Old School: Royal-ty Rules Privates

"Old School" is a regular summer feature here at InsideTexas.com. Today, Bert Hancock looks at the success, failure, and then success that Texas has had versus its in-state, private school rivals. Future editions will include looks at other Longhorn greats as well as interesting stories from the program's storied past.

If not for frequent national powers Rice and TCU, Texas would own not only the conference, but the nation too. Yet, each season, it seems at least one (sometimes both) of these small private schools knocks off the flagship state university.

So you could have read in 1962, after Darrell Royal had led Texas to its third conference title in just six seasons, a Cotton Bowl win, and some lofty national poll levels. The successes would have been much more fruitful if not for the feisty, fightin’ Owls and the "cockroach" Horned Frogs.

During the ’62 season, Rice saw its fortunes fall, winning only two times; against 1-9 Texas Tech and 3-7 Texas A&M. Hardly a team to fear. But the lackluster squad coached by legendary Jess Neely rose from nowhere to tie top-ranked Texas, 14-14, in Houston. After UT's celebration of the dramatic victory over the high-powered Arkansas Hogs, this result was the hangover.

Just the prior year, Darrell Royal had his Horns the runaway No. 1 team in the country, gobbling up 41 first-place votes out of 46 total in late November. His offense, led by "Jackrabbit" James Saxton, also gobbled the yardage and points. Through eight games, UT regularly popped 33-plus per contest and hadn’t been held to less than 27 (this era regularly featured very low scores). As Royal’s Longhorns prepared for a 2-4-1 TCU team, not even the most wild-eyed, risk-seeker would have bet the Longhorns would be shut out, 6-0. Said Darrell about this spoiler: "They're like a bunch of cockroaches. It's not what they eat and tote off, it's what they fall into and mess up that hurts." The Horned Frogs would finish 1961 by losing to Rice 35-16 and tying a two-win SMU team, both at home.

But TCU and Rice fairly frequently whipped Texas until DKR’s program finally began streaks that no one would have predicted at the time. After all, since 1930, the year after the infamous stock market crash, the Longhorns went into a gridiron depression against the Owls. Through that 1962 campaign, Rice owned a 17-15-1 mark over Texas.

Against TCU, the depression set in a couple years later (1932), but it ran deep. The Frogs took six of seven and 16 of 30 ending in that 1961 stunner.

SMU, yet another SWC private school, also had given Texas trouble. Through the 1940s and on the heels of a sweep during Doak Walker’s last three years, SMU had the only series lead historically over Texas among regular opponents (including OU, Arkansas, etc.) with an edge of 14-12-3. When Royal took over in 1957, the Mustangs became the only team to beat him the first two battles.

Though losers of seven straight to Oklahoma, Royal gained control of that series sooner than these small-enrollment conference counterparts by stampeding the Red River rivals eight straight and 12 of 13. However, he finally solved The University’s private (school) problems as well.

As the likes of TCU and Rice began to slump, they rarely even took on their spoiler role by 1963. Rice rose up once more in 1965 and TCU in ’67. SMU managed back-to-back upsets in 1965-’66.

But by the time Royal retired in 1976, any win by TCU, Rice, or SMU would be front page-worthy news. Starting in 1959, Texas only lost twice to SMU until 1980. In streaks long developed under DKR and continued through Fred Akers and David McWilliams, UT beat TCU 24 straight and Rice 28!

The Burnt Orange coach who finally showed "mercy" on the Horned Frogs and the Owls? The cold-hearted John Mackovic, who was stunned in Fort Worth in his first year (1992) by an otherwise one-win TCU team and then embarrassed on national television two years later by Rice in the rain. Owls’ fans came out of the nest with bumper stickers celebrating the ecliptic event. Longhorn fans–despite being used to losses generally by then–felt a surreal betrayal of sorts.

While it took Texas longer to establish any semblance of consistent excellence overall, it has reestablished its dominance of these once-formidable private schools. The Longhorns currently have winning streaks of three against TCU, five against Rice, and eight against SMU. That other private school, Baylor? After historically dominating the series save the Grant Teaff era, Texas has won six straight.

Before Darrell Royal captured his first national title (1963), most would have imagined anything but an easy ‘W’ for the state of Texas’ main public over the privates.

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