At the start of the 2021 college football season, few predicted that Texas’ best team would be in Waco, or that the state’s flagship school would fail to make a bowl game. But that’s what’s happened.
Sam Khan Jr, who covers college sports in Texas for The Athletic, spoke to Texas Standard about the other unexpected results of the football season, and the effects of off-the-field issues such as conference realignment. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let me just put the big question to you. Which university had the best football team in Texas this season? Is there a clear answer?
Sam Khan Jr.: I think it’s Baylor [because of] the wins that they had this season. They beat Oklahoma. They beat BYU, Iowa State. They were impressive both offensively and defensively, and they’re going to their conference championship game in the Big 12. I think Baylor is the team.
I think Houston and UTSA have some arguments, just because they were so impressive. Both of them are 11-and-1 right now. But their schedules weren’t as strong as Baylor’s. I think the Bears are definitely the best team in Texas this year.
Let’s talk about what schools perhaps didn’t do, quite as well as expected. What were the big disappointments this year?
Definitely Texas. They hired new coach, Steve Sarkisian, and last year they were 7-and-3 with three one-score losses. So we didn’t think it was going to be a massive rebuild. But Texas started the season 4-and-1, was leading Oklahoma at half-time in the Red River Shootout, but lost six in a row after that. They’re 5-and -7. They’re not going to go to a bowl game. There six-game losing streak was longest they’ve had since 1956, and this team looks like it needs a lot of work. And I don’t think any of us saw that coming at the start of the season.
But TCU and Texas A&M certainly fell below expectations. TCU made a coaching change. A&M, thought to be a college football playoff contender, lost four games but still had a good season at 8-and-4.
Before the season started, we spent a lot of time talking through the impact of new name, image and likeness laws which let college athletes make money from endorsements while they’re in school. What were your major takeaways from the impact of that system now that you’ve seen it for a season?
I think it’s been good for the players. It’s given them a chance to actually earn some revenue for themselves, and some players have really cashed in upon it. I don’t think it’s shaken up the college game as much as people think. It’s certainly been something to get used to, but it hasn’t shifted the balance of power either in the state of Texas or across college football nationally.
I think you’ve seen some really strategic uses of it. And I think programs have been ready for it and have done a good job of educating their players about it. And athletes have done a good job of making a name for themselves and finding themselves endorsement deals and doing different kinds of things.
I’ve also been impressed by how philanthropic some of these players have been, and I’ve seen a lot of players who have taken some of their earnings and either shared among some of their teammates or used it to give back to charity and things of that sort. So really, I think it’s been a good change for college football.
We can’t talk about the year that was in college football without talking about the structure of college football itself, in flux. Most of the conferences in which these schools play are changing, and there’s going to be a realignment of who plays who. Do you see any clear winners and losers in Texas, based on how that process has played out so far.
I think you look at teams like UTSA, North Texas and Rice. They’re all moving to the American Athletic Conference. I think that’s a good step up for them. They were all in Conference USA. And Conference USA after this realignment seemed to be struggling to find some teams to get into the league. They are going to survive, but the American is a little bit of a step up for those teams. And you’ve seen an increased investment in athletics for those programs, so I think that’s a win for them.
Texas is obviously going to the SEC is going to be a big financial win along with Oklahoma. But the question is, how competitive is Texas going to be, seeing how much they struggled this year and how much they’ve struggled really in the last decade. Plus, they’ve cycled through three coaches since they pushed Mack Brown out in 2013.
As far as teams that took a step back. Texas Tech and TCU and Baylor are all going to remain in the Big 12, which is going to be weakened with Texas. And OU out. So I’m curious to see what kind of impact that has. But of course, the Big 12 added four schools and Houston became a big winner by getting that invite to the Big 12 – something the University of Houston really coveted, ever since they were left out of the original Big 12 in 1996.