CHARLIE PALLILO

Texas college football is in a state of disarray

Jimbo Fisher's first year looks a lot like the Aggies under Kevin Sumlin. Bob Levey/Getty Images

With the Texans enjoying their open week this could have been a weekend of major focus on college football in Texas. It is not. The Lone Star State is irrelevant to the national scene. That has been too true too often for almost a decade.

Texas A&M’s early season promise under Jimbo Fisher has faded, as did the Aggies themselves in fourth quarter curl up losses to fellow SEC also-rans Mississippi State and Auburn. Hiring Jimbo was a long term play for the Ags, but season one from the $75 million dollar man is a disappointment. Kevin Sumlin produced 5-4 records for a lot less money.

Just a couple of weeks ago Texas had risen to No. 6 in the country. The Longhorns were back! And in two snaps of the fingers they were gone again. Tom Herman made himself look ridiculous after UT’s back to back losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia. If the Horns don’t beat Texas Tech in Lubbock Saturday they won’t even be in the Top 25 anymore, and Herman would clinch being two for two in producing unsatisfying seasons in Austin since his move from the University of Houston.

The Cougars are off a bad loss at SMU, basically ruining their major bowl hopes. The best program in Texas over recent years has been TCU. The Frogs have croaked their way to 4-5 this season. Texas Tech is Texas Tech. Rice may be the worst team in the entire FBS.

You can call it the Lone Star Sad State of college football.

Meanwhile the Texans sit quite happily at 6-3. Tennessee’s win Monday night at the Cowboys keeps the Titans viable, but they probably lose to the Patriots Sunday to fall to 4-5. Given their schedule the only way the Texans don’t win the AFC South is if they fade/collapse/choke. That would include losing at home to the Titans on the Monday night after Thanksgiving. Sunday’s Colts-Jaguars loser drops to 3-6 and can schedule an autopsy. The winner is 4-5 and would have a slim shot at beating out the Texans with a win in Houston mandatory.

Then there is America’s Team. What a punchline. I leave it to you to decide where the whole Make America Great Again thing stands, but making America’s Team Great Again? Pfffffffft. The Dallas Cowboys can spike television ratings and sell sponsorships and merchandise like no other, but on the field the Cowboys continue their near quarter century run of nothing. A likely loss at Philadelphia Sunday drops Dallas to 3-6, and makes Jerry Jones trading his 2019 first round draft pick for wide receiver Amari Cooper even more inane than it was at the time of the deal.

Reminder: since the Texans entered the NFL in 2002, they have never remotely approached elite franchise status. Playoff victories since the Texans started playing: Texans 3, Cowboys 2. Only the Texans have a legit shot to add to their number this season.

Disarmed

The expected bad news came down this week that Lance McCullers had Tommy John surgery and will not pitch again until 2020. It’s a bummer for Lance who loses out on millions of dollars, but for the Astros it’s far from devastating. Even before this outcome, counting on Lance for a full quality 2019 would have been stupid as he has yet to make it through a big league season healthy. McCullers’s stuff is electric, his competitive fire tremendous. But his results over the last two seasons have basically been average. The electric stuff should come back. Tommy John surgery and recovery are almost routine these days. The Astros can just look at what Nathan Eovaldi did to them (and to the Yankees and Dodgers) in the postseason. Eovaldi has had two Tommy John surgeries.

With Dallas Keuchel a near surefire departure via free agency and McCullers done for the next year, the Astros have spots to fill in the starting rotation, three if Charlie Morton isn’t back. Simply inking in Josh James for 150 quality innings would be silly, but the Astros don’t need Justin Verlander level results from him. Among James, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, and perhaps Framber Valdez the Astros have plentiful internal options. Perhaps Forrest Whitley gets back on track after his drug suspension and injury hindered 2018, and resumes the hoped for path for one of the very best pitching prospects in the game. If so, Whitley should debut with the Astros at some point in 2019.

Jeff Luhnow will almost certainly add at least one starter from the outside, perhaps a Morton type, meaning someone whose underlying data the Astros really like. Or perhaps the Alvin native Eovaldi considers defecting from the 2018 champs to the 2017 champs.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado may sign for more than 600 million guaranteed between them.  2. Jim Crane’s group bought the Astros for 610 mil. 3. Greatest mega-purchases: Bronze-Alaska from Russia for two cents per acre.  Silver-Louisiana Purchase from France Gold-Manhattan from Indians for $24 (even if apocryphal).


 

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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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