By SEAN PENDERGAST
Floridians will try to convince you that their state is the fulcrum of the high school and college football universe. Californians will do the same. However, there’s a reason that Friday Night Lights was based in the rural reaches of West Texas. That’s because Texas is football, and football is Texas, and undeniably it is our state that is the tone-setting power base for that great sport.
Along those lines, if the sport of football were a living, breathing organism, in Texas its vital signs would be the heartbeats of the programs at the University of Texas and at Texas A&M, two in-state rivals whose football cachet is surpassed only by their ability to generate football-related revenue. In 2012, the two marquee programs of the old Southwest Conference and the newer Big XII split up for good, with A&M, tired of playing “baby brother” to Texas in the Big XII, leaving for the Southeastern Conference.
While college football at large would lament the cancellation of the annual Thanksgiving Day tussle between the two schools, life went on just fine for both after the breakup. In fact, in 2012, A&M, under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin, would go 11-2, upset top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and see a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy. In Austin, things weren’t quite as festive as they were in College Station, but the Longhorns were still a respectable 9-4 under legendary head coach Mack Brown and, perhaps more important to some at the Forty Acres, were cashing the next of many $15 million annual checks from the Longhorn Network.
Life was undoubtedly good for both schools, and between A&M’s giving the state what appeared to be a strong entrant in the powerful SEC, the rise of Baylor under head coach Art Briles and the admittance of TCU into the Big XII, college football in the state of Texas was on solid ground in virtually every respect, if not thriving, heading into 2013.