The Longhorns declaring their athletic independence (at least in football anyway) has been bandied about for quite some time now. And while I don't think anyone doubts it's plausibility, especially of late, I also don't get the feeling most UT fans really think it's a distinct possibility - what with the holiday super conference shopping season right around the corner and Larry Scott making his list and checking it twice to find out who's been OU and who's been Baylor.
As with anything college football related, Belmont's next move will most likely come down to guaranteed and potential monetary gain. But let's suspend fiscal disbelief for a minute and visualize what an independent football schedule might actually look like as if its attractiveness to fans were the determining factor of what UT does next...
When thinking about the potential schedule, I set the following parameters:
1) The main objective is to maximize national exposure without alienating the regional base...in other words, don't cut off your recruiting nose to spite UT fans who like playing the teams their friends, neighbors and coworkers root for.
2) Maintain the delicate balance of weighing strength of schedule/post season aspirations against always maximizing viewer interest...translation: always put some meat on the plate, but don't forget the veggies and the starches. And save room for one or two cupcakes for dessert.
3) Remember that Texas will essentially be playing 12 or 13 non-conference games and who's on the schedule will most likely be just as important as when they're on the schedule...in layman's terms, it pays to spread out the heavy hitters and put a few of them late in the line-up after they've been thru a gauntlet of their own.
I also took some notes regarding Notre Dame's scheduling practices as the God Squad has been doing this for a while now and is a team whose pedigree, fan base and yearly goals closely align with our own...
2011 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE
(Annual games in bold)
South Florida (Oops)
Boston College *
Notes: Judging by this and schedules from years past and future, it looks like a fairly even balance between regional rivals/long standing games and nationwide exposure in fertile recruiting areas. And it's also hard to miss the fact that most of the non-long standing games are against AQ schools that are decent but not perennial power teams. And I don't think that's by accident. Though I did notice ND has OU and Miami on the schedule next year and they may be doing that partly because they haven't been getting the boost in SOS they typically get from teams like Michigan and USC of late.
[UPDATE] * Note from our resident Leprechauna: Stanford is more of an annual game than Boston College. BC and the Irish aren’t playing in 2013, 2014, or 2017, and they’ve only played each other 20 times. Stanford is also a newer rivalry, but they’ve played every year since 1997 and are scheduled to play every year through 2019.
Onward. So using those parameters and examples as a guide, what might Texas' schedule look like if they were independent...
TEXAS MOCK SCHEDULE AS AN INDEPENDENT
(Annual games in bold).
Rice - Mack doesn't want a heavy hitter right off the bat and Rice is a team with regional and historical ties. Also, Rice is in Houston, a huge recruiting hotbed and alumni base. Alternatives would be teams like SMU or some of the non-AQ schools from Louisiana (La-La) or Florida (FAU).
BYU - Funny how that worked out, but they'll be a fellow independent and annual game for as long as they stay that way.
Cal - West Coast exposure. I think UT would also entertain playing Stanford, UCLA, Washington, either Arizona school and maybe Oregon in this spot.
Notre Dame - Another fellow independent and a great national marquee match-up.
Baylor - Regional game in our own backyard. Easy on the travel. Might see Houston here too, maybe even TCU.
OU - Main rival. Despite what Stoops said, this game is never going away. The fan bases may hate each other, but they realize this game is largely responsible for making us who we are. It's one of the all-time rivalries along with Army/Navy, Michigan/OSU, Bama/Auburn, USC/Notre Dame and Florida/Gerogia. You don't throw that away regardless because they don't make rivalries like these anymore because they can't make them like these anymore.
Navy - Fellow independent. Willing to play all over US.
North Carolina - East coast exposure. You could put a lot of the schools in the ACC in this spot as well.
Texas Tech - Long standing game, administrations have ties to each other. They will push hard to keep this game.
Penn State - The northeast exposure is nice, but I'm really looking for national exposure here late in the year against another big state school. Other options include Tennessee, Iowa, Florida State, and maybe even Nebraska.
OSU - Another semi-regional game that doesn't require a long flight if played on the road. I could also see schools like Mizzou, Kansas and an AQ like New Mexico here.
Texas A&M - Don't doubt it. It may not be on Thanksgiving, but it'll be on the schedule if we're independent. SEC teams typically play a late season non-con and most of them already have their last game of the year scheduled. I'm on record as saying I'm for putting this rivalry on hiatus, but if Texas is independent, we're not going to leave a regional rivalry like this off the table.
What do you think? I feel like I protected the regional base, stayed loyal to our fellow independents and got some good national exposure in fertile recruiting regions. Might have gone a little heavy on the strength of schedule though.
Lastly, if you really want to put this schedule to the test, stack it up against the other most likely scenario and that's going to help form the Pac 16, which would probably look something like this...
TEXAS MOCK SCHEDULE IN THE PAC 16
(Regional non-con, non-AQ like Rice)
(East coast non-con, but AQ team with high profile like a Georgia, Penn State or even Florida - hello Muschamp)
(Another east coast non-con, but another non-AQ like Florida Atlantic)
(Pac 16 North Division rotation - Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, WU, WSU, CU, Utah)
(Another Pac 16 North Division rotation)
(Possible Pac 16 Championship Game)
[UPDATE]** Up for debate as some believe if the Pac 16 forms, UCLA and USC will go with the North or West division and Utah and Colorado will actually be with Texas in the South or East division.
Not sure which one gives us a better chance to fight for a title. The independent schedule seems tougher on paper, but also allows for more flexibility. The Pac 16 schedule depends a lot on who we draw from the Pac 12 north division. We get Washington State and Oregon State this year compared to getting Stanford and Oregon, pretty big swing. Then again, we would also have to play in the conference championship game.
Your thoughts...no doubt you all have been thinking about this too.