Courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin

Later this month, one of the great long-standing traditions in college athletics—the annual Thanksgiving game between the University of Texas and Texas A&M—will come to an end. The rivalry between these two schools has lasted so long, and fostered such ferocious passion on both sides, that most people probably figured it was established in the state constitution. But after a melodramatic three months of phone calls, press conferences, legal threats, angry letters, and tense meetings, the rivalry appears to be kaput, a casualty of A&M’s departure from the troubled Big 12 Conference. Beyond November 24, only an act of God, the state legislature, or the BCS will bring these teams together.

Sportswriters, fans, and people who spend all night on message boards will tell you that this has been a long time coming, that the Big 12 was never built to last, that UT’s new Longhorn Network was the straw that broke the camel’s back, that A&M has had one foot out the door for some time. But I’m prepared to chalk it up to 2011: The Year of Change. In retrospect, I think we’ll look back and recognize that the end of the Aggie-Longhorn rivalry was just one of the many dramatic transitions visited on Texas this year. Just for starters, consider the big ones:

Ecological change: Climatologists tell us that we’re currently living through the worst single-year drought since researchers began keeping track of such things, in 1895 (by coincidence, just one year after the first A&M-Texas game). The entire state has received less than half its normal rainfall. For our agricultural producers, this has been nothing short of catastrophic. How many farms and ranches will disappear this year? How many herds of cattle will be sold off, never to be replenished?

Political change: Whatever happens to Rick Perry, his decision to run for president marks the end of an era. He’ll either move up, triggering a radical reshuffling of the deck, or he’ll return a loser, his

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