Brutal Slate

Texas and Texas A&M have never played football in Oxford. Next fall in a three-week span, both schools will.

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Ironically, next season will be the first time since 1915 the two won't have played each other.

The landscape of college football has changed dramatically. Just look around.

The 2012 Southeastern Conference football schedule is finally out. It'd been much anticipated.

Texas A&M's on there. So is Missouri. Schools are lining up to be a part of the newest wave of power conferences. Some, like the Aggies and Tigers, are bolting for a more sure thing, a more lucrative financial situation, a better place to compete into the future.

Or at least that's the plan for those schools. Nothing is certain, and both are heading to a tougher league top to bottom in all sports. Both schools also have strong athletic programs top to bottom.

Ole Miss is set. And thankful for it. Nobody can be certain the Rebels will always be a part of the SEC, even as a charter member from 1933.

Anything can happen. Just look around.

Nebraska in the Big Ten, going on twelve? Yep. Colorado in the Pac-12, going on 14? Yep again. Syracuse and Pitt are headed to the ACC.

Everybody's looking out for No. 1 and what's in their best interest.

Ole Miss' best interest is obviously remaining in the SEC. That's why the upcoming selection of the new athletic director is so important to the future of Ole Miss sports. Coaches come and go. ADs usually stay a long time.

Ole Miss needs to focus on thriving at some point. Right now, the focus has to be on surviving, given the 2012 schedule and where the program is.

Good thing there was a coaching change.

Hugh Freeze and company face major challenges weekly in 2012
Bruce Newman

The non-conference portion of the 2012 slate remains the same as had been released a few months ago. All four non-conference games are at the front end of the schedule. Then it's eight Southeastern Conference games in a row with an open date - after three league games with five still to play.

The Hugh Freeze era begins against Central Arkansas on Sept. 1 in Oxford. The next two games, UTEP (Sept. 8) and Texas (Sept. 15), are also in Oxford. Then Ole Miss closes out non-conference play against Tulane in New Orleans (Sept. 22).

At Alabama (Sept. 29) begins conference play for the Rebels. Then Ole Miss hosts the Aggies (Oct. 6), followed by Auburn (Oct. 13). The Auburn game has been designated as homecoming.

Then there is what will be a much-needed open date Oct. 20. Then five straight weeks of SEC warfare – at Arkansas (Oct. 27), at Georgia (Nov. 3), back home to face Vanderbilt (Nov. 10), on the road at LSU (Nov. 17), and the finale with Mississippi State in Oxford (Nov. 24).

It won't be easy. It wouldn't be easy even if the Rebels were projected to be a top 25 team, which they aren't.

The slate will feature five of the six participants in the previous three BCS national title games and five of the last seven champions. Nine of the Rebels' 11 FBS opponents, including all eight SEC teams, earned bowl berths this season, while FCS foe Central Arkansas reached the second round of the playoffs.

"We have a major challenge in front of us but one we are looking forward to," Freeze said in a press release from Ole Miss. "In non-conference play, I'm excited for our fans to have an outstanding program like Texas come to Oxford. Obviously we compete in the nation's toughest division, so we will need to be at our best every Saturday."

Some evaluators have said Ole Miss' 2012 schedule is the toughest in the SEC and one of the toughest in the country.

And this for a program coming off its worse season in history at 2-10.

There's always going to be a deeply-divided argument as to whether Ole Miss should play four easy non-conference games or play at least one big-name foe, like the Rebels are doing this year with Texas.

There isn't a right or wrong answer. It does seem like when Ole Miss schedules other BCS foes, either that team is on the upswing (remember Missouri and Wake Forest just a few years ago), or like now, Ole Miss is down.

Ole Miss needs to get to a bowl game soon. Texas the next two seasons and opponents like Clemson and Georgia Tech on the horizon after that make it tougher to get to that six-win mark for bowl eligibility.

Of course, there are plenty who say if Ole Miss is only shooting for bowl eligibility and six wins, then that's not even a worthy goal.

For now, however, it is with the rebuilding underway. Loftier heights should be the goal in the future.

It was announced Wednesday the Big Ten and Pac-12 will begin playing intersectional games in 2017. Schools from each league will face each other in football every season, and they will begin playing extensively in other sports as soon as next year.

So the landscape of college sports has moved even into a situation that major conferences are linking up to play each other in multiple sports.

The SEC is likely to follow. With the Big XII or the ACC? We'll see.

The Ole Miss schedule in football next season will by all accounts be the most difficult in school history. And the most unusual.

Having both Texas and Texas A&M in Oxford in the same season settled any argument about that.

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