When the Big 12 finally announced its plans to adopt a plus-one schedule this season — nine conference games and one non-conference game — the league didn’t set a start date. The SEC, for instance, pushed back the start date to Sept. 26 after it announced a 10-game schedule without conference play.
On Tuesday, a spokesman indicated that member institutions will have plenty of flexibility setting the date for the non-conference game.
Big 12 spokesman said teams can play their one non-conference football game "anywhere from Week Zero (Aug. 29) till the week prior to their conference opener."— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) August 4, 2020
What does this mean for the Texas Longhorns?
Immediate speculation surrounded UTEP as the more likely non-conference game for Texas to keep rather than USF, currently set as the season opener. And, in fact, Chip Brown of Horns247 quickly reported the same — the Longhorns are expected to meet the Miners for the sixth time in school history.
Besides the UT system ties that could help standardize protocols across the two programs before the game, it’s also the case that UTEP poses much less of a threat to Texas than USF. The Miners are so bad that ESPN’s preseason SP+ projections slot them last in FBS at No. 130. The offense projects as one of the nation’s worst (No. 126) and the defense also projects as one of the nation’s worst (No. 129).
So that makes UTEP an appealing non-conference opponent that would allow Texas to sharpen up before conference play without risking a potentially close game.
Texas may have to pay a hefty price to cancel the game against USF, however — the schools already agreed to cancel two other games in the original three-game series at a potential cost of $1.9 million for this year’s game, the biggest single-game payday for the Bulls in school history.
The question is whether the Longhorns will have to make that payout. According to the contract, the key force majeure clause does not require Texas to fulfill the contract if the game is canceled due to “act of God, national disaster, national emergency, labor disputes, war, order of a state or federal court, or similar events beyond the control of the party that fails to appear.”
Playing a 10-game schedule, though, could change things.
“That claim’s gonna be a lot harder for them, depending upon what their contract says,” Dr. Anita Moorman, a professor of sport administration at the University of Louisville, told the Tampa Bay Times.
Rescheduling the game against USF could prove difficult given future schedules and the desire to play LSU in Baton Rouge at some point in the future — Texas has a full non-conference schedule through until 2027, with just one opening each season from 2027 until 2031.
But what about the game against UTEP? Will it still happen as scheduled on Sept. 19? There are some moving parts in making that determination. Does head coach Tom Herman want his team to play one game and then have a bye week before starting conference play? Does the school want to wait as long as possible to learn any key lessons from professional sports, particularly the NFL? And is it even feasible for UTEP to potentially move the game?
As it turns out, that’s the bottleneck for the Horns.
Head coach Dana Dimel’s Miners are set to open against Texas Tech in Week 1, travel to Nevada in Week 2, then play New Mexico State in Week 4, the most likely date for UTEP to travel to Austin if Texas wants to move the game.
The Red Raiders are likely to keep that game because it’s the only remaining non-conference game currently scheduled for Texas Tech after the Alabama State game was canceled when the SWAC postponed fall sports and Arizona canceled when the Pac-12 moved to a conference-only schedule.
Week 4 remain an outside possibility for Texas-UTEP because New Mexico governor Lujan Grisham recently sent a letter to New Mexico and New Mexico State asking the administrations to postpone football season. Neither university has taken those steps yet, but unless Texas Tech or Nevada cancels the other non-conference games against UTEP, Grisham getting her way is the most likely outcome that could allow Texas to move its non-conference game.
In all likelihood, however, the Week 3 date for Texas does seem to strike the right balance for the Longhorns.