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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.

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