As I do almost every year, it's time to power-rank Texas College Football's Top Tier Programs. As you might imagine, things are a little different this year. (Note: This ranking involves the football teams ONLY, not the relative strength of the entire athletic department. Regardless of the results on the field UT-Austin will rank #1 and aTm-College Station will rank #2, primarily due to their exclusive access to the PUF)
1. Texas Christian University: But for an injury to Trevone Boykin TCU could have been Texas' lone representative to the College Football Playoff this year. In addition to possibly finishing the season as the highest ranked Texas team in the final Top 25, TCU is recruiting well. Right now this is the top program in Texas. Unlike some other schools it appears that head coach Gary Patterson is quite happy in Fort Worth and is in no hurry to leave. It's doubtful that he would make a move even if a blue-blood school came calling. They appear to be the best, and steadiest, program in the State right now.
2. Baylor University: They're at #2, but it could be 1A. Art Briles and Company has built an offensive powerhouse that can score almost at will. Even with a WR playing quarterback and an entirely revamped offense. They have a new stadium and are, like TCU, leading the pack in the recruiting battles. The biggest question for Baylor now is sustainability. Can they keep Art Briles should a blue-blood program come calling? Can you consistently recruit big-name talent to Waco? More importantly, what's going to happen if (when) the Big XII implodes or expands?
3. University of Houston: This is a pretty amazing turnaround for UH and it all has to do with the coaching mettle of Tom Herman. Former coach Tony Levine had talent, but didn't know what to do with it. Herman has taken the same talent and gone out to complete what should be a top-ten final ranking, a Peach Bowl victory over football blue-blood Florida State, and they just welcomed 5-star transfer Kyle Allen to the team. They have a new stadium and are performing historically well, for a non-power 5 school, in recruiting. Think about that.
4. Texas A&M University: For as bad as it's been in Aggie-land, they're still the #4 team in the State. Middling record aside, I still believe that moving to the SEC was the best thing long-term for the Aggies. When you consider they moved from being a mid-tier team in the Big XII, to a mid-tier team in the recent best conference in all the land, that's a step up. Kyle field is now bigger, but not quite as big as aTm fans think themselves in the college football landscape. That's a concern going forward because it's going to be difficult for aTm to win at the level of Alabama and LSU. Better expectations would be Mississippi State as I think the two schools are very similar.
5. Texas Tech: Admit it, you sometimes forget about that team from Lubbock don't you? It's not all that hard, because for the last several years they've been either average, or slightly below. They currently have a head coach who's better known for his looks than his coaching ability, and absolutely no defense. Their stadium is an aging relic, and they struggle to recruit 5-star talent because they're in Lubbock. To be fair however, most of their problems are not Kliff Kingsbury's fault. Tommy Tuberville all but ruined Tech before he bolted to Cincinnati and the talent well is pretty dry. Despite all of this, they're not that far behind aTm and a winning season next year would cure many ills.
6. University of Texas - Austin: Awash in money and tradition the Longhorns have fallen on hard times. But the swagger still remains and the (mistaken) belief that they are the center of the Texas football world. Texas' main problem is that their donor class believes their own press and thinks that being the top team in Texas is their birthright. If anything, the Longhorn Network debacle has made them a (very rich) laughingstock. They will cast their longing eyes to alum Tom Herman after next year in hopes that he can lead them back to glory. They'll do this, that is, if they can stop from thinking that Saban is going to leave Alabama to run to Austin.
7. University of Texas - El Paso: A two-point loss to a pretty good Louisiana Tech team is all that prevented UTEP from appearing in a bowl. Head Coach Sean Kugler has done a good job turning around a team that had grown stagnant under former HC Mike Price. Tucked away in the corner of West Texas UTEP is a school that is always going to have to do more with less. But they have a good stadium to play in, a school that is committed and supports them when they win, and some recruits coming in that should pay dividends. However, they have a ceiling due to the fact that they are in the university system controlled by UT-Austin.
8. Rice University: Head Coach David Bailiff came from Texas State and brought the Owls some stability after the retirement/dismissal of long-time coach Ken Hatfield. Rice is hampered, on the field, by two things: 1. They are a relatively small, expensive private school and 2. They have extremely high academic standards. That said, historically Rice has had better success than they are currently in attracting talent. This is something that needs to change if Coach Bailiff wants to return his team to it's winning ways. One underrated gem in Rice's football crown is their stadium. On a brisk fall day it is one of the truly great places in Houston to watch a football game.
9. Southern Methodist University: Head Coach Chad Morris has a rebuilding project on his hands. And he'll have to do it in the roughest non Power 5 conference out there. That said, playing in the American should help the Ponies recruit, as they should be assured of a high-profile game (or three) should they start winning again. Like Rice, they have a great football stadium that's located in the heart of Dallas. They also have an unfortunate past for which they are still paying. So harsh was the result of the NCAA "Death Penalty" that SMU suffered it's rumored that the NCAA will never impose it again. If Morris is to return SMU to something close to it's former glory, he's going to have to do it quickly. I think the clock is ticking on realignment and, if not included, I think it's tier-two for this team.
10. University of Texas - San Antonio: Coach Coker is out, and it's unclear who's going to be taking over the reins of this team. There are challenges galore here, a bad stadium that's off-campus, being a member of the UT university system which will forever limits their potential, and no football tradition to speak of. It will be interesting to see who they bring on as their next coach, and whether or not he can build a bowl eligible team in the next couple of years. For the most part I think their best hopes lie in settling into college football's second division and trying to win there.
11. Texas State University: Coach Franchione has retired, and it appears that they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle (in the same manner as Houston) with former James Madison head man, and (more importantly) Urban Meyer assistant Everett Withers. This is a good hire and I think it means good things for a school that should be a little bit better than it has been. The Bobcats are in San Marcos, one of the better college town in Texas, and they have a decent stadium (that needs refurbishing however) and good fan support if they're winning. Still, other than the upset of Houston a few years back wins and signature moments have been few and far between for this team.
12. University of North Texas: Ah the Mean Green. For the life of me I cannot figure out why they are so bad? They have a new stadium, a decent campus located close to the talent-rich recruiting hot-bed of Dallas. Granted, they're not going to get the top players out of the city, but they should be able to grab plenty of 3-star recruits that would allow them to compete in the Conference USA. New Head Coach Seth Littrell, who came from North Carolina, has promised to open up the offense, spread it out, and bring some excitement to Denton. For the University's sake I hope he's successful.