If you consume an ESPN product, be it online or broadcast or magazine, we hope you are prepared to hear about Texas at least as often as the teams that actually matter, no matter how many games they lose. This is what happens when they invest $300 million in a team-specific network.
Yesterday, ESPN.com launched their top 25 preview page, blurbing all the games featuring ranked teams from this first long weekend of action. Here's a screenshot, grabbed by Awful Announcing. See if you can tell me which of these games doesn't belong.
Yes, Texas, unranked Texas, gets their game mentioned prominently, even though the AP poll has them on the outside looking in. Coincidentally, the preview reminds you that you can watch the game Saturday night on the Longhorn Network, even though you probably can't.
It's important to note that although Texas is ranked in the USA Today poll, that's not the one they're using. They have Boise at No. 5, which is their AP rank, not at their USA Today-ranked No. 7. They also don't include Penn State's game — the Nittany Lions, like the Longhorns, being ranked by USA Today but not the AP. And ESPN.com didn't bother to put a ranking next to Texas's name, not even pretending that there's a good reason to have them in here.
But overnight, a funny thing happened. After being called out by Awful Announcing and a group of A&M fans, the Texas-Rice game disappeared from the page. It's still there in Google's cache, but it's as if it never existed. It's as if they never tried to shoehorn hype for their fledgling network's programming into a place it didn't belong. It's as if ESPN never had problems crossing the line between editorial and advertising.