Texas A&M’s departure from the Big 12 Conference for the SEC ended not only a college football tradition, but a Thanksgiving tradition. Texas replaces its annual Turkey Day rivalry game against A&M with TCU this Thanksgiving. Next year, Texas Tech gets the honor. Make no mistake, Texas keeping college football on the holiday is a win for fans. Still, does anyone else see the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders a bit like Texas trying to replace the turkey with a fish hoping no one notices?
DeLoss Dodds is vehement in his belief that the tradition is a Texas Longhorn one, and the opponent matters not. To this end, consider UT the Detroit Lions of college football — or more accurately the Dallas Cowboys, which forced its way into claiming Thanksgiving Day in 1966. What made the Thanksgiving game special wasn’t simply that it was Texas — it was Texas vs. Texas A&M, a game that defined rivalry during Rivalry Week.
Texas brass including Dodds isn’t going to publicize this idea, particularly given the contentious manner in which A&M left the conference. Still, the notion that proverbial tofurkey can replace the meat of one of the game’s premiere rivalries just seems arrogant. In that sense, the Cowboy organization’s demand to be featured on Thanksgiving some five decades ago is a worthy comparison. It’s also reminiscent of the hubris behind Texas making demands so divisive, they nearly crippled the Big 12 Conference.
All due respect given to TCU and Texas Tech; each has had more success than A&M over the course of recent years. Big 12 newcomer TCU in particular has been one of the most successful programs in all of college football for much of the last decade. The Horned Frogs are 6-4 in their inaugural season in the conference and have been involved in some of its most exciting games in 2012. TCU should prove to be an excellent match-up for the Longhorns. It’s just not a rival.
I am all in favor of Texas keeping its Thanksgiving slot. If that means playing TCU and Texas Tech, so be it. But to truly capture the magic that made Longhorn football so special on his holiday, Dodds must reach out and restore the rivalry.
Mack Brown hasn’t shied from marque non-conference games in his time as Texas head coach. The Longhorns completed a home-and-home series with UCLA last season, hosted TCU in 2007 and split a home-and-home with Ohio State in 2005 and 2006. The nine-game Big 12 schedule complicates out-of-conference scheduling. Should UT pursue a high profile game like a return series with Ohio State, it takes on a cumbersome burden with an SEC opponent already on the docket.
However, we’ve also seen how vital strength-of-schedule can be to championship aspirations, particularly for those teams without access to a 13th game via a conference championship. Teams jockeying for bids into the new playoff, which begins in 2014, need to bolster their resumes. A ready-made game against the SEC accomplishes just that, while also rejuvenating one of the sport’s greatest traditions.
Texas A&M had such a match-up as a Big 12 member, facing Arkansas in an annual rivalry game. It can be done.
Unfortunately, A&M seems to have already embraced that great SEC tradition of scheduling down in the non-conference. The Aggies didn’t play a single BCS opponent in the out-of-conference this season, won’t in 2013 and thus far for 2014 has scheduled SMU and Lamar.
There’s also the complicated matter of A&M and Texas’s relationship. The aforementioned Big 12 shake-ups like the Longhorn Network added another level of rancor to the relationship transcending the typical rivalry sentiment. A&M was able to leave a series that existed since 1894 without compunction because of the bad blood. It would take a Hail Mary of epic proportions to rekindle the Lone Star State Showdown.
Not even Charlie Brown could muster such a Thanksgiving miracle. So until then, this holiday is about Texas and only Texas.