The Regular College Football Season Over, Let's Give The Region's Teams Final Grades.
If the North Texas area knew how to do anything well in 2014, it was make national football headlines.
Specifically: For the last month or so, Texas Christian University and Baylor dominated College Football Playoff discussion. It seemed that the selection committee, which holds its meetings here in Grapevine each week, couldn't avoid national controversy with wherever it placed these Texas schools, each of which had a strong case for being in the polls' desired top four, and thus playoff-qualifying, spots. Most recently, the conversation centered around the fact that the committee had ranked TCU ahead of newly heated rival Baylor in its second-to-last poll of the season — this, despite the Horned Frogs losing to the Bears earlier in the season.
Finally, resolution to that debate would come this weekend: With its final poll, the committee would deem the Bears' 38-27 win over Kansas State more impressive than the Horned Frogs' 55-3 drubbing of Iowa State, and would end the season with Baylor ranked higher than its Fort Worth counterpart.
Far more shocking, though: At Nos. 5 and 6 respectively, neither team finished highly enough in the College Football Playoff Rankings to qualify for the inaugural playoffs, leaving the schools at a loss and the college football landscape filled with more questions than ever before.
But these are “them good problems,” the spoils of victory.
At the other end of the area college football spectrum, fans of the Southern Methodist University and the University of North Texas programs mostly just faced defeat — all the while just wishing that their teams were decent enough to qualify for bowl play.
Now, with the season over for all intents and purposes — UNT and SMU are officially done; TCU and Baylor's runs have been reduced to appearances in mostly meaningless bowls — it seems as good a time as ever to take stock of up how the region’s football programs fared in 2014.
National Rank: 5.
After his team narrowly beat TCU 61-58 — but continued to finish behind them in the polls following a loss to West Virginia — head coach Art Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw went on the offensive and spent the second half of the season continuously contesting that the Bears not only owned the head-to-head tie-breaker of the similar resume it had with TCU, but that they were the Big 12 champions despite officially standing as co-champions.
Well, in the end, you could say that Baylor got what it wanted. The team indeed finished the season ranked ahead of the Horned Frogs — but, unfortunately, their No. 5 ranking also leaves them out of the College Football Playoff.
It’s a shame that both Big 12 teams were left out. Surely, it's reasonable to think that both TCU and Baylor's 2014 teams are good enough to compete with Alabama, Oregon, Florida State or Ohio State. Baylor has certainly shown the resiliency of a championship team: Several times in the season, quarterback Bryce Petty suffered injuries that knocked him out of games. And yet, West Virginia slip-up aside, the team just kept on winning.
Ultimately, though, it was Baylor's defense that hurt the team's chance at a national championship bid. The unit struggled against TCU, West Virginia and more recently Texas Tech. It's likely that the selection committee factored this into its consideration.
Still, things are looking up in Waco: If nothing else, 2014 only further reinforced Baylor's reputation as a national power. And all this jostling with TCU seems to have ignited a heated Big 12 rivalry worth watching closely in the coming years.
Term Grade: A-.
National Rank: 6.
TCU finished the season 11-1 and No. 6 in the country — yet the season is all but perceived as a failure now that it's official that the Horned Frogs won't have an opportunity to compete for the national championship in the College Football Playoff.
It's a bittersweet ending, to be sure. But this was still a remarkable season for the school — and a year that should be celebrated, even if doing so means settling for a bid in the Peach Bowl, where the team will play ninth-ranked Ole Miss.
Gary Patterson's new air-raid offense was about as explosive as even he could've wished for it to be this year — and that attack allowed Trevone Boykin, an incredible athlete who played wide receiver at TCU last season, to explode onto the national scene and contend as a legitimate Heisman candidate.
Meanwhile, the defense — a staple of Patterson's regime in Fort Worth — held up its part of the bargain. Well, for the most part: The unit's worst moment of the season came against Baylor when it allowed 782 yards and 61 points. In no uncertain terms, that performance cost the team its shot at championship contention.
A real shame, too: In the second half of the season, TCU outscored its opponents 257 to 93. But even that emphatic stamp to the end of the team's season wasn't enough, turns out.
National Rank: N/A.
At the halfway point in the season, the Mean Green had only posted a 2-4 record. Still, things looked salvageable enough — and head coach Dan McCarney's modest “Hit Six” goal for his team to just go .500 or better this season remained well within reach.
Unfortunately, inconsistent play continued to plague the team in the second half of the year, too. The Mean Green lost four of its last six games.
Instability at the quarterback position didn't help matters: When redshirt freshman Dajon Williams, who had displayed a playmaker's ability during early-season garbage time, couldn't getting it done, McCarney placed redshirt junior Andrew McNulty under center. But he too failed to provide the Mean Green offense with a spark, putting up pedestrian numbers (just 179 passing yards per game and a 5:5 touchdowns-to-interception ratio in his six starts). The quarterback numbers are a little excusable considering the running game has always been the backbone of McCarney's offensive game plan — but when the team fell behind, the offense just couldn't muster enough through the air to claw back into games.
And the Mean Green were behind often. In the team's four losses in the second half of the season, the defense gave up an average of 35 points per game.
In all, this season was an underwhelming follow-up to last year's unexpected 9-4 season and bowl win. The team struggled to replace all the senior leadership it lost coming into this season and, after this season, it's hard to see where the program is headed: The team will once again lose key seniors on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary, but very few underclassmen stepped up and showed that they're ready to step into these roles.
Of course, head coach Dan McCarney seems to thrive in the face of adversity. With him at the helm, it's hard to count this program as down and out for good.
Term Grade: C-
National Rank: LOL
Well, here's the thing about these Mustangs: They won a football game.
And, considering the way this team looked at times this year, that's a bit of an admirable feat. Pretty much the whole season, SMU ranked last in the nation in points allowed and points scored, which pretty much meant that they were really far from winning most any of the games they played.
Sure, a couple of times, the Mustangs held leads going to into halftime — only to end up losing, of course.
From the very beginning of the season the team just looked terrible.
By the end of the season, though, it was hard to fault the Mustangs for its losses. The team endured an extraordinary amount of injuries: Over the course of the year, the team lost 16 players to season-ending injuries; going into the final game of the season, the team was missing 28 players at practice. This no doubt factored into things.
Still, the team went out on a high note.
Maybe it was the exciting news that the team had hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris as its new head coach that motivated the players to compete against UConn in their final show of the season. Or maybe the team just wanted to give interim head coach Tom Mason a positive end to this season, which he referred to as “career suicide” earlier in the week.
Either way, the Mustangs, led by quarterback Matt Davis, who started the last five games of the season, rushed their way to a victory over UConn. Davis ran for 191 yards and a touchdown in the game. That performance was complemented by a fine effort from sophomore running back Prescott Line, who finished the season with his best outing of the year — he amassed 92 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including the game-clinching score
With the win locked, it was a little endearing and totally appropriate that SMU had trouble lining up in the victory formation to take the kneel and end the game. On their first try, they were called for a delay of game. On the second try, they were called for an illegal formation. Eventually, the team just gave up: Its offense just lined up in a traditional offensive formation to take a knee and end the game. Worth noting:
The win over UConn meant SMU somehow managed to not finish last in the American Athletic Conference.
Also interesting: Head coach Chad Morris has quickly started to assemble his coaching staff, having hired Oklahoma State's Van Malone as defensive coordinator and bringing along two Clemson graduate assistants in Joe Craddock (offensive coordinator) and Dustin Fry (offensive line). Morris has also hit the recruiting circuit hard in Dallas: Already, he has earned two commitments from area recruits.
So things are looking up the Hilltop — and maybe not just because there's nowhere farther down to see.
Term Grade: F.