that Wheatcroft-Pardue appears to be more concerned about a minority of the country "effectively vetoing what a larger, more representative electorate OK’d in 2012" than he is about the decisions of clueless drones overwhelming the will of intelligent voters who make reasoned, well-informed choices based on truth and reality.

Not surprisingly, he then proposes something terrible:  

I think it’s time we try an idea from Down Under: In Australia, if you don’t vote, you get a ticket. Surely voting is as much a civic duty as serving on a jury or paying our taxes. Since we already pay a fine if we shirk jury duty or dodge paying taxes, why shouldn’t we pay a penalty for not voting?
Because, Ken, votes have consequences for the country as a whole, and unlike the consequences for "shirk[ing] jury duty" or not paying taxes, the consequences of uninformed or misinformed people voting are long-lasting and can't be effectively remedied. Millions of Americans who voted to re-elect President Obama may have buyer's remorse, but we're stuck with the guy as our commander-in-chief 'til 2017, unless he dies or quits. And, no, voting is so not "as much a civic duty as serving on a jury or paying our taxes." Voting is more like military service. You should be allowed to do it if you want and meet certain basic requirements, but no one should be forced to do it. And, just like joining the Armed Services, it's very important that you know what you're doing, and you should only do it for the right reasons, though the government shouldn't prevent you from voting just because it doesn't like your motive(s).

Wheatcroft-Pardue also takes a parting shot at our state's voter ID law and trots out the oft-repeated but completely baseless claim that it is "blatantly designed to suppress the votes of the poor, college students, and minorities". This is one of multiple claims about voter ID laws that have been thoroughly discredited, but I digress. Making it easier to register to vote and cast your ballot may be a good idea, but making it easier to commit voter fraud isn't. Neither is penalizing eligible voters for not participating in elections. Being governed by politicians you don't like seems to me punishment enough for not voting when you have the right.

He says that "we should all be outraged by" low voter turnout. This is a classic example of outrage directed at one of the consequences of a problem, rather than at the problem itself. What's causing low voter turnout? Again I say that if you're not well-informed, then you shouldn't vote. And, if eligible voters are staying away from the polls because they can't, or don't know enough to, make a well-informed decision, then Wheatcroft-Pardue and others who are so upset over how low turnout was in this election should refocus their ire on the failure of would-be voters to pay attention to what's going on, form opinions, and study the candidates and their positions (as well as the merits of any ballot measures). Curiously, Wheatcroft-Pardue closes by stating that "there can be no true consent of the governed if so very few bother to vote." That may be so, but just like consenting to participate in a dangerous sport or undergo an invasive medical procedure, it must be informed consent to be meaningful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WaPo: In nearly every race, Republican Senate candidates outperformed the polls

Here's another thing for me to file under "I wanted to do something like this, but now I don't have to because someone else did it."
Washington Post reporter Philip Bump has a short but sweet post on The Fix that includes this neat little graphic:
A week before Election Day, I posited on the accuracy of the polls in key Senate races and compared candidates' poll positions in Senate contests in the same states four years ago with the 2010 election results. I found that, in every U.S. Senate race except the one in Colorado, the candidate who was ahead in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of polls won, but in many states, the polls greatly exaggerated or undertold the winner's eventual margin of victory. By comparison, Bump's analysis shows that, this year, the polls were more skewed in one direction, although - with the exception of North Carolina - they were correct about who would win.
The most important line from Bump's piece was its last sentence: "In this case, the polls largely predicted the correct winners, but -- with select exceptions such as the Des Moines Register poll last weekend that showed Joni Ernst (R) ahead by as wide a margin as occurred -- the scale of the victories was way off." This is what I suggested could be the case in my October 28 post.

Senator Scott Explains Why Some Groups' "Scorecards" for Members of Congress are Stupid

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who became the first black U.S. Senator from South Carolina last year after Gov. Nikki Haley (R) appointed him to replace Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who resigned to take over the Heritage Foundation, and became the first black U.S. Senator elected from the South since Reconstruction and the first African-American in U.S. history to be elected to both the House and the Senate by winning a special election on Tuesday to fill the remainder of DeMint's term, appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe last week. In response to a question about his "agenda" from fellow guest Joe Klien, Scott said that he was "very interested in creating a foundation of education for . . . kids living in poverty, kids like myself who perhaps live in the wrong ZIP code, going to underperforming schools." Thomas Roberts, one of the more muted left-wing ideologues on the network, took issue with that. He challenged the Senator:

Sir, you said . . . you are concerned about kids that are growing up in the wrong zip code and like yourself that had a tough start on the way out, but if we look at agencies that are following some of your voting records, [then] they have concern, and the NAACP has given you an "F" on their annual scorecard. They also say you voted against the ACA; you voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress; you oppose the Congressional Black Caucus' budget, delayed funding on a settlement between the U.S. and black farmers who say that they were prejudiced against because of their race. So how do you respond to that, if your true concern is about lower income families and kids?
Scott's response is priceless:

Note the apparent (and erroneous) assumption underlying Roberts's question: that these "agencies that are following some of [the Senator's] voting records" also "have concern" about what Senator Scott said he is "concerned about". I am sure that there are groups that track the voting records of members of Congress and are genuinely concerned about children living in poverty who are deprived of the opportunities other children have because of where they're growing up, but the example Roberts cited was the NAACP. As I mentioned in a post over two years ago, the NAACP has become a partisan entity, but a number of voters (including, it would seem, Thomas Roberts) still see it as a trustworthy, independent source of information. If the NAACP is truly concerned about kids that are growing up in the wrong ZIP code and have "a tough start on the way out," as Roberts suggested, then why is the organization officially opposed to school voucher plans and state takeovers of poorly performing school districts, especially in light of its National Education Program's professed objective "to ensure that all students have access to an equal and high-quality public education by eliminating education-related racial and ethnic disparities in our public schools"? Not only does the NAACP adamantly oppose school choice, but it has actively joined legal efforts in Florida and North Carolina challenging the constitutionality of those states' voucher programs.

Notice also the list of votes Roberts ticked off that evidently earned Scott his failing grade on the NAACP's scorecard. What exactly does voting against Obamacare, voting to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt, opposing the Congressional Black Caucus' budget, or delaying funding on a settlement between the U.S. and black farmers have to do with being concerned about kids who are growing up in the wrong ZIP code and going to underperforming schools? Roberts did not say, and I can't fathom a connection. The Senator appropriately brought up something he had voted on that was related to the issue. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, he pointed out, "has produced [a] higher percentage of kids going to college:" "91% of the kids graduating from high school versus 56% for those who are simply in everyday schools in D.C." (Scott misspoke; he was referring to the graduation rate among students in the program versus public school students in D.C., not what percentage of high school graduates the program has produced, but his numbers check out. 91% of students who used a voucher to attend private school graduated high school, while the DCPS (District of Columbia Public Schools) graduation rate last year was 56%.) Curiously absent from the votes Roberts listed was the House of Representatives 2011 vote on H.R. 471, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, which restored the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and increased the scholarship amounts for the 2011-2012 school year. In addition to voting for the SOAR Act, Scott was a cosponsor of the legislation. Shortly before the vote, the NAACP stated in an "urgent action alert" that they were "vigorously opposed to this legislation . . . due to the fact that the 5 year pilot program in D.C. was, by all accounts, a failure; neither the majority of D.C. residents nor their democratically elected representatives want the program; and due to our underlying opposition to school vouchers."

Without delving into the obvious biases and inaccuracies in the NAACP's stated reasons for opposing the restoration of a program that an independent, federally-mandated evaluation determined was "a success," I can see why Roberts wouldn't call attention to Scott's support for, or the NAACP's opposition to, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. This brief exchange between the two men provides an example of how loosely tethered some of these "scorecards" for elected officials are to the purported missions of the groups doing the scoring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What 2010 Can Tell Us about How Accurate the Polls Are a Week from Election Day

With polls showing Republicans in good shape as Election Day approaches, one may wonder: Are these polls accurate? In the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, we can look to the previous midterm election for some empirical data to help answer that question before we actually see the results on election night. It's especially helpful because most of the states with competitive Senate races this year--including New Hampshire, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and Alaska--all had Senate races in 2010 as well. So, how were the Senate candidates in those states doing in the polls one week out from Election Day four years ago?
The short answer is: In all of the aforementioned states except Alaska (where incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) was campaigning as a write-in candidate against Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams), the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate led his/her Democratic opponent in all or most of the polls heading into the final week of the campaign. Were the polls correct? Well, sort of...
In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte had a nine-point lead over her Democratic adversary, then-Congressman Paul Hodes, in the RealClearPolitics Average of polls on October 26, 2010 (one week before Election Day 2010). Ayotte continued to expand her lead and ended up routing Hodes, 60% to 37%, in the general election. This year, the Senate race in New Hampshire is much closer: As of today, the incumbent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), holds a lead of 2.2 percentage points in the RCP Average over her challenger, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). If Brown finishes strong the way Ayotte did in 2010, then he may yet return to the U.S. Senate.

Similarly, in Iowa, the Senate race in 2010 wasn't competitive, unlike the one this year. Four years ago, Sen. Charles Grassley (R) was such a heavy favorite to win re-election that there wasn't much polling of the race, at least not by independent (unaffiliated) outfits. A Des Moines Register poll conducted in late October nailed Grassley's margin of victory over former U.S. Attorney Roxanne Conlin (D): 31 percentage points. This year, the Register's latest poll found state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) ahead of Rep. Bruce Braley (D) by just one percentage point, 47% to 46%. That comports with the current RCP Average of polls, which has Ernst leading Braley by 1.7 percentage points.

Same story in Georgia: The Senate race in 2010 wasn't competitive at all; this year it's a nail-biter. However, there was something unique about the Georgia Senate race four years ago. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) handily defeated his Democratic challenger, State Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond, 58% to 39%, but polls overestimated his margin of victory. All the publicly released poll results in late October that year showed Isakson winning by anywhere from 21 to 30 percentage points. This year, the polls are showing a virtual tie between businessman David Perdue (R) and Points of Light CEO Michelle Nunn (D); Perdue's lead over Nunn in the RCP Average today is one-half a percentage point. Because this race will go to a runoff if no candidate wins an outright majority of the vote in the general election, and because all the polls are indicating that is exactly what will happen, further analysis of this race seems premature right now.

Admittedly, the dynamics of an open race are so different from a race with an incumbent in it that trying to use one to predict what will happen in the other may not be empirically sound. So, what races can we look to for an apples-to-apples comparison? Try Arkansas, where Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) was probably the most vulnerable incumbent in the U.S. Senate in 2010, and she lost in a landslide to then-Congressman John Boozman (R), who won Lincoln's seat with 58% of the vote. (Lincoln received 37%, almost exactly her poll position in the RCP Average--37.8%--on October 26, 2010.) Late deciders must have broken for Boozman, who stood at 54.5% in the RCP average one week out. If history repeats itself this year, then the lone remaining Democrat in Arkansas's congressional delegation, Sen. Mark Pryor (D), will soon be replaced by Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who today leads Prior by five percentage points in the RCP Average, 46.8% to 41.8%.

Colorado was one state where the pollsters really missed the mark in 2010. A week before Election Day that year, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) led Sen. Michael Bennet (D), who had been appointed to the seat in 2009, by one percentage point in the RCP Average. By Election Day, however, that lead had grown to three percentage points. Buck appeared to have the momentum going into the election, but Bennett managed to pull out one of the tightest victories that year, winning election to a full term by less than 2% of the vote. (Buck received 46.4% of the vote, significantly less than his 49.3% standing in the RCP average on Election Day, while Bennett took 48.08%, slightly more than the 46.3% the RCP average of polls had him winning. What probably happened is that a lot of voters who were going to vote for Buck ended up voting for one of the third-party or "Independent" candidates on the ballot, or maybe they just didn't vote.) This year, Rep. Cory Gardner (R) has a slightly larger lead over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D), 3.3 percentage points in the RCP Average, and he hasn't made a lot - or really any - of the stupid mistakes Buck made four years ago. Republicans are also determined this year not to get caught off guard again by the Democrats' ground game. Suppose for a minute, though, that this race plays out from here just like the 2010 contest did. That would mean Gardner would continue to gain in the polls and head into Election Day with a lead of between five and six percentage points in the RCP average. If the actual election results then showed a four-point swing towards Udall, then Gardner would still win. It's also worth noting that Udall is polling much lower than Bennett was four years ago. However, there are also more "undecided" voters than there were at this point in the 2010 race, so while Udall has more ground to make up than Bennett did in the last week of the campaign, there are also more potential late deciders who could swing this race.
In North Carolina, the polls were much more accurate in 2010. Incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) led his Democratic challenger, then-North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, by 10.7 percentage points in the RCP Average on October 26th, and he won re-election by a twelve-point margin, 55% to 43%. (One interesting thing to note is that, in that race, undecided voters appear to have split evenly between the two candidates, something we don't usually see in a race where one candidate has a comfortable lead in the polls and is expected to win.) That may be good news for Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who is currently clinging to a one-percentage-point lead over her Republican challenger, State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R). Unlike Marshall in 2010, however, Tillis appears to be chipping away at the incumbent's lead, which was 3.8 percentage points in the RCP Average at the beginning of this month. But Hagan may be helped by the Libertarian candidate in the race, Sean Haugh, who was not a factor in 2010.

In Louisiana four years ago, Democrats tried to pick off incumbent Sen. and probable prostitute patron David Vitter (R) with Rep. Charlie Melancon (D). In another state where a candidate must receive a majority of the vote to win, Vitter avoided a runoff, winning 57% of the vote to Melancon's 38%. One week before Election Day, Vitter led Melancon by exactly sixteen percentage points in the RCP Average. This year, it's Republicans who are trying to pick off a Democratic incumbent, and let's just say it's going to a runoff; the latest polls indicate that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) will likely receive a plurality of the vote in the "jungle primary" next week but not even close to the 50% needed to avoid a runoff, which would likely be won by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R). In a one-on-one matchup, Cassidy leads Landrieu by 4.5 percentage points in the RCP Average. 
Although there were also Senate races in Kansas and Alaska in 2010, those races were so different from the ones in those states this year that I don't think it's useful to look at them. Also, while there was a Senate race in Kentucky four years ago, I don't really consider the race between incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) to be "competitive" at this point; McConnell has a small but consistent lead, and Grimes is showing no traction whatsoever.

What about the "generic ballot"? Republicans have a six-point advantage among likely voters in the Washington Post/ABC News poll out this week. That's even better than they were doing four years ago, writes FOX News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt:
Double, double, toil and trouble - Struggling with female voters and young voters, Democrats fare worse in the latest WaPo/ABC poll than they did at the same point ahead of the disastrous 2010 election and at the same level as the punishing 1994 midterm elections that cost them both houses of Congress. Without any significant increase in Democratic intensity since the previous polling cycle, the auguries are getting dire for the president’s party.
Among registered voters, Democrats lead Republicans in the poll, 47% to 44%, but that's "identical to the difference recorded at this point in 2010." That poll may actually be good news for Democrats when compared with the results of a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey, in which 52% of likely voters in the survey said they wanted the election to produce a Republican-led Congress, while 41% favored Democratic control.

"By historical measures, an 11-point lead on the question of which party should control Congress is large," Janet Hook wrote for the WSJ. "Republicans held a seven-point lead on the question at this point in the 2010 election in a Journal/NBC survey, which used a different method to determine which voters were most likely to cast ballots."

Finally, if you're one of those statistics-mongers who just can't get enough data and analysis, or if you're looking for a number to put on the GOP's odds of taking over the U.S. Senate this cycle, then consider this:

Today, One week out from Election Day 2014, Nate Silver’s infamous FiveThirtyEight gives the GOP a 64.6% chance of winning the Senate, and "the Upshot" (a similar thing affiliated with the New York Times) says there’s a 70% likelihood of the same. The Washington Post’s Election Lab, meanwhile, forecasts that Republicans will see a net gain of seven Senate seats and projects a 93% chance Republicans take the upper chamber. Make of this what you will; I'm going back to running my law practice.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Day of the Upset ... but not in Austin

I am admittedly a little late getting this post up, but then, I don't write about sports for a living. (To loyal readers and followers of this blog, sorry it has been so long since I've posted something. I've had ideas, believe me, but starting a law practice from scratch and keeping it afloat are very time-consuming.)

It's been a while since there's been so much upheaval in the NCAA football rankings in one week, or even in one day. On Saturday, 11th-ranked Mississipi ("Ole Miss") beat No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma lost to TCU, which had just made it into the AP Top 25 this season, and 12th-ranked Mississippi State battered some stupid cow college that was ranked No. 6. Add to that No. 2 Oregon's embarrassing home loss to unranked Arizona, and you had four of the top six teams losing this week, causing a scrambling of the rankings at the top of the AP poll. No. 17 Wisconsin and 18th-ranked Brigham Young University also lost to unranked teams, (Northwestern and Utah State, respectively).

Other top-ranked schools avoided being upset, most importantly No. 7 Baylor, which handed Texas its third loss at home this year. The Bears almost shut out the Longhorns, but two costly penalties against Baylor's defense on UT's last possession of the game allowed them to score a touchdown with 2:14 remaining.

The 'horns nearly scored twice in the first half, but Baylor defensive lineman Beau Blackshear successfully blocked a 52-yard field goal attempt, and safety Terrell Burt scooped up the ball and returned it 62 yards for his second career touchdown. Then, right before halftime, Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes fumbled the snap at the 1-yard line, and Blackshear was there to recover the ball.

The most spectacular drive of the game was easily the one kept alive by Baylor punter Spencer Roth’s faked punt and 19-yard run on fourth-and-5 in the third quarter. Three plays later, quarterback Bryce Petty completed a pass to Antwan Goodley, who ran it into the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown.

The 28-7 final score could easily have been more lopsided, but the referees took six points for Baylor off the scoreboard in the second quarter after an official review determined that Petty was stopped short of the goal line when he ran with the ball on 2nd & Goal from the 5. Texas's surprisingly strong defense managed to keep Baylor out of the end zone on its ensuing two attempts, resulting in a turnover on downs.

Much to my chagrin, the Bears chose to let our QB take a knee on the last play of the game, when Baylor had the ball on the Texas 7-yard line with one second remaining on the clock. The obvious call for me would have been to let Chris Callahan attempt a field goal. I know we didn't need the extra points, but our poor kicker could have used a confidence boost after missing five of his six field goal attempts so far this season, and to deny him that opportunity, when there was nothing on line, came across (to me, at least) as a slight at the young man.

For those of you not familiar with the history and dynamics of the Big Twelve, let me explain why this game was such a big deal. Texas used to be the big dog, the king of the conference. They're the most recent Big 12 team to win a national championship (in 2006). They are the school that produced Earl Campbell and Dallas Cowboys icons Tom Landry and Tex Schramm. Movies have been made about Texas football, even about their cheerleaders.

But, in recent years, the mighty have fallen. As mentioned earlier in this post, Texas has lost three home games already this season, putting them at 2-3 overall and 1-1 against conference opponents. They are 14½-point underdogs going in to this Saturday's game against Oklahoma, perenially played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Longtime coach Mack Brown, who led them to that national championship and another Big 12 conference title in 2009, stepped down at the end of the 2013 season, and the team has apparently not been doing well under his successor, Charlie Strong.

Even before Brown’s exit, the school's football program was clearly in decline. I'm told that that their 8-5 record last year made Brown the first coach in Texas history to have four straight seasons with at least four losses.

Texas's decline overlapped with Baylor's rapid ascent. In the past four years, my alma mater has played in four consecutive bowl games--a first in school history--turned out a Heisman trophy winner--another first--and won its first Big 12 title. Oh, and we've got a fancy new stadium on the north bank of the Brazos River now, too.

The unofficial passing of the torch may have come last December when Baylor defeated Texas 30-10 to win that conference title.

The feelings of resentment among other teams, especially Texas, are stark, as Jordan Garrettson reported for the AP last week:

"They're still Baylor," said John Harris, who leads Texas with 336 receiving yards. "Just because they started playing better, that's good for them. We're still Texas."
Those remarks came about six months after Longhorns linebacker Steve Edmond was reprimanded by the Big 12 for his disrespectful comments toward the Bears after spring practice.
"I really don't like Baylor. I still feel they're trash," Edmond said. "Y'all think it's funny, but I'm dead serious. They've had some good players. But I don't understand how we lost to Baylor."
These players' jeers at the new king of the Big 12 underscore what is becoming an undeniable fact: the upper echelon of the NCAA bowl subdivision (the FBS) is, to many schools, an elite club of historically dominant teams, and they don't like it when schools they used to beat the tar out of improve themselves and break into that upper echelon. I'm sure it hasn't been fun for Texas, Oklahoma or Baylor's old archrival, Texas A&M, to hear sportscasters gush over Baylor this season and last and how we're now the stars of the Big 12 and had the No. 1 offense in the FBS last season after years of ridicule and derision.

Baylor's upcoming game against TCU is also significant for many reasons, including some of the same. See, no matter what they say now, TCU was grateful to be a part of the Big 12 after the conference reshuffling in 2011-12. For years, the Horned Frogs felt that their football team was underrated and underranked. A 13-0 record and a Rose Bowl victory in 2011 brought them national renown on a level they had not enjoyed since the days of Abe Martin. (I'm sure former Horned Frog LaDainian Tomlinson's star power helped as well.) It's fair to say that a lot of TCU students, alums and other fans expected them to be the talk of the Big 12 when they joined the conference in 2012.

But it was not to be. Roughly eleven months after the Horned Frogs capped their undefeated season with their first Rose Bowl win, Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy, a high honor in a remarkable season for Baylor. RG3 proved to be not only a stellar quarterback but a recruiting boon like nothing Baylor's football program had ever had before. Although they had some adjustments to make in its first season post-RG3, the Bears still managed to finish a respectable 8-5, including a stunning upset of then No. 1-ranked Kansas State and a Holiday Bowl victory over UCLA. Meanwhile, despite a 49-21 rout of Baylor in October, TCU finished their debut season as a Big 12 team with a bowl game loss to Michigan State and a 7-6 record overall (4-5 in conference games). They ended the year unranked for the first time since 2007. More importantly, Baylor was picking up a lot of high school talent that would otherwise have gone to other schools, such as TCU. One of BU's most potent weapons this year and last, running back Shock Linwood, was once a commit to TCU. So was current Baylor defensive lineman Andrew Billings.
The long-running Baylor-TCU rivalry (which I've just learned has been nicknamed "The Revivalry") got even hotter last year, when Baylor defeated the Horned Frogs 41-38 in Fort Worth on their way to that Big 12 title. After the game, TCU coach Gary Patterson unloaded on his Baylor counterpart. Sports columnist Gil LeBreton wrote for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

“The bottom line,” Patterson said, “is he’s picking on the wrong guy.”
It was one of a steamy series of Patterson-issued “bottom lines” Saturday. His voice shook with anger, even though Patterson claimed he wasn’t mad.
He professed, more than once, that he had “respect for him” and “respect for his program,” even as he questioned the Bears’ class.
At the root of it, Patterson tried to explain, was Baylor senior safety Ahmad Dixon’s targeting penalty on Frogs receiver Trevone Boykin and what Briles did or didn’t do in the wake of it.
“Here’s the bottom line to it,” Patterson said, “No. 6 [Dixon] beats a guy up at the beginning of the season and he didn’t get suspended. He takes a shot today, and I want him kicked out.
 And the head coach comes across the field at me.”
Patterson contended that while officials were discussing the penalty, Briles came onto the field and yelled something at him.
Their postgame handshake later, Patterson reported, was brief, but went right to the sore spot at hand.
“I didn’t say anything,” the TCU coach said. “He said, ‘Leave it on the field.’
 I said not. You come across the field at me and later you want me to leave it on the field? No.”
Dixon was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge in a September incident. He was not suspended from the team, leading Patterson to say Saturday, “They didn’t correct the problem a long time ago.”
Instead of Briles admonishing Dixon for Saturday’s illegal third-quarter hit, Patterson became further agitated that TV cameras spotted the ejected player still sitting on the Baylor bench.
“I’ve got coaches up in the box saying he’s laughing on TV underneath his towel,” Patterson said. “Well, I didn’t think it was that funny.”
Patterson continued, “The bottom line is, we’re not going to do that. Gary Patterson lives in Fort Worth. If he’s got a problem with me, here’s where I live.”

“No, I just told him his kids did a great job and good luck during the rest of the year and then in recruiting,” Briles said.
But Patterson took the brief interchange more personally.
“He comes across the field at me?” Patterson said. “Nuh-uh.
“I didn’t build this program to back down to anybody, and I’m not going to do it to him. Not in recruiting or in anything we do.”
Briles, expectedly, responded to Patterson's rant with customary Baylor class:

“No, I just told him his kids did a great job and good luck during the rest of the year and then in recruiting,” Briles said.
But Patterson took the brief interchange more personally.
“He comes across the field at me?” Patterson said. “Nuh-uh.
 I didn’t build this program to back down to anybody, and I’m not going to do it to him. Not in recruiting or in anything we do.”
Perhaps Patterson, who deserves credit for what he's done as TCU head coach, was truly upset about what Dixon did (BTW, Gary, football is called a "contact sport" for a reason.) and what he perceived as Baylor's failure to "correct the problem" sooner, but methinks it was a column by the very popular and respected Randy Galloway in the Star-Telegram earlier that month that really got the notoriously hot-tempered coach's goat. Under the biting headline "Gary Patterson is no longer the flavor of the fall," the doyen of Texas sports writers described the recent (and sudden) reversal of fortune for the Horned Frogs' football program and its illustrious coach thusly:
What the heck happened to Gary in Fort Worth?
Just one year ago, after taking a backup quarterback into Austin on Thanksgiving night and beating Texas, there were columns being written on why Gary Patterson should NOT be the leading candidate to replace Mack Brown.
Those columns were in response to Austin stories that the UT money boys wanted to hire GP, hire him like right now. But with all the outside crap involved with that particular job, a dug-in Patterson didn’t seem to be a guy who would tolerate the program’s built-in distractions.
Even in a somewhat disappointing first season (2012) in the Big 12, Patterson’s reputation didn’t lose luster. In August, in a conference poll of players, the question was what coach would you like to play for other than your own?
Patterson was the players’ choice.
But at the moment, with TCU struggling, GP has dropped off the hot list of college coaches. He’s not even lukewarm.
Guess who Randy called "the new football flavor of the fall"?

I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count. But you can see him and his team in action Saturday afternoon against TCU.