AUSTIN, Texas (AP)
Texas has a new rival. Or make that an old one.
With the breakup of the annual Texas-Texas A&M rivalry after more than 100 years, the No. 18 Longhorns will face Big 12 newcomer TCU on Thanksgiving night in a renewal of an old Southwest Conference grudge match.
And the Longhorns (8-2, 5-2) acknowledged Monday that not having the Aggies to knock heads with anymore feels kind of weird.
"I miss it a lot," senior free safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "I wish we could play them one more time."
Although the Longhorns and Aggies could still meet in a bowl, the annual rivalry ended last season, Texas A&M's last in the Big 12. Texas won the last game 27-25 on a last-second field goal.
"We ended it the way we needed to end it," junior strong safety Adrian Phillips said.
Unlike most of last season's second half, the Longhorns are playing much better down the stretch. They've won four straight since back-to-back losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma, piling up 609 yards of offense Nov. 10 in a 33-7 rout of Iowa State.
"Offensively we've been pretty good overall," coach Mack Brown said. "... Our defense was what was really, really poor, and I think we're improving as a team because our defense is improving. And I think the reason they're improving is they're playing with more confidence."
TCU's defense, on the other hand, has given up 38.3 points per game while losing three of its last four. It fared better against then-No. 3 Kansas State on Nov. 10, but the offense produced nothing until less than seven minutes remained in the fourth quarter of a 23-10 loss.
Texas has played on Thanksgiving 75 times dating to 1895, including 64 games against the Aggies. Texas wanted to keep its holiday game tradition and the Big 12 served up TCU this year.
The Horned Frogs (6-4, 3-4) are one of Texas' oldest rivals even though the teams have met just once since the breakup of the old Southwest Conference in 1995. Texas and TCU have played 82 times, making it the fifth-most played series in Texas history.
Brown said he was sorry to see the rivalry with A&M disappear, but he's glad the Longhorns still get to play a Texas-based team on Thursday.
"Realignment has changed traditions, it's changed history, which I don't like," Brown said. "I'm really excited we're playing an old Southwest rival that has really done a great job in the BCS the last few years. The same people will watch this game that were going to watch A&M. Fans will be excited about it."
The change in opponent has forced some changes to some other longstanding traditions.
The annual team dinner was renamed from the "Aggie Supper" to the "Senior Supper" to send off the senior players before their last home game. Also, Texas hosts an annual nighttime "Hex Rally" before the A&M game, a tradition that started in 1941. The school still planned to hold a rally to put the hex on TCU.
"We asked a lot of students and players and they were just about unanimous that they wanted to keep that tradition," Brown said. "It puts the hex on the opponent regardless of the opponent, no matter who it is. Our fans and the TCU fans will be excited."
Texas dominated the old series with the Horned Frogs 61-20-1. The last meeting in 2007 was a 34-13 Texas victory.
When asked if he'd like to make TCU a permanent Thanksgiving opponent, Brown said that decision "will be above me. I didn't have anything to do with TCU. That was made through the conference."
Texas junior guard Mason Walters predicted Texas fans will embrace the "new" rivalry, even if it's just for one Thanksgiving game. Walters said he's already heard from some "much older" players and fans who remember the heyday of the Horned Frogs-Longhorns rivalry in the SWC.
"They're talking about TCU," Walters said. "It means something to them."