Texas is back.
But, what does that mean?
The No. 11 Longhorns went into Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, and took down the longstanding dynasty that is Alabama on Saturday, 34–24. The win saw Texas soar into the top five of the AP poll for the first time since the 2009–10 season, the same season of their last championship game appearance where they lost to the same Crimson Tide, 37-21. Head coach Steve Sarkisian acknowledged the monumental feat his team had accomplished but said the job was far from over for the Longhorns.
“We have a ton of respect for [Alabama] and I know how well they’re coached,” Sarkisian said during a press conference following the game. “I know how hard they play. I think it just shows a lot about what we’re capable of. Like I said coming into this game, this game isn’t going to define our season. We have 10 regular season games left.”
After the stinging loss in 2010, Texas football slipped from the national spotlight. Each season began with lofty expectations, but the Longhorns’ abundance of talent could never live up to them. In the past decade, Texas still showed glimpses of their heights in big upsets over ranked teams, including No. 10 Oklahoma in 2015, No. 10 Notre Dame in 2016, and No. 11 Utah in the 2019 Alamo Bowl. What followed? The cries far and wide of the Longhorn faithful and college football minds alike that Texas had returned to the spotlight, and was a championship contender once again.
Unfortunately, those claims eventually proved to be false. Mediocrity at Texas continued through the 2021 season, where the Longhorns finished 5–7 in Sarkisian’s first season, followed by a mild improvement to 8-5 in 2022 and a loss in the Alamo Bowl to Washington. Texas showed signs of life with a narrow home loss to Alabama last year, but many questioned the authenticity of the outcome after Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers left the game with an injury that sidelined him for weeks. On Saturday, the 2021 top recruit, formerly of Ohio State, was the difference maker.
In a highly anticipated rematch with Alabama, Ewers threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns, including a long 44-yard touchdown pass to receiver Xavier Worthy. Ewers was able to spread the ball around to arguably the best receiving core in the country, as five players caught three or more passes. Ja’Tavion Sanders eclipsed the century mark with 114 receiving yards in the win. Adonai Mitchell caught two touchdown passes. Xavier Worthy is receiving considerable attention for the Heisman Trophy this season. Similar to the contest in Austin a year ago, the Longhorns offensive and defensive lines bullied the big guys up front for Alabama, which allowed Ewers all day to throw and the offense ran for 105 yards on the ground. Texas was also able to bring down the speedy ‘Bama quarterback Jalen Milroe for five sacks while keeping Ewers’ jersey clean. It was a complete game and utter dominance in all phases from Sarkisian’s crew, culminating in the 34-24 upset on the road in the heart of SEC country.
So, what makes this win different from one of the aforementioned upsets that Texas has pulled off in the past? For starters, the talent on this Texas roster is unbelievable. Sarkisian’s roster holds 56 players who were recruited as either four or five star players. While Worthy stretches the field with his ability to make plays on verticals down the field, receivers Ja’Tavion Sanders and Adonai Mitchell compliment Worthy in the passing game. Mitchell and Sanders work more in the intermediate to short passing game, using their speed to burn defenses after the catch. Offensive tackle Kelvin Banks Jr. highlights a stout offensive line that can contend with any front seven in the country. Texas has always had the talent, but this type of production is what the Longhorns have been seeking since that 2010 national championship loss.
“We’ve worked long and hard on the culture aspect,” Sarkisian said. “I love these guys. They really give us everything they have and they trust us and believe in us. We’ve tried to recruit really well to get players in our program that are made of the right stuff. It’s not about stars, it’s whether they are made of the right stuff and coachable.”
The recruiting won’t go away either. Since his time at Washington, USC, and Alabama, Sarkisian’s offensive prowess has been a huge draw to top recruits. Now, Sarkisian has proven that he is taking Texas in the right direction, contending for championships, and still churning out NFL-ready talent. The brand that Texas has established will also increase its NIL pool for years to come as a bonus.
Next season will mark one of the biggest changes in college football history, as the 2024 season will see the installment of the 12-team playoff and the beginning of conference realignment. Texas and longtime rival Oklahoma kickstarted the realignment trend in July 2021, announcing they would leave the Big 12, which they both have been a part of since 1996, to join the SEC. That means more competition with powerhouses like Alabama while keeping the traditional Red River Shootout with Oklahoma intact. They will also continue to compete on networks like ESPN and CBS and play in front of national audiences every single week. In this day and age of college football, money talks. And it just so happened to speak for Texas first.
Sarkisian entered Saturday night’s game in Tuscaloosa with a suspect 14–12 record at Texas, including a mere 2–7 in games against ranked opponents. The stakes couldn’t have possibly been any higher for Sark and his crew in this game. If Texas doesn’t pull off the win and Texas stumbled to another 6-6 or worse campaign, his job security could have been in jeopardy. Instead, he may be the savior that the University of Texas has been searching for since former head coach Mack Brown left the team in 2013.
The phrase “Texas is back” has become a sarcastic joke for some time. But now, it’s real. “Texas is back,” is all about staying power. Being “back” means contending every single year, and sustaining that elite level of play like few programs have been able to do. The talent is here. The potential is here. Steve Sarkisian now has higher standards than the “Seven Win Steve” persona of the past. So go ahead, jump on the bandwagon.
Texas is back for good this time.