- Rarely do Texas and Texas A&M have the same sky-high expectations heading into a season, but with top-five signing classes on the way and the potential for top-10 preseason rankings a few months later, they better get used to being mentioned in the same breath.
Texas and Texas A&M aren’t renewing their storied rivalry anytime soon. We know this, despite the topic’s persistence as an offseason storyline. Last year, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte called his Texas A&M counterpart Scott Woodward to chat about scheduling a home-and-home series, but it was ultimately too difficult to make room in the schedule.
Since Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, the only time these programs have been talked about in the same sentence was in rumors of a restoration of their annual rivalry. But this offseason, it will be fair to say the Aggies and Longhorns as running on parallel trajectories entering the 2019 season.
Both programs have experienced their share of triumph and turbulence over the past 20 years: Texas won a national championship with Vince Young and played for another with Colt McCoy, but Hall of Fame coach Mack Brown was ultimately pushed out after too many unsatisfactory seasons; Texas A&M bolstered the rise of Johnny Manziel and Kliff Kingsbury, who toppled Alabama as a QB-OC duo in the program’s first year of SEC play, but that 2012 season marked the Aggies’ only 10-win campaign since 1999.
Now the programs are in the hands of coaches who seem to have them heading in the right direction toward consistent national relevance. In Tom Herman’s second year, Texas won 10 games for the first time since 2009, prompting quarterback Sam Ehlinger to proclaim, “We’re baaack!” after the Longhorns beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Jimbo Fisher’s first Aggies team won nine games and nearly knocked off eventual national champion Clemson in Week 2. Both teams finished in the top 20 and are primed to maintain their high rankings when the preseason polls come out this summer.
Some fans will resist the temptation to get too excited, but the next eight months are destined to serve as a table-setter for a season that will arrive with more combined hype than it has in years for Texas and Texas A&M. When Herman and Fisher were hired by their respective programs, their charge was to show improvement from previous coaching staffs (Charlie Strong and Kevin Sumlin’s teams) and compete within deep leagues. Their progress has been evident: Texas reached the Big 12 title game last year for the first time since the Colt McCoy era, and Texas A&M beat LSU for the first time since joining the SEC (but not before playing seven OTs).
The momentum has carried over to the recruiting trail, where both programs look set to haul in top-five classes ahead of National Signing Day on Feb. 6. It’s the first time in at least 20 years (or at least since recruiting services have been keeping track) that Texas and Texas A&M have nabbed top-five classes at the same time, and it’s also the first time they’ve both been in the top 10 since 2004, according to 247Sports’s recruiting rankings records.
It might not be safe yet to expect either of these teams to make a run at the College Football Playoff, but both have early tests that will suffice as solid measuring sticks, starting on Sept. 7, when Texas hosts LSU and Texas A&M visits reigning national champion Clemson. Then the Longhorns have to deal with Oklahoma, which avenged a Red River Shootout loss in December for its fourth straight Big 12 title and now has a new quarterback in Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts who is expected to follow in the footsteps of standout Sooners transfer QBs Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Meanwhile, the Aggies’ 2019 schedule should be one of the toughest in the country: In addition to Clemson, they play Alabama at home and travel to LSU and Georgia. No wonder Woodward wouldn’t jump at the chance to make room for a Power 5 opponent like Texas.
Naturally, there are questions facing both teams. Texas lost top receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (86 catches for 1,176 yards and nine touchdowns) to the NFL draft, backup quarterback Shane Buechele entered the transfer portal and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will have a relatively inexperienced group after losing eight starters. Texas A&M’s biggest challenge will be handling its tough schedule, sorting out its depth at linebacker after losing top tacklers Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson, and replacing production along the defensive line after seniors Kingsley Keke, Landis Durham and Daylon Mack (19 sacks among the trio) graduated.
Last fall, a Texas lawmaker attempted to draft legislation to reinstate an annual November game between the old rivals. Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio, a Texas A&M alum, filed House Bill 412 that called for the teams to play annually. If either school refused, they would be docked athletic scholarships or state funding, according to the bill. Larson said this was basically just to get a conversation going.
While the Longhorns and Aggies unfortunately still can’t figure out a way to bring their game back, at least they’re sharing a conversation about national relevancy for the first time in a long time.