Shortly after our College Football America Yearbook Editor-in-Chief Matthew Postins signed off on the final proofs for our 2021 edition, we went to press, only to be upstaged by the biggest news of the offseason — Texas and Oklahoma were headed to the SEC.
While the timing was a surprise, the actual news itself wasn’t too shocking. The Big 12 has felt like a league on borrowed time ever since Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M bolted the conference a decade ago. The news also took me back to a conversation I had with former University of Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds during the 2011 college football season, after I sent an e-mail complaining about Texas’ lack of respect for the Texas A&M rivalry (full disclosure: I’m a Texas grad who bleeds orange). In our conversation, Dodds stunned me with a comment that implied UT no longer considered Texas A&M to be its rival.
This all occurred in the aftermath of the launch of the Longhorn Network, which is often cited as the final domino that fell before Texas A&M’s decision to accept an invitation to join the SEC. For several years thereafter, Dodds and the UT administration continued to take potshots at Texas A&M, and he even stated in a 2013 interview that if you took a survey of UT fans and whether they wanted to play A&M in football, it would have been an overwhelming “no.” Former Texas head coach Mack Brown was also dismissive of the rivalry, saying at the time that he didn’t “think it’ll make any difference” and that “there’ll be other rivalries.”
I didn’t buy what Dodds and my beloved alma mater were selling me then, and I don’t buy it now. It was a bunch of, well, Bevo crap, and while there may have been some younger Texas fans willing to give the Aggies a finger out the door at the time, I don’t believe the older fans and players ever thought it was a good idea to end the rivalry. The continued interest in the rivalry since then is the best proof it did matter to most of us, and eventually, there were even efforts by the Texas Legislature through the years to require the two teams to play.
However you slice it, one thing is for sure — it’s clear that Texas A&M’s move to the SEC was the right thing for the Aggies, and even a humbled Dodds admitted as much earlier this summer. And that was before the news broke that Texas had accepted a decision to join the SEC — a move that will unravel some of the biggest moves Dodds made in his final years as the school’s athletic director. SEC teams have appeared in all but one national championship game since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, and the conference has collectively won five national championships in that span (none by A&M, of course).
The Big 12, meanwhile, hasn’t had a participant in a single national championship game since 2010, when Texas lost to Alabama, 37-21, in the BCS National Championship Game, predating the current College Football Playoff National Championship game. Texas hasn’t won so much as a single conference championship since then.
Granted, Texas A&M’s dry spell is even longer — dating back to a Big 12 title in 1998 — but even with an average run in the SEC, the Aggies have reaped the benefits of playing in the nation’s top athletic conference. In their first season in the SEC in 2012, Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, which ranks as the biggest accomplishment by either the Aggies or Longhorns during that span. The Aggies also embarked on a major renovation of Kyle Field that made it the largest stadium in Texas and the SEC, with a seating capacity of 102,733. Finally, the program is coming off a 9-1 finish in its third season under former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, and the Aggies enter the 2021 season ranked No. 6 in the College Football America Yearbook Preseason Top 30.
As for Texas? Well, Brown lasted just two seasons after Texas A&M left for the SEC and currently leads the program at North Carolina. Texas lasted just three years under Charlie Strong (2014-16) and only four more under Tom Herman (2017-20). The Longhorns will turn the reins to their fourth head coach since the Aggies left the Big 12, with former Washington and USC head coach Steve Sarkisian taking over the latest rebuilding project in Austin.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 that floundered for years after the departures of Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M now appears on life support after the announcement that Oklahoma and Texas would finally rejoin forces with the Aggies in the SEC. Burned by the latest moves by Texas and Oklahoma are long-time rivals like Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech. At least this time, Brown’s words that “there will be other rivalries” has some merit, as the Longhorns and Sooners will rekindle rivalries with the likes of A&M and Arkansas while adding powerhouses like Alabama and LSU to the schedule.
Meanwhile, the Longhorn Network, the catalyst for all this mess to begin with, also appears to be on life support. Since both the SEC Network and the Longhorn Network are members of the ESPN family, it seems likely that the Longhorn Network will cease to exist when the Longhorns make their move.
That’s if you were ever able to find it on your cable package to begin with.
Kendall Webb is the publisher of the College Football America Yearbook. The views in this piece are his and his alone.