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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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