Two seasons have been put in the books since Texas A&M made the decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. The move was ridiculed by many and few suspected the Aggies would thrive on the field to the level Texas A&M has since making the move. I’ll throw myself under the bus. I was one of the doubters. Off the field was always a different story. The move to the SEC had many benefits that were easy to see, and with the Aggies more than holding their own on the field, the move seems to be scored as a success in the early years.
Texas A&M is the top college football program in the state of Texas right now. So what does the pecking order after that look like? Not quite as orange as you might suspect.
Longhorn Digest asked four anonymous high school football caches recently to get their take on how the college football powers stack up right now, in addition to some more specific questions regarding Texas and new head coach Charlie Strong. Texas A&M was the unanimous number one choice of the four coaches. Defending Big 12 champion Baylor was a consensus number two. Just behind the Bears came the Texas Longhorns. Yes, Texas has slipped to number three not just in the eyes of the college football world, but also the high school coaches in a state that is incredibly rich with respect for the high school game.
“Because they are Texas it is an easy gap to close if there is any,” said one of the high school coaches polled. “I think there is a bigger gap between Texas and Texas A&M. But that can close in a number of ways.”
“A&M has the momentum right now,” said another coach. “As you know, one winning season at Texas will change everything.”
“They could come back right now and take over A&M if they want to,” another coach said. “That’s how powerful they are. They can do anything they want. They are the Texas freaking Longhorns.”
So, how bad to the Texas freaking Longhorns want to be back on top?
There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.
Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach. Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.
“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”
Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season. This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.
In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach. Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.
Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.
Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.
While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.
CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylines: Jimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.
While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.
“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”
We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.
Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.
Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.
UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.
That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.
Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.
The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.