WACO, Texas -- For the second year in a row, Texas players watched and walked away. Another team celebrated a Big 12 championship after beating the Longhorns. Another team got to party at home.
Last year, Kansas State. This time, Baylor. Both headed off to the Fiesta Bowl while Texas is left to wonder where this is all going.
This time, coach Mack Brown had to address and assess the future. He didn't convey much worry about where he fit into the Longhorns' future.
"Just got to keep playing, keep winning," Brown said. "We had our chance to get in the Big 12 championship this year. Guys will go out recruiting tomorrow. Go back to work, try to win the bowl game, get your ninth win and go back to spring practice. We've got spring practice in February, so it happens fast."
Back to business as usual. He'll try not to dwell too much on what slipped out of Texas' grasp in this game, but it's hard to ignore. Oklahoma gave Texas a chance to win the Big 12 on Saturday. Baylor gave Texas a first half to win the Big 12. The Longhorns didn't take it.
The game, the day, the season -- all opportunities missed. And Brown acknowledged that, to some extent. He opened his postgame press conference by running through the laundry list of costly mistakes.
What he didn't want to speak to, though, was whether he has decided if he wants to come back and give it another go in 2014.
"I'm not talking about any of that tonight," Brown said. "I'm in the same position I was when I've been asked the other 15 times. We'll talk about the team tonight."
The hard, complicated question isn't whether Mack Brown should come back. It's this: Why would he want to?
That Texas got this far was admirable, considering all the injuries and hurdles. It was truly a crazy, unpredictable season, all the way down to the final quarter of this game.
But does Brown want to do this all over again? Why would he sign up for another season of this?
If Texas president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson give Brown another season, it's hard to envision a 2014 campaign that won't be just as rough and challenging as this one, if not more so.
The schedule next season is awfully similar, with the marquee non-conference game a showdown with UCLA at AT&T Stadium next September. Lose that game -- to a Bruins program that went 9-3 this season, has serious momentum and began Mack's misery in 2010 -- or stumble against BYU, and we'll go right back down this road again.
Week after week of scrutiny and distractions and fires to put out. A fan base growing more discontent and apathetic each Saturday. Who wants to coach in that culture?
Brown already will be tagged and tarred as the coach on the hottest hot seat this offseason if he returns. The national chatter that he's running out of time will undermine his efforts in recruiting. The doubters can cause the same kind of prove-yourself mentality that doomed former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
That's not to say he can't win next year. That's not to say that, if Texas struggles early, Brown can't unleash another masterful performance of crisis management and coax his players to go on another run.
But he has coached 50 games since the BCS championship game against Alabama. Texas is now 30-20 in the last four years and one game above .500 (18-17) in Big 12 games. Brown restructured after 2010 around two coordinators who now are gone. If things go downhill from here, is he really interested in rebuilding his rebuild?
Texas lineman Trey Hopkins said Brown still has the full support of the locker room. His players aren't bailing on him. But 10 senior starters will graduate. David Ash will have to lead the offense after missing 10½ games this season with a concussion.
And if you want to go deeper, recognize the hole Texas could be in if Ash has issues. Case McCoy is gone. Tyrone Swoopes wasn't entrusted to contribute much as a freshman. ESPN 300 commit Jerrod Heard can't enroll early for spring ball. Jalen Overstreet moved to running back. Bringing in an experienced transfer quarterback seems like a must now.
Brown will do this kind of math, calculating whether Texas can win with what returns. He wants to win and win big.
He thought the Longhorns could do that this year, and in all fairness, it has been a hell of a season. If Brown had been on this job only a few years, he'd get the injury mulligan that Will Muschamp received at Florida. Heck, he still might. Brown's team fought and overcame and came up short.
Just as important, though, the guy wants some respect. Brown put up with an awful lot this season. He put his pride on the line and tried to shoot down all the speculation as best he could. But at a certain point, when is it no longer worthwhile?
Forget legacy and statues and ego for a moment. Signing up for another year of this carnival would make any coach miserable over time.
Brown will travel to New York this week with Powers and Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame inductions. At some point, there will be a discussion about the future.
But Brown has a decision of his own to make. He has to search his feelings. Even if he's given the choice, does he really want to do this again?