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Five Teams We Expect to Regress This Season After Strong 2018 Campaigns

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The sophomore breakout player for each Top 25 team

 


11. Texas: S Caden Sterns

251.png?w=110&h=110&transparent=true

After being named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year last season, Sterns figures to be the face of a revamped, though talented, Texas defense. Sterns is a sure tackler with a nose for the ball and he headlines a secondary loaded with former blue-chip recruits. -- Trotter

 

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/26922581/the-sophomore-breakout-player-top-25-team

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This is my hope is that long term Jimbo will burn out like he did at Florida State.

 

 

Why Jimbo Fisher deserves blame for FSU football’s mess

Fisher said the Seminoles he left behind are in ‘great shape.’ He’s wrong. And it’s partly his fault.
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Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, left, talks to quarterback Kellen Mond (11) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
 

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, left, talks to quarterback Kellen Mond (11) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)

Published May 29
 

 

DESTIN — As Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher spoke about his team Wednesday during the SEC’s spring meetings, the wreckage he left behind in his previous job was still smoldering 140 miles east.

The 7-6 flop in Fisher’s final season at Florida State in 2017 turned into a 5-7 failure in Willie Taggart’s first season in 2018. One subpar recruiting class led to another. The Seminoles’ short-term future is more likely to resemble its immediate past than the national-champion highs Fisher led them to five years ago.

Fisher doesn’t see it that way.

“I think (Florida State is) in great shape,” Fisher said.

Except there’s little great about the shape Florida State is in. Attendance is down. Its academic progress rate is the worst among the teams in the Power Five conferences: ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12. Its budget faces a multimillion-dollar deficit. Its record over the past two years, 12-13, is its worst since 1975-76, and even a soft schedule might yield only seven or eight wins next season.

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RELATED: Florida Gators, FSU football had worst attendance years since the ’90s

So, no, Florida State isn’t in great shape. The only question is how much blame Fisher deserves for the decline.

The answer: a lot.

Fisher will disagree because of the talent Taggart inherited. Fisher’s last four recruiting classes in his 2010-17 tenure were ranked in the top six nationally. He lured one of the most talented running backs in the nation, Cam Akers, and landed Marvin Wilson, who has the potential to become one of the ACC’s top defensive linemen next season.

“They had draft picks, first-round picks,” Fisher said. “They’ve got good players this year. I see they’re picked to go to another good bowl game.”

The Seminoles didn’t make a bowl game at all last season, ending an NCAA record run of 36 in a row, and they didn’t make it to a good bowl in Fisher’s final year, either. Beating Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl doesn’t count.

It’s clear in hindsight that Florida State having to rally to make that Independence Bowl — it had to win its last three games to be bowl eligible at 6-6 — wasn’t a fluke caused by quarterback Deondre Francois’ season-ending injury in a Week 1 loss to Alabama, the snowball effect of that loss or the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which cost the Seminoles their bye week and a game that wasn’t rescheduled.

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Fisher’s Seminoles were rotting.

The offensive line lagged at the end of the Fisher era as recruiting misses, misevaluations and injuries piled up. Running back Dalvin Cook was able to cover up some of the glaring holes, but the mediocrity was still there. It finally, disastrously, caught up to Florida State last season, when Taggart’s Seminoles had one of the worst offensive lines in the sport.

Florida State’s effort lagged so much in a 2016 home loss to North Carolina that the Seminoles had to sign promises vowing their full effort, preparation and trust. Is it any wonder that Taggart said Florida State didn’t handle adversity well last year?

The intangible troubles mushroomed under Taggart, leading to six losses by at least 19 points. But that wasn’t new, either. Florida State got blown out at least once (often by less talented teams) in each of Fisher’s final four seasons, including a 32-point rout at Boston College in 2017.

None of this absolves Taggart of his responsibility for Florida State’s struggles last year. Florida coach Dan Mullen took over an unstable situation in Gainesville last year and turned it into a trip to the Peach Bowl.

But it does explain the hole Taggart is trying to escape, even if Fisher doesn’t see it that way.

“I loved my time at Florida State,” said Fisher, who was an assistant for three years before taking over for Bobby Bowden. “It was an outstanding place.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES: SEC meetings: What’s Jimbo Fisher’s legacy at Florida State?

Now Fisher is focused on his new place, the one that’s paying him $75 million over 10 years. Even if a brutal schedule (games against Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU) keeps his Aggies out of the College Football Playoff mix next season, Texas A&M has top-15 potential.

“I think it’s going to lay the groundwork where we can go in the future,” Fisher said, “which I think is sky high.”

His old program still has sky-high potential, too. But for now, the program he left behind remains stuck near rock bottom.

 

https://www.tampabay.com/sports/fsu-seminoles/2019/05/29/why-jimbo-fisher-deserves-blame-for-fsu-footballs-mess/

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Baker Mayfield teaches 'Horns Down' gesture at football camp

Never change, Baker Mayfield.

The Cleveland Browns star and former Heisman winner at Oklahoma traveled back to his roots this week, hosting a football camp at Lake Travis High in Austin, Texas, where dozens of campers learned nuggets about quarterbacking and a little something extra involving the Sooners' rivalry with the Longhorns.

With campers huddled around him, Mayfield reportedly flashed the "Horns Down" hand gesture with a hearty "Boomer Sooner" to kick-off the event at his old stomping grounds. Mayfield was known for his 'Horns Down' moments throughout his career at Oklahoma, doing so during a 45-40 win over Texas during the 2016 season and bringing back the hand-sign last year at a Sooners basketball game vs. the Longhorns.

“It’s quite the honor to be back home and have this,” Mayfield said, via The Statesman. “But I think the best part about it is that we had some kids yell ‘Boomer Sooner’ that normally wouldn’t.”

The "Horns Down" gesture has been a controversial topic for years and hit arguably its highest moment last season during Oklahoma's run to another Big 12 Championship. Conference officials placed the gesture under the unsportsmanlike conduct classification and warned the Sooners prior to the Big 12 final it would result in a penalty.

Texas coach Tom Herman was not a fan of the "Horns Down" prodding and made his thoughts known publicly before the final showdown vs. the Sooners. After beating Texas 39-27 to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley tossed a "Horns Down" during the post-game celebratory photo.

All in good fun, Mayfield was back at Lake Travis where he set several program records before walking on a Texas Tech, where he became the first true freshman walk-on in FBS history to start a season opener at quarterback.

“I think it goes back to the fact that if you looked at me, I wasn’t going to be an NFL player. I just set my mind to it,” Mayfield said, via The Statesman. “It was something that I dreamed of doing, and I just really worked for it. These kids, it doesn’t matter what they want to do in life. It doesn’t have to be an athlete. Just work for it. You set your mind to something, and you’ve got to set your goals high.”

1COMMENTS

After leaving Texas Tech for Oklahoma, Mayfield threw for 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns in his final season with the Sooners, winning the school’s sixth Heisman Trophy. He set the FBS single-season passing efficiency record, with a 198.9 rating, which shattered his previous record of 196.4 he posted in 2016.

Mayfield twice led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff and was instrumental in the development of Riley as one of college football's top offensive coaches.

 

https://247sports.com/college/oklahoma/Article/Baker-Mayfield-Cleveland-Browns-Oklahoma-Sooners-Horns-Down-football-camp-132904028/

 

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4 minutes ago, primal defense said:

 

 

Baker Mayfield teaches 'Horns Down' gesture at football camp

Never change, Baker Mayfield.

The Cleveland Browns star and former Heisman winner at Oklahoma traveled back to his roots this week, hosting a football camp at Lake Travis High in Austin, Texas, where dozens of campers learned nuggets about quarterbacking and a little something extra involving the Sooners' rivalry with the Longhorns.

With campers huddled around him, Mayfield reportedly flashed the "Horns Down" hand gesture with a hearty "Boomer Sooner" to kick-off the event at his old stomping grounds. Mayfield was known for his 'Horns Down' moments throughout his career at Oklahoma, doing so during a 45-40 win over Texas during the 2016 season and bringing back the hand-sign last year at a Sooners basketball game vs. the Longhorns.

“It’s quite the honor to be back home and have this,” Mayfield said, via The Statesman. “But I think the best part about it is that we had some kids yell ‘Boomer Sooner’ that normally wouldn’t.”

The "Horns Down" gesture has been a controversial topic for years and hit arguably its highest moment last season during Oklahoma's run to another Big 12 Championship. Conference officials placed the gesture under the unsportsmanlike conduct classification and warned the Sooners prior to the Big 12 final it would result in a penalty.

Texas coach Tom Herman was not a fan of the "Horns Down" prodding and made his thoughts known publicly before the final showdown vs. the Sooners. After beating Texas 39-27 to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley tossed a "Horns Down" during the post-game celebratory photo.

All in good fun, Mayfield was back at Lake Travis where he set several program records before walking on a Texas Tech, where he became the first true freshman walk-on in FBS history to start a season opener at quarterback.

“I think it goes back to the fact that if you looked at me, I wasn’t going to be an NFL player. I just set my mind to it,” Mayfield said, via The Statesman. “It was something that I dreamed of doing, and I just really worked for it. These kids, it doesn’t matter what they want to do in life. It doesn’t have to be an athlete. Just work for it. You set your mind to something, and you’ve got to set your goals high.”

1COMMENTS

After leaving Texas Tech for Oklahoma, Mayfield threw for 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns in his final season with the Sooners, winning the school’s sixth Heisman Trophy. He set the FBS single-season passing efficiency record, with a 198.9 rating, which shattered his previous record of 196.4 he posted in 2016.

Mayfield twice led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff and was instrumental in the development of Riley as one of college football's top offensive coaches.

 

https://247sports.com/college/oklahoma/Article/Baker-Mayfield-Cleveland-Browns-Oklahoma-Sooners-Horns-Down-football-camp-132904028/

 

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Always a class act.....

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Texas Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Longhorns' Schedule

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By Allen Kenney, 6/17/19, 9:25 AM EDT
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Texas faces some rough road trips in the Big 12 this fall

The Texas Longhorns have become a chic pick to make the College Football Playoff this year after winning 10 games in 2018. This season's schedule doesn’t do the 'Horns many favors, though.

 

There's the annual showdown in Dallas with the Oklahoma Sooners of course, and a date with the LSU Tigers in one of the biggest non-conference games in all of college football in 2019. UT also is looking at some dangerous road trips on the Big 12 slate.

 

Here’s an analysis of the Longhorns' 2019 schedule, with the 12 games ranked from least to most difficult.

 

12. Sept. 21 vs. Rice (Houston)

rice-owls.pngRice fielded one of the worst teams in the country in 2018, finishing the season with a 2-10 record. It made for an ugly debut season for new head coach Mike Bloomgren, and the Owls didn't give anyone reason to think the 2019 campaign would go any better.

 

UT plays LSU the week before this game, so Rice may catch the Horns in a flat spot. That may matter to the final margin, but not to the final outcome. Texas should cruise.

 

11. Oct. 19 vs. Kansas

kansas-jayhawks.pngOn the plus side for the Jayhawks, UT plays Oklahoma the week before KU travels to Austin. That increases the odds of a UT letdown. It would take a massive one of those for KU to win this game.

 

The Jayhawks have stunned the Horns before, but that’s a tall order this season.

 

10. Aug. 31 vs. Louisiana Tech

la-tech-bulldogs.pngTexas isn’t exactly easing into the season — the Bulldogs went 8-5 in 2018 and bring back an experienced team this year. That includes dangerous wide receiver Adrian Hardy, who caught 75 passes for 1,145 yards and six touchdowns a season ago. That’s not how Texas head coach Tom Herman wants to start the season given his defense has so many new faces on it.

 

The visiting team could give the Horns some problems if they’re looking ahead to week two.

 

9. Nov. 9 vs. Kansas State

kansas-state-wildcats.pngThe Wildcats put a scare into the Longhorns last season in Manhattan. Texas squeezed out a 19-14 victory, the third straight game in the series decided by less than a touchdown.

 

Legendary KSU head coach Bill Snyder long befuddled the Horns. Successor Chris Klieman will try to replicate Snyder's success versus UT. Chances are he won’t get off to a strong start.

 

8. Oct. 5 at West Virginia

west-virginia-mountaineers.pngWhen these two teams squared off last year, the Mountaineers’ showboating and flagrant parodying of the “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signal had emotions running high on the Texas sideline. WVU scorched UT for nearly 600 total yards of offense, absconding from DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium with a one-point victory sealed by quarterback Will Grier scamper into the end zone on a two-point conversion.

 

The Longhorns get a chance to return the favor this year and will enjoy a week off before traveling to Morgantown. New head coach Neal Brown could find himself on the business end of payback for Dana Holgorsen’s bravado.

 

7. Nov. 29 vs. Texas Tech

texas-tech-red-raiders.pngThe Horns close out the regular season on Black Friday versus the Red Raiders. If things go according to plan, they will have the Big 12 Championship Game on deck a week later.

 

If Tech can keep QB Alan Bowman healthy all year, it may have a puncher’s chance at the upset here.

 

6. Sept. 21 vs. Oklahoma State

oklahoma-state-cowboys.pngOSU pulled out a 38-35 victory over Texas last year in one of UT QB Sam Ehlinger’s most ineffective performances of the season. The star signal-caller was outdueled by wily Cowboy veteran Taylor Cornelius, who completed 23 of his 34 pass attempts for 321 yards and three scores.

 

Ehlinger will get his shot to make amends this fall in the Longhorns’ Big 12 opener. The timing should work well for UT as OSU head coach Mike Gundy breaks in Cornelius’ replacement.

 

5. Nov. 23 at Baylor

baylor-bears.pngThe Bears knocked Sam Ehlinger out of last year’s meeting between these two teams, leaving Shane Buechele to pilot UT to victory. It resulted in a 23-17 win for Texas that ended with Baylor gunning for the Longhorns’ end zone.

 

This year, UT will travel to Waco on the tail end of back-to-back road games. If Baylor continues its rebound in head coach Matt Rhule’s third year, this matchup has upset potential.

 

4. Nov. 16 at Iowa State

iowa-state-cyclones.pngThe Cyclones are generating buzz this offseason as a potential challenger for the Big 12 crown. They will have a chance to show why in this matchup with the Longhorns.

 

Texas stymied the ISU offense last season in a game that saw the Clones manufacture all of 10 points. The Horns allowed just 3.6 yards per play in the game, representing the defense’s best performance of the year. Another outing like that means Texas will probably head back to Austin with a W.

 

3. Oct. 26 at TCU

tcu-logo.pngTCU head coach Gary Patterson loves to mess with Texas. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, the Horned Frogs have won five of seven games versus the Longhorns. Four of the five victories have come by at least 17 points.

 

UT turned the tables a year ago, pounding the Frogs, 31-16. That will have Patterson and his team itching to get back to their winning ways this year.

 

2. Sept. 7 vs. LSU

LSU_logo_new_web.jpgYou won't find much bigger non-conference tilts this year than LSU visiting the Longhorns in week two. Aside from the fact they're two of the highest-profile programs in college football, both end up sparring on the recruiting trail every year. They get a chance to do battle on the field for a change this season. The game has the makings of a good one.

 

Rumors of the Tigers' offensive overhaul abound for approximately the 47th year in a row. There's reason to believe they might be legitimate this season, however, and LSU will still have its usual crop of studs on defense.

 

 

A win by Texas in this game would lend credence to all the hype surrounding the Horns heading into the season.

 

1. Oct. 12 vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)

oklahoma-sooners.pngOddsmakers have installed the Sooners as 6.5-point favorites in this year's edition of their yearly bloodbath with the Horns. If you've been paying attention to this series lately, though, Texas has brought the fight to OU; UT's upset win in the Cotton Bowl in '18 wasn’t a fluke.

 

OU stole back some of its pride by beating the Longhorns in last season's Big 12 title game. We may see these two teams running it back again in December this season.

 

https://athlonsports.com/college-football/texas-football-ranking-toughest-games-longhorns-schedule-2019

 

 

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Is Texas truly 'back'? Longhorns have talent to star, but Phil Steele has this one concern 

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Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer

Longhorns head coach Tom Herman is pictured during pregame warmups during the University of Maryland Terrapins vs. the University of Texas Longhorns NCAA football game at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas on Saturday, September 2, 2017. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

By SportsDayDFW.com Contact SportsDayDFW.comon Twitter:@SportsDayDFW

After reaching 10 wins last season for the first time since 2009, Texas football is looking to carry over the momentum heading into the 2019 regular season, tabbed by many as a favorite to win the Big 12 Conference. 

Entering year three under coach Tom Herman, much of the excitement surrounding the Longhorns can be tied to the return of quarterback Sam Ehlinger for his senior season -- fresh off a junior campaign in which he passed for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Nonetheless, Texas' schedule doesn't come without a number of significant tests, and the team has several holes to fill in wake of offseason departures on both sides of the ball. 

So, as the question goes, is Texas truly "back" at last entering the 2019 season? Football guru Phil Steele, during a recent interview with JaM Session on ESPN Dallas 103.3 [KESN-FM], gave his thoughts on what to expect for the Longhorns this fall -- including areas of strength and his biggest concerns. 

 
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Here's a recap of what Steele had to say.

Is Texas finally back?

Steele: We’re going to find out in the LSU and Oklahoma games. Now the concern I have to have about Texas coming into the season in the experience level. I mean they only return five starters on offense and three on defense. One of the least experienced teams out there, but I like the talent that coach Tom Herman has been bringing in. In fact, with his three recruiting classes, I think they have more talent now then they had we he took over. Sam Ehlinger is a nice place to start at the quarterback position. He’s got all the intangibles you want out of a quarterback. He can hurt you passing and running. I think Keontay Ingram emerges as a star this year at running back. Collin Johnson is one of the more dangerous receivers in the country along with Devin Duvernay. The o-line gets the addition of Georgia Tech’s Parker Brown. I really like the offense. 

Defensively, there are question marks. They lose some big time players from last year now. The replacements: How quickly do they come along? That will be the key, but as I mentioned, the overall talent has been there. Texas right now -- looking at the LSU game, it’s a toss-up game, and the Oklahoma game in Dallas is probably the game that will decide who gets to the Big 12 title game. They also have to play TCU and Iowa State on the road I think those are the other two contenders along with Baylor. It’s not an easy schedule for Texas this year and I’m not wild about the experience level, but I do have them getting back to the Big 12 title game this year.

Does Ehlinger have what it takes to lead Texas past its toughest opponents?

Steele: I think he is (capable). I think he’s a guy that last year got better and better as the season went on. He’s just a great leader. Coach Herman told me he’s the best leader he’s ever coached, so that was impressive. He’s a guy that can hurt you running and passing and I like the supporting talent. So my answer: yes.

https://sportsday.dallasnews.com/college-sports/collegesports/2019/06/28/texas-truly-back-longhorns-talent-star-phil-steele-one-concern

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Texas responds to Terry Bradshaw’s negative comments about QB Sam Ehlinger

https://collegefootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2019/06/28/texas-responds-to-terry-bradshaws-negative-comments-about-qb-sam-ehlinger/

Here is the thing you have to worry about these days when it comes to the media reporting what happened. Bradshaw said 5A, not 5 star like NBC is reporting. It may not seem like a big thing to some people, but in the world of journalism its a huge thing. At least it used to be.

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Texas quarterback Casey Thompson waiting his turn

 

 

 

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Sam Ehlinger (11) is entrenched as the Longhorns starting quarterback but Casey Thompson could see playing time this year on more than just the scout team.

 

 

 

 

AUSTIN — Late last December, Casey Thompson got to packing. The young quarterback was leaving the Forty Acres, bound for New Orleans with his fellow Longhorns.

What remained uncertain as they boarded that charter flight was whether Thompson would remain bonded to these teammates by burnt orange much longer.

A few days earlier news had trickled out that Thompson had entered into the NCAA transfer portal and was exploring options outside of Texas. He wasn’t alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Fellow freshman Cameron Rising was considering a departure, too. And few, if any, wholeheartedly banked on having junior Shane Buechele back in 2019, not after the sterling sophomore season Sam Ehlinger put together.

In the end, after consulting with coaches and friends and family, including father and former Oklahoma quarterback Charles, Thompson couldn’t bring himself to leave. The Sooners legacy confirmed his recommitment to coach Tom Herman and a legion of potentially salty Longhorns with a five-word tweet: “”I thank you for your patience.”

 

 

 

 

“It was unique, you know, having to re-recruit two guys that, obviously, we didn’t cut their aid, something that we could have done,” Herman said of the Thompson-Rising transfer saga. “We wanted them back. Wewanted them both back, because we saw a lot of potential in both of them.

“We’re lucky that Casey has returned, and hopefully this is just a minor blip in the path to his success here at Texas.”

 

Less depth this year

The loss of Rising and Buechele transformed a deep quarterback room into something shallower and more inexperienced. Buechele was the only other quarterback on roster with any in-game experience. Now it’s just Ehlinger, Thompson and true freshman Roschon Johnson.

“I like Casey,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said in April. “I thought he would be a really good player once he kind of learned the offense. He’s gotten better. I wouldn’t say he’s at Sam’s level yet, but he is getting better.”

Thompson isn’t used to waiting.

 

He played well as a varsity freshman, throwing for 1,180 yards with 10 touchdowns to go with 553 rushing yards and five scores on the ground. Thompson emerged as a true force during his sophomore season at Southmoore (Okla.), throwing for 2,670 yards and rushing for 1,1011 with 52 total touch-downs.

Over his career, which ended at Newcastle (Okla.), Thompson accumulated 12,840 total yards and 154 touchdowns.

But Ehlinger isn’t in a position to be supplanted this year or next, so Thompson will have to sit and endure. But he’ll be far closer to game action as the No. 2 after running the scout team throughout 2018.

“I think we all feel confident in the trajectory of Casey and the improvement and strides that he has made,” Herman said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the country, if you’ve got a redshirt freshman that hasn’t played in any games as your backup quarterback then that’s a little concerning. But we’re happy. We think we’ve got as good a situation there as possible with Casey Thompson.”

 

If Texas could only retain one of the Thompson-Rising duo, it managed to keep the one who appears more suited for this team’s rugged offensive style. Ehlinger has averaged 12.1 rush-ing attempts in 25 career games, a number that could be even higher had he not been knocked out of several games early.

The right skill set

Thompson (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) can’t equal Ehlinger’s size (6-3, 235 pounds), but he’s got the pedigree and agility to operate an offense that relies on its quarterback to make plays with his legs.

He demonstrated that ability during this year’s Orange-White spring scrimmage by running in a touchdown from the 1-yard line, the only ball carrier to cross the goal line amid blustery conditions.

 

During that game Thompson rushed 11 times for 47 yards and completed 9 of 23 passes for 48 yards with one interception. Ehlinger ran for 20 yards and completed 9 of 21 for 66 yards and an interception.

“Casey was very accurate throwing the ball,” Herman said. “I think he showed you what he can do with his feet, but I thought he threw the ball pretty well too.”

Given Ehlinger’s injury history and how much contact he absorbs on a weekly basis, Thompson is good bet to finally see some actual action in 2019. And ironicially, Rising (now at Utah) and Buechele (SMU) will be sidelined throughout the year due to NCAA transfer rules, leaving the one who decided to stay in Austin as the only quarterback capable of making any on-field impact this season.

“Casey has made a lot of plays for us,” Beck said. “He’s got a really good feel, good instincts back there. And he throws the ball well, he’s got good ball placement. He’s just got to continue to grow and understand.”

 

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/texas-sports-nation/college/article/Texas-quarterback-Casey-Thompson-waiting-his-turn-14074908.php

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How a small Texas town has reacted to the hiring of Art Briles

 

The hire of Art Briles as the new football coach at Mount Vernon High School in East Texas has drawn attention from across the country. AP Photo/LM Otero

Jul 11, 2019
  • wilson_david_m.jpg&w=160&h=160&scale=cro
    Dave WilsonESPN Staff Writer

MOUNT VERNON, Texas -- The parking lot of the Dairy Bar on Highway 37 was filled with three-quarter-ton pickups.

Inside, at the "Table of Knowledge" -- so indicated by the sign hanging from the ceiling -- several men in blue jeans and work shirts, a few in cowboy hats, ate lunch and discussed the business of the day. Interrupted by a reporter, they didn't have any problem offering up opinions about their town becoming national news for who it hired to lead the Mount Vernon High School football team.

First of all, they don't know the new coach from Adam. Might not recognize him if he walked in right now with his ball cap on. But they know everybody deserves a second chance. Says so in the Bible. And none of them want to be involved in any story. Don't want their names in there.

The sentiment was the same up and down Highway 37 and off Main Street downtown, at the Dairy Queen or the Brookshire's grocery store. Residents said they were worried about their own jobs or feeding their cattle. But overall, they thought it was fine if that coach wanted to come to this little town and start over. They're not even sure how it happened, just that this was a decision made by their elected officials.

That coach, of course, is Art Briles, who was fired in 2016 after an investigation into sexual violence at Baylor University. The investigation was sparked by the August 2015 conviction of football player Sam Ukwuachu for sexually assaulting a female Baylor soccer player. (Ukwuachu's conviction was overturned on Thursday.) Law firm Pepper Hamilton found at least 17 women who reported being sexually assaulted by 19 football players amid wider findings of failings at Baylor. The fallout led to a series of Title IX lawsuits and the eventual resignation of Baylor president Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw.

Social media instantly carried news of Briles' new job far and wide on the Friday night before Memorial Day weekend. A Yahoo! headline said Mount Vernon "sold its soul." The Austin American-Statesman called it "misguided" and said the board "whiffed" on the hire.

And Mount Vernon found itself the object of national scorn for the school board's decision to offer a lifeline to a disgraced coach.

Brenda Tracy, sexual assault survivor and founder of #SetTheExpectation, a nonprofit that works to combat sexual and physical violence through education and direct engagement with coaches and players, said this week that "the attitude is they're willing to win, no matter what, is all that's emanating for me right now from Mount Vernon. It's disheartening that these communities still exist where football is above everything."

Mount Vernon Independent School District superintendent Jason McCullough told ESPN the school district believes it has done its homework and is confident it has the right man.

"During our due diligence process, we found the problems at Baylor University to be systemic, university-wide, and well beyond the scope of any one program or department," he said. "While that does not in itself excuse any one individual, we did find it notable that Coach Briles expressed remorse over the systemic shortcomings at Baylor, including his program's part in them, and his desire to learn from the mistakes of the past."

 

Art Briles will return to coaching on the sidelines of Don Meredith Stadium in Mount Vernon this fall. Dave Wilson/ESPN

The overwhelming feeling among the town's power brokers is that this was an unbelievable opportunity -- a chance to help a coach who was clearly wronged, in their opinion; a lucky break for a small town to get a legendary coach who had been made a scapegoat by the Baylor board of regents.

"A school district has an opportunity to hire someone like this to coach your kids? I don't know how you could turn that down," said Tom Ramsay, 79, a former five-term state legislator whose name adorns the section of Highway 37 that runs in front of Mount Vernon High School and who had four children who went to Baylor. "I'm impressed with his character."

At the May 24 school board meeting where the hire was announced, citizens gasped and cheered as board members pumped their fists and smiled at the crowd.

"Soon as I finish here, I'm in Mount Vernon, and we're not looking back," Briles told the school board from Italy, where he was coaching, via Skype. "We're moving forward. ... Plan on being a champion, because that's what we're gonna be."

McCullough told KWTX-TV in Waco that he was excited, that "I really didn't think someone of his coaching pedigree would be willing to say yes to Mount Vernon, Texas." Pepper Puryear, the longtime pastor at First Baptist Church, celebrated the news on Twitter on the night of the hire, saying, "It's a great day to be a Tiger!"

"In Mount Vernon, which is the only place it really counts, he'll be well-received," Ramsay said.

The Texas trinity -- football, religion and politics -- is in alignment here.

"In a little town like Mount Vernon," Ramsay said, "most people feel the same way about everything."


Shannon Ostertag originally discovered this little town 100 miles east of Dallas via an internet search.

Four years ago, Shannon and her husband Greg -- yes, that Greg Ostertag, the 7-foot-2 retired basketball player from Duncanville, Texas, who went to a Final Four at Kansas and played 11 seasons in the NBA -- were looking to settle down in a Texas town with rural farmland, fewer than 3,000 people and a good school system.

They fell in love with Mount Vernon. There was only one problem.

"The town was a big 'But...' because [the downtown] was just closed up and worn down and boarded up and falling apart," said Shannon, who's from San Diego. "It was sad."

 

Shannon and Greg Ostertag operate several businesses in Mount Vernon, Texas, including Ostertag Construction, and have spent millions redeveloping the town's downtown square. Courtesy of Ostertag Construction

What started out as Greg's retirement plan turned into a new career. Shannon went to work in the historic town square, which features a stately courthouse at one end and a plaza with a gazebo in the middle, and started the couple's renovation efforts with a downtown coffee shop. Then they set their sights on M.L. Edwards & Co., established in 1916, and gave that 11,000-square-foot space new life.

"It started out as buying a building," Greg said. "Then it turned into buying a town."

They got M.L. Edwards listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then, working with the city, the entire downtown district became listed on the National Register.

The Ostertags invested millions of dollars and many beads of sweat working to put this city on the map.

"Our investment emotionally, physically and financially has been for long-term gains," Shannon said. "We want to save this town for future generations to enjoy. When something like [the Briles hire] happens, and it's for a short-term gain, and you have to hear things and read things like Mount Vernon being the 'moral basement of education,' I take offense to that. This town has a lot of really good people in it."

At a table in the back of M.L. Edwards, Greg talked about how his adopted town can move forward, in between visits from old-timers complimenting him on his new gray calves he has bred or seeking his advice on how to get a tractor tire replaced.

"Sports is what brings a town together," Greg said. "[The Briles hire is] something that needs to be talked about publicly. I think people on both sides need to be able to voice their opinion. It's going to be like a Democratic and Republican thing. It's in the town. We still all get along. At the end of the day, we're all still Mount Vernon Tigers, and we all still get along and say hi to each other."

But that's not as easy as it seems, says Lauren Lewis, a Mount Vernon native who moved to Austin for 10 years before returning home in 2016 and has been a vocal critic of the hire.

"Everyone is afraid to say anything because they're going to be ostracized or their businesses aren't going to be supported," said Lewis, who was the only resident to speak against the move at the first MVISD school board meeting since Briles was hired. "It feels like a horrible message to be sending to our youth."

The concerns of Tracy, the sexual assault survivors' advocate who was a vocal critic of Briles at Baylor, are even deeper.

"They're deliberately indifferent to Briles' history," she said. "They're completely set up to be another Baylor. That town has basically made it impossible for survivors to be safe or to report. Mount Vernon has sent a very clear message that football rules."


The announcement of Briles' hire on the eve of a holiday weekend was a shock, even to locals.

"It was kind of like a bomb going off," Lewis said. "We found out like everyone else at 6 p.m."

The superintendent's initial news release never mentioned the word "Baylor" and stated Briles "brings with him a wealth of not only football experience but also life experience." It also touted that 85-year-old former Baylor coach Grant Teaff said Briles "never incurred a single recruiting infraction during his time at the collegiate level."

The real issue, of course, was in the Baylor board of regents' findings of fact, which noted that "football coaches and staff took affirmative steps to maintain internal control over discipline of players and to actively divert cases from the student conduct or criminal processes," which "reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules, and that there was no culture of accountability for misconduct."

In response to a libel lawsuit filed by Briles' former director of football operations, Colin Shillinglaw, against Baylor and several members of its senior leadership, regents responded by alleging Briles and his staff created a disciplinary "black hole" into "which reports of misconduct such as drug use, physical assault, domestic violence, brandishing of guns, indecent exposure and academic fraud disappeared." The regents' response also included damning comments from Briles, such as his response to an accusation of gang rape by a female student-athlete who alleged that five football players raped her at an off-campus party in 2012. "Those are some bad dudes," Briles responded to the accuser's coach. "Why was she around those guys?" While Briles told the coach he should have the woman notify the police, Pepper Hamilton attorneys found that no one, including Briles, notified police, judicial affairs or anyone outside of athletics about the incident.

"Contrary to some people's belief," the response said, "Briles was not a 'scapegoat' for the University's larger problems -- he was part of the larger problem."

Briles' supporters cite a $15.1 million settlement as well as a May 23, 2017, letter obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from Baylor's general counsel, Christopher W. Holmes, to Briles that read, in part, "at this time we are unaware of any situation where you personally had contact with anyone who directly reported to you being the victim of sexual assault or that you directly discouraged the victim of an alleged sexual assault from reporting to law enforcement or University officials. Nor are we aware of any situation where you played a student athlete who had been found responsible for sexual assault."

Briles, who earlier this week declined comment for this story, had never lived or worked outside of Texas before taking the job in Italy and was desperate to return home. ("I'm not going to learn Italian," Briles told the Baylor Line Foundation. "I'm going to teach them Texan.") Mount Vernon, meanwhile, has a career playoff record of 20-25 with no state title game appearances. Its head-coaching job had recently come open in mid-May after Josh Finney, who was 19-5 in two seasons with the Tigers, returned to his hometown 17 miles down the road to coach Winnsboro, one of Mount Vernon's biggest rivals.

In 114 seasons, Baylor won 10 games five times. Briles was the coach for four of those seasons. At his last high school job, in Stephenville, Texas, he went 135-29-2 in 12 seasons and won four state titles between 1993 and 1999. The allure proved too irresistible, according to Ramsay.

"For what he's done for high school football and for college football, he deserves another chance," he said.

The Tigers' new coach will return to the sidelines this fall at Don Meredith Stadium, named for Mount Vernon's favorite son, the first player ever signed by the Dallas Cowboys, who later became a beloved Monday Night Football announcer alongside Howard Cosell. The modest facility has aluminum stands that seat about 3,000, one concession stand and a track around the field. It's a humbling contrast to Baylor's $266 million, 45,000-seat McLane Stadium, which Briles' success helped build in 2014, the same year the Bears finished No. 7 in the AP poll, the highest finish in school history.

No, Mount Vernon won't go the way of Hamilton, Ontario, up in Canada, where the Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League announced they were hiring Briles, then quickly reversed course in August 2017 after the outrage came swiftly. It also won't be Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson interviewed Briles for his offensive coordinator job in February of this year, only to be blocked from considering him for the job by the school president and athletic director amid an outcry.

So, why Mount Vernon?

On a public Facebook post on May 24, Mount Vernon's Michael Landon Ramsay, a Baylor graduate who has a "Sic 'Em Bears" overlay on his profile photo, was asked whether he had any influence on the Briles hire.

"This is absolutely unbelievable," Ramsay responded on Facebook. "Actually I had no influence however my cousin did because she used to work for him and actually called him in Italy about coming to Mount Vernon Texas."

McCullough declined to answer specific questions about how he connected with Briles, saying only via email that "Coach Briles expressed interest in the head coaching vacancy through a local acquaintance." Several members of the school board, including its president, didn't return phone or email messages from ESPN.com. And the town mayor, Teresia Wims, said in an email that "the city of Mount Vernon was not involved and had no foreknowledge of the hiring."

But folks in town knew to ask a Ramsay about the hire: On the streets of Mount Vernon, you don't have to look far to find the Ramsay name.

Directly across from the high school, across the highway named for Tom Ramsay, is the Law Office of Landon W. Ramsay. Landon's dad, Lanny, was a judge here in Franklin County from 1971-75, then became a justice for decades in the Eighth Judicial District overseeing Franklin, Delta and Hopkins counties. Will Ramsay, Lanny's other son, has been the district attorney for the Eighth District since 2013.

Landon and Will are Baylor men. Both graduated from Baylor as undergrads and then from Baylor Law School. And Leigh Anne Ramsay, Landon Ramsay's wife, is listed in Baylor's football media guide from 2014-16 as assistant director of campus recruiting under Briles, a position generally responsible for things like coordinating recruits' visits, organizing visiting players' schedules for game days and other special events.

At that same time, Landon worked as a prosecutor at the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney's Office in Waco. Michael Landon Ramsay -- of the Facebook post -- is a cousin of Landon's. Leigh Anne, Landon and Will Ramsay did not answer queries from ESPN about Briles' hiring.

"If he did what he was accused of, it would be a big problem in our family," Tom Ramsay said. "But we don't think he's guilty of anything."


Tax forms filed by Baylor in 2016 revealed Briles was paid about $6.19 million per season, which would have made him the highest-paid coach in the Big 12. Briles' two-year contract at Mount Vernon will pay him $82,000 a year as football coach and athletic director.

That penance isn't good enough for Lewis, who remains appalled that Briles will be walking the halls of the high school, which has about 450 students.

 

Greg and Shannon Ostertag renovated historic general store M.L. Edwards & Co. in Mount Vernon's downtown square. Dave Wilson/ESPN

"I don't feel like he's coming here to pay the price," Lewis said. "We're paying the price for his redemption. We're going to be used as a stepping stone to restart his career. And the superintendent thought it was a good idea for Mount Vernon to be that stepping stone."

McCullough certainly has seen steady support, after the initial announcement and during the onslaught from outsiders in the past month.

"I believe our community is going to support this decision, and we are going to wrap our arms around this," McCullough told KCEN-TV in Austin. "I do not foresee us walking away from Art Briles."

"Art Briles, to me, forfeited the privilege of coaching," Tracy said. "I just don't think, based on what happened, he should coach again. The idea of having Briles with young, impressionable kids is ludicrous."

McCullough said he understands the scrutiny and is willing to face the discussion.

"This is a small town. My door is always open and, chances are, you'll bump into me or a school trustee at a school function, church or the grocery store on a pretty regular basis," he said. "We take great pride in our community and in our schools, and we strive to be responsive and maintain an open flow of information with this community."

Tom Ramsay agreed and thinks the town can patch things up.

"I really think honestly that Mount Vernon will pull together," he said. "I've never seen it not pull together."

A few assistant coaches are in place and already at work getting ready for the season. Briles' Italian league team finished its season this past Saturday, clearing the way for his arrival in Mount Vernon. But Lewis thinks the damage has already been done.

"When I was a kid and we'd travel, anytime anyone would ask my dad where we're from, my dad would say, 'Do you know 'Dandy' Don Meredith?" Lewis said. "It was a source of pride. I just can't imagine any father in an elevator now saying, 'Do you know Art Briles?'"

She said the message to those who are at odds with the administration has been, "Get over it. Get with it. It's happening."

Right now, there's one thing the pro-Briles and anti-Briles contingent can agree on: It's absolutely unthinkable that, in 2019, Art Briles would be a high school football coach in this small town.

 

 

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/26943300/how-small-texas-town-reacted-hiring-art-briles

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