No state produces as much football talent as Texas.
So why are Texas universities, most notably UT, not among the current national elite?
Poor coaching? Superior recruiting outside the state? Nick Saban?
Possibly all of the above.
As the nation watched Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Saban’s latest title team duke it out for the crown of top dog, there was plenty of Texas high school talent on display. The four playoff participants had a combined 52 Texas on their rosters. Twelve played for Alabama.
Meanwhile, the big universities in our state were watching right along with the rest of us. For one reason or another, too many stud athletes are leaving the state for national powers outside these borders while the recent team results aren’t great for Texas schools. In 2016, no school from the state finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. This season, just one — TCU at No. 9 — made the cut.
At Wednesday’s Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award banquet in Tyler, the five finalists — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, USC running back Ronald Jones II, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham and Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington — were lauded for their on-field exploits in a room full of college football fans and their families. Five great players. All starring for schools outside of Texas.
Mayfield, the Lake Travis quarterback who won a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, couldn’t get on the same page with Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury after walking on. He appeared via Skype from Connecticut to add the Tyler Rose Award to his growing trophy collection, telling the football legend, “I grew up trying to run over people in my backyard like you did, Mr. Campbell.”
Stidham attended. He played high school ball at Stephenville and started at Baylor before leaving for Auburn amid the sexual assault scandal. The SEC newcomer of the year holds the distinction of beating both Alabama and Georgia this past season.
Barrett was unable to attend the ceremony, but his dad, J.T. Barrett III, told me his son was never offered a scholarship by Texas coach Mack Brown, although Brown had his son throw for him and the offensive staff. Barrett, a Wichita Falls product, eventually signed with Ohio State, where he led the Buckeyes to 38 wins in his 44 starts. He leaves college as the only three-time team captain in the program’s storied history.
Jones grew up in McKinney and dreamed of playing for the Longhorns.
“I watched Texas beat USC in the Rose Bowl,” Jones said. “I was pulling for Texas, but I idolized Reggie Bush.”
He eventually chose the Trojans over Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. It turned out to be the right decision. Jones, nicknamed the Texas Tesla by teammates, joined an elite group of USC backs to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons — O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis, Charles White, Ricky Bell, Marcus Allen and LenDale White. Had he run for another 13 yards his freshman year, it would have been three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
So why not keep that running talent in Texas, where he had a drawer full of scholarship offers?
“I decided to go with USC because Baylor and Tech threw the ball too much and Mack Brown got fired at Texas,” said Jones, whose 56-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half fueled his team’s overtime win over the Longhorns in September. “It was a tough decision, but it worked out in the end.”
The old saying goes, “Players win and coaches lose,” and if true, the biggest wins are coming in places like Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Clemson, S.C.; and Columbus, Ohio — not in Austin, Fort Worth, Lubbock or College Station. Texas and Texas A&M have made huge financial investments with the hirings of Tom Herman and Jimbo Fisher in an attempt to reverse that trend while TCU’s Gary Patterson still seeks a title breakthrough after the Horned Frogs were infamously big-timed by the 2014 College Football Playoff selection committee.
So where’s the hope moving forward for Texas programs?
“The Herman hire shook things up, and he has them sold on bringing Texas back,” hookem.com recruiting guru Mike Craven told me. “I’d imagine Fisher can do the same for a cycle or two. That said, eventually you got to win or guys will go find programs that are.”
Talent continues to fall from the sky in this state, and the elite players continue to make the most noise elsewhere. Texas won it all in 2005, but it’s well past time for the state to make some new memories on a national level.