The complicated case of Mack Brown’s legacy

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For as much success Mack Brown led Texas football to during his tenure in Austin, the signs of decline were inevitably too obvious to overlook. As college football continues to evolve into a new era, Texas has a football program that has been falling behind in the Big 12, let alone as a national power. Brown may have won plenty of games, but if Texas was to awake from a slumber, a change was in dire need.

On Saturday evening Brown officially announced his resignation from the program. It was a change many saw coming from miles away back in September, if not before then, but seemed to be put on pause following news Friday night coming out of the banquet that Brown would remain the head coach. Alabama signing Nick Saban to a contract extension added a plot twist to the theme of the week sending the top coach in college football to Austin to lead Texas back to the top. But less than 24 hours later, the tune has changed, and Texas is now back in the hunt for a coach to replace Brown.

Whoever it is that steps in to the role of head coach at Texas will have some big shoes to fill. While the end of the Mack Brown Era in Austin comes on a sour note, missing out on a top 25 ranking to end the season three out of the last four years, Brown did plenty of solid work to get Texas to be a program that sees eight and nine-win seasons as “not good enough.”

From 1980 through 1996, Texas had just four seasons with 10 or more wins. Brown may have taken over at a time when schedules were expanding, but Brown was quick to raise the bar after coming over from North Carolina. In each of Brown’s first three seasons Texas ended the season with nine wins. The bar was not quite set, but the tone was established. Texas was going to be a dominant force in college football.

Six Big 12 South titles, but just two Big 12 titles would come for Brown and Texas. Nine straight seasons with at least 10 wins would follow, with six Big 12 South titles and a pair of conference championships to show for it. Each time Brown led Texas to the Big 12 championship it received a shot at a BCS title. Texas won one of them, with Vince Young helping Brown capture a BCS Championship against USC in one of the best games of the BCS Era.

The 2005 season would end up being the high point of Brown’s coaching career. He would get another crack at it all a few years later, but Alabama was emerging as the true national power in college football under Nick Saban and an injury to Colt McCoy early on would prove to be too much to overcome against a rising Tide.

Much of the success in Brown’s Texas career can be linked to his BCS Championship Game quarterbacks, Young and McCoy. Some might suggest Brown was only as successful as he was because of those two players. That is somewhat silly to honestly consider, but it may not be a coincidence that the most successful stretch of Texas football came with those two under center. There was always much more to those Texas teams, but Young and McCoy were nice luxuries to have on the roster. As it would end up becoming a joke to some, it was Brown’s misses on certain quarterbacks that suggested Brown was no longer on top of his recruiting game.

Robert Griffin III went to Baylor instead of Texas. Johnny Manziel ended up at Texas A&M. Jameis Winston wound up at Florida State. All three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks went somewhere other than Texas, but they also did not end up at abut 120 other schools as well, so the idea that Brown whiffed on these three sometimes gets exaggerated.

Some may say the game passed Brown by or he lost the ability to coach in today’s game. In part that may be true. Texas began to have a defense that some teams could expose. The offense lacked enough playmakers and physicality to compete with the top programs. Few programs put that on display the way Oklahoma did in more recent years.

It is not going to take too much for the right coach to turn things around at Texas. The resources are there. The recruiting soil is fertile. Texas can, and should, be a major player in college football’s hierarchy. Brown was no longer the guy to lead Texas in to the College Football Playoff Era. A new leader was needed to make an impact now. But the reason the expectations should be so high in Texas is because Brown raised the bar.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.