Sure, TCU Could Make The Playoff. But More Importantly, It Earned Texas Football Bragging Rights.

Bragging rights are the lifeblood of football, and perhaps no state is more passionate about that fact than Texas. You may have heard that the state has a particular fondness for the sport, to the point that no one can seem to distinguish whether it’s the high school or college classification — or simply the Dallas Cowboys — that operates as the state’s de facto religion. So when the TCU Horned Frogs and Texas Longhorns squared off on Saturday, it wasn’t just another game — it was a battle to be unofficially crowned king of football in the game’s most avid habitat.

“In the state of Texas, you want to be No. 1,” Drew Hogan, a TCU fan, told ESPN earlier this season. “It doesn’t matter what game it is, who it is, you want to win for bragging rights at dinner.”

And after this past weekend, those rights went to the psychedelic frogs from Fort Worth, whose 17-10 win over the Longhorns punched TCU’s ticket to the Big 12 championship game and kept their College Football Playoff hopes alive. Most importantly, the victory means TCU has climbed atop Texas’s heap of 12 Football Bowl Subdivision programs,1 extending a recent renaissance for a program that had gone more than 50 years without being the state’s best team until the 2010s.

To decide which team was the King of Texas (KoT) in each of the 121 seasons played since 1902, we turned to eSRS, a Simple Rating System-like evaluation that adjusts a team’s points per game margin for home-field advantage and the quality of its opponents based on their Elo ratings.

To the surprise of few, the University of Texas reigns supreme overall, earning KoT honors a whopping 51 times, including every season from 1999 through 2006. With four of the state’s six national championships to its credit, the Longhorns have set the standard in the state for more than a century. However, UT has fallen on relatively hard times in recent years. Over the course of 120 seasons, Texas has failed to produce a winning campaign just 17 times, but five of those instances have occurred since 2010.

In 2015, Texas was considered by eSRS to be just the sixth-best team in the state and it only improved to fifth-best in 2016. In 2021, Steve Sarkisian’s first season as head coach, the Longhorns ranked fourth in the state and experienced the team’s longest losing streak in 65 years. This year, they will probably rank second (in part due to a high strength of schedule rating), but that probably says more about the rest of the state — TCU excluded — than anything else.

Longhorns archrival Texas A&M earned KoT honors in 32 seasons, including seven times in the 1990s. Following the Aggies, TCU ranks third all time with 13 KoT honors (including 2022), nearly a quarter of which have come since the team moved to the Big 12 in 2012. After a half-century drought, the Horned Frogs are on pace to earn top billing in the state for a third time since the playoff was introduced in 2014. SMU (7), Baylor (6), Houston (6), Rice (4) and Texas Tech (2) round out the rest of the KoT leaderboard.

UT is historically the King of Texas, but others are gaining

Most times ranking as college football’s “King of Texas” (having the highest schedule-adjusted points-per-game differential among Texas schools in a season), since 1902

Team Pre-1980 ’80s ’90s 2000s ’10s ’20s Total
University of Texas 37 2 3 9 . . 51
Texas A&M 18 3 7 . 3 1 32
TCU 9 . . . 3 1 13
SMU 4 3 . . . . 7
Baylor 2 . . . 3 1 6
Houston 3 2 . . 1 . 6
Rice 4 . . . . . 4
Texas Tech 1 . . 1 . . 2

Source: Sports-Reference.com/CFB

The story of college football can’t be written without the state of Texas, which has produced eight Heisman Trophy winners from six different schools — including Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker, who have awards named after them. But the state is in the midst of a quiet period for its marquee attractions. For example, Baylor has claimed at least a share of the Big 12 championship three times since 2013 — as many times as UT and Texas A&M have combined to win since 1998.2 In 2016, the state earned three wins against Top 25 opponents over Labor Day weekend, winning the first week of college football (according to Texas Monthly). That season ended without a single Texas team in the AP postseason Top 25, the first instance in 49 years.

All told, the state of Texas has not experienced a national championship since 2005, a stretch that has seen six other states claim titles (including Alabama, which has won a whopping seven).

When the 2022 season began, there were three Texas-based teams in the Preseason AP Top 25.3 But six weeks later, each had fallen off — most notably the Texas A&M Aggies, a popular playoff candidate in the offseason that recently earned the distinction of being the first program to lead a No. 1 recruiting class to a losing season. While only three teams from the Lone Star State currently have losing records, just one of them is ranked.4

That lone ranked team from the Lone Star State? None other than the No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs. They are this season’s Kings of Texas — and with the state’s near-pathological interest in the sport, they won’t lack for support the rest of the way.

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