Preseason camps are almost here. We can almost smell the football. What better time for your questions? Let’s get to ’em.
Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Could this cactus thing be the budding of a legitimate rivalry between TCU and Texas Tech? There have been some great games between the two in recent years, but the bad blood has never really seemed to stay. But now it looks like Tech fans could turn this cactus into what the pirate theme used to be in the Mike Leach years. — Andrew, a Tech fan in Fort Worth
In fear of Texas Tech fans overrunning the stadium, TCU is not selling single-game tickets for the matchup — instead, forcing people to buy multiple game tickets in a package. Fair or foul? — Blake S., Dallas
I’m so glad you asked this, Andrew. Ever since the cactus emojis caught fire early last week, I’ve been as amused by it as you have.
For those who are confused about the topic, a quick recap:
Last week, Texas Tech boosters announced a landmark name, image and likeness program that will offer annual $25,000 deals to 100 football players (85 scholarship players and 15 walk-ons).
In a Twitter thread in reference to the news, TCU offensive analyst and recruiting coordinator Bryan Carrington offered his take and referred to Lubbock/Texas Tech as a “desert.” One of the tweets included a cactus emoji.
The next day, Texas Tech coaches, players, recruits, administrators, fans and alumni — Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes even got in on the action — began furiously tweeting about Texas Tech with cactus emojis. If you follow people connected to Tech, chances are your timeline was flooded with cacti.
You already know! 🌵 #WreckEm
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) July 20, 2022
Well Lets gooooooooooooooooo 🌵🌵🌵 https://t.co/tC3RFKsqCG
— Joey McGuire 🌵 (@JoeyMcGuireTTU) July 19, 2022
The whole thing took on a life of its own. T-shirts are being sold. Tech is using it in marketing materials: The athletic department’s Twitter account promoted a “Cactus Combo” that includes free cactus decals shaped in Tech’s “Guns up” hand signal with a ticket package purchase. TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati received cactus-shaped lamps. Carrington discussed it on a recent podcast this week and said the “desert” reference was not to the city, but to an “oversaturated (NIL) market” given the scale of the deal.
Some of this has been built because of the ticket situation that Blake asked about. It’s a fair move to me, and why it’s called homefield advantage. I’m sure TCU understands that Texas Tech’s largest alumni population outside of West Texas exists in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so it’s wisely trying to keep Amon G. Carter Stadium purple when the Red Raiders come to town.
I hope it does intensify the rivalry between the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs. We need some good, old-fashioned Southwest Conference-esque pettiness. That’s what I loved about the SWC: The close proximity of programs bred intense rivalries, something we’re losing as conference realignment makes leagues more geographically far-flung.
Tech is clearly having fun with it, and TCU folks seem to be, too. It’s a good reminder that college football is supposed to be entertaining. I don’t know how long the back-and-forth will last, but it definitely should spice up the teams’ 2022 matchup.
In your opinion, what will it take for Texas to quiet the chatter and stop the jokes? Big 12 championship? Playoff appearance? —Scott B.
Winning double-digit games consistently would be a start. That’s something the Longhorns haven’t done since the 2000s. Texas has recorded only one double-digit season in the past 12 years. It has lost seven games five times in that span.
A Big 12 championship would go a long way. A College Football Playoff appearance would unquestionably quiet the critics. Heck, just getting back to the Big 12 title game would be a good step. But right now the Longhorns’ lack of sustained recent success gives opponents ample fodder.
How about a winning season in 2022 with minimal drama? Have a nice, boring, above-.500 year and sign another good recruiting class. Begin with that and progress upwards.
What have you heard about the starting QB situation at Texas A&M? If Conner Weigman is competing well, then do you think he has a chance to start? Personally, I’d rather start him and keep him happy (if he’s as good as advertised) than start Max Johnson or Haynes King. The transfer portal makes it so easy for players to leave. The ghost of Kyler Murray still haunts me. — Slater D.
Weigman will start if he outplays Johnson and King in preseason camp and Jimbo Fisher is confident he’s the best of the trio at that time. It’s that simple. That’s not to say that coaches don’t take potential transfer decisions into account when picking starters, but I doubt Fisher is aching to start a true freshman after enduring the 2021 season, in which the Aggies were extremely inexperienced at the position.
From everything I’ve heard, the five-star recruit is very much in the competition. Still, I’d expect King or Johnson to get the nod. King is entering his third year in the offense and won the starting job a year ago. Johnson has a full season-plus of SEC starts from his time at LSU. And if Weigman doesn’t win the job, I don’t suspect he’ll look to transfer right away. He committed to Fisher while he was still a high school junior and their relationship is longstanding.
If you could go to only one home game as a fan for each program, ie, one Texas A&M home game in College Station, one Texas Tech game in Lubbock, which games would you circle on your calendar? — Sam S.
In alphabetical order:
Baylor: vs. Oklahoma State, Oct. 1 — The Big 12 championship game rematch should be a key game in this year’s conference race, too.
Houston: vs. Rice, Sept. 24 — It’s the Battle for the Bayou Bucket. Always fun to see the crosstown rivals scrap.
North Texas: vs. SMU, Sept. 3 — Big home opener in a critical year for the Mean Green. This matchup was closer for three quarters than the score suggested last year.
Rice: vs. UTSA, Nov. 19 — Hosting the reigning conference champs while playing for bowl eligibility will be a challenge, but the Owls have pulled off stunning upsets before.
SMU: vs. TCU, Sept. 24 — You know the Iron Skillet will be sizzling when former SMU coach Sonny Dykes makes his return to the Hilltop in TCU purple.
Texas: vs. Alabama, Sept. 10 — Easy one. Two big brands and future conference foes. How often do you get to see one of the sport’s standard-bearers in person?
Texas A&M: vs. LSU, Nov. 26 — If the Aggies have the season they’re hoping for, the regular-season finale should have some stakes attached.
TCU: vs. Texas Tech, Nov. 5 — Before the cactus thing, I probably would have said Oklahoma on Oct. 1. But now I think there will be some real spice to this game.
Texas State: vs. Arkansas State, Nov. 19 — The Bobcats are trying to reach a bowl for the first time. Winning this one will be key. And if Layne Hatcher wins the Texas State starting quarterback job, he’ll face his old team.
Texas Tech: vs. Texas, Sept. 24 — The Houston game in Week 2 is also a contender, but it’s an afternoon kickoff. If Tech gets a night kickoff when the Longhorns come to town, hold on to your hats.
UTEP: vs. North Texas, Aug. 27 — The Miners are expecting a big crowd for their Week Zero game (more than 36,000 tickets have been sold, nearly 80 percent of the Sun Bowl’s capacity). How cool would it be to see a Sun Bowl sellout for the first time in 14 years?
UTSA: vs. Houston, Sept. 3 — Tough opponent for the Conference USA champs to open up 2022. The Alamodome should provide a good atmosphere for a compelling matchup.
Oklahoma and Texas ruled the Big 12. Oklahoma on the field, but OU and Texas off the field. When the two schools leave, does the power in the league get more evenly distributed among the remaining schools, or is there a program or two that may try to flex their muscles to fill the void as the leader? — Mike
My sense is there will be more balance in the power dynamics across the conference. To borrow a term that my colleague Ari Wasserman has used, most of the Big 12 schools will operate with the same “salary cap.”
None of the public schools that will remain in the league have the budget of Texas and Oklahoma. The Longhorns generated $167 million in athletic revenue in 2021 while the Sooners made $145 million, according to the Knight Foundation. The rest of the Big 12 members mostly hovered in the $75 million-$95 million range last year (note: Baylor and TCU figures were unavailable because they’re private schools). The incoming Big 12 members will look to raise their budgets closer to what the continuing members have.
My guess is the continuing schools will probably have more sway than the newcomers because there’s a numbers advantage (eight vs. four) and a financial edge, too (the new schools won’t be full share members until Year 3). While it’s less likely that a particular school will garner the type of power the two departing members have, I can envision a scenario where certain administrators gain more power and influence based on either tenure in the league or stability at their schools.
Sam, do you get a little jealous of writers who cover only one team like Brody Miller covering LSU or Seth Emerson covering Georgia? It seems like it would be easier but probably not as interesting. — Gary N.
I only get jealous on fall Sundays, when they are rewatching one game and I’m trying to rewatch about 10.
But in all seriousness, no. Covering a beat is a great experience, and I had that chance in my first four or so years covering college football (Houston in 2011 and Texas A&M 2012-14). It was fun, I learned a lot and established some great relationships. But I found over time that my interests are much broader than the scope of one program.
That is a big reason why I took this job: the ability to roam the state and find different storylines. I have just as much fun spending a day watching Jeff Traylor hand out Whataburger taquitos to UTSA students or nerding out on the intricacies of SMU’s player personnel department as I do being in the house for the Red River rivalry or Texas A&M-Alabama. Routine can be nice, but I like the different challenges each new day can bring.
I enjoy the ability to zig when others zag. So although there are certain times when my life might be easier if I covered just one team, I wouldn’t trade it for the job I have now.
(Photo of TCU celebrating winning the Battle for the Saddle at Texas Tech last season: Michael C. Johnson / USA Today)