End of an era for Horns, Aggies

The victor of Thursday night's showdown will get to boast about this one for a lot longer than that.

It is Texas A&M's last Big 12 game before the Aggies move to the Southeastern Conference next season. They hoped to continue the rivalry, which began in 1894, but the Longhorns have said their schedule is full through 2018.

The possibility that this could be the last meeting between these rivals has taken this already heated matchup to another level.

Texas coach Mack Brown talked to his players about the shot to go out on top.

"You should enjoy this because this could the last time that Texas ever plays Texas A&M," Brown said he told them. "If that happens, you've got something to talk to your kids about, your grandkids about, you'll be part of history. I also told them ... you'd like for it to be a good memory."

The Longhorns got Brown's point loud and clear.

"This game will be remembered. The score will be remembered, just because it is the last one in a long series," Texas safety Blake Gideon said.

Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and coach Mike Sherman conveyed a similar message to the Aggies.

"This game's never just another game," DeRuyter said. "The fact that it's the last one for a long time has coach Sherman and I have (saying): `It's the one you're going to remember for years, 15 or 20 years down the road you'll be talking about it. It's your chance to affect that."

There's never been any love lost between the state's two largest universities separated by little more than 100 miles. They pride themselves on their differences. But the circumstances surrounding the end of the rivalry have caused even more animosity.

After all those years, all the storied games and players, the end came in a hurry. Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in August that the Aggies were considering a departure from the Big 12 after months of barely disguised angst over Texas and its Longhorn Network as well as the future of the league. Loftin called it a "100-year decision" and said he had approached the SEC commissioner back in July.

From then on, it was just a matter of time before the Aggies left.

"We would love to see A&M in the conference," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said then. "(But) if they feel they have to go, we wish them the very best."

Loftin has been outspoken about his desire to continue the rivalry with Texas.

"I think that Texas A&M-Texas can continue to be one of these great rivalries that captures the attention of fans from both the SEC and the Big 12, as well as of college football fans across the country," he said. "This game is truly bigger than the presidents, athletic directors and coaches of these two great universities, and I fully hope that we will meet again on the football field at some point in the future."

Former Texas quarterback Vince Young, who grew up in Houston, beat the Aggies in each of his three seasons as a starter. He said it will be strange for Texas not to play the Aggies anymore.

"It's kind of funny, it's going to be different," he said. "I don't know who we're going to be playing now on Thanksgiving ... but overall, it's kind of tough seeing that (rivalry end)."

Brown, who is 9-4 against A&M, said he wasn't asked by his bosses whether the game should continue.

"I'm just a simple little football coach trying to win games," he said. "I don't get into the big stuff. That's regents and obviously much bigger than me ... realignment has been really emotional for everybody in college football. We've seen changes I never thought we'd see."

Though the game is always meaningful because of the rivalry, there isn't a lot riding on this year's matchup, with both teams mired in mediocre seasons. Neither team is ranked or in contention for the Big 12 title. Since both teams already have six wins the game won't be like last season when A&M's 24-17 win kept the Longhorns from qualifying for a bowl game.

Still, players from both teams know that fans are never OK with a loss in this game.

"If you lose to them, the whole town turns on you," Texas A&M defensive back Terrence Frederick said. "That's every year. We lost a few games this year, but people say: `It doesn't matter as long as you beat Texas."'

Young said he had many friends who played for the Aggies and he never let an opportunity pass to talk about the game.

"You get to talk trash all year `round ... and then, you know, going down and playing at their field and vice versa, them coming to our field, so ... it's a lot of history with it," he said.

"You don't lose to A&M, that's one thing you don't do," he said with a laugh.

Texas A&M broke a three-game losing streak last week with a 61-7 win over Kansas. The Longhorns have lost two in a row heading into the game.

The Aggies could be without running back Cyrus Gray, whose status is uncertain because of a stress fracture in his left shoulder. Gray, who has more than 1,000 yards rushing this season, ran for 223 yards and two scores in last year's win over Texas.

If he can't go, Texas A&M will have to rely on sophomore Ben Malena and freshman Will Randolph, who made his college debut last week.

The Longhorns have their own troubles on offense, with quarterback David Ash struggling in a 17-13 loss to Kansas State last week. After losing two turnovers in that game, Brown could go back to Case McCoy as the starter this week.

Brown wouldn't say who would start against the Aggies, but whoever it is will certainly have to find a way to help the offense score more points to compete with Texas A&M. The Longhorns have scored just 18 points in the last two games combined while the Aggies have piled up 111.

Of course, statistics and records don't usually mean much when these teams meet. Players from both sides know that regardless of how the rest of the season has gone, anything can happen in this game.

"I think that's the reason why a lot of us play football is for games like these," Texas tight end Blaine Irby said.

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