Steve Sarkisian has completely retooled the Texas roster in preparation for its move to the SEC. He’s inked back-to-back top five recruiting classes and brought in 24 new players on the offensive and defensive trenches. For all the work he’s accomplished on the roster, Texas is rewarded with staggering preseason expectations.
But far too often in the last decade-plus at Texas, actual season results fall far short of preseason hype. Sarkisian was tabbed as the man to transition the Longhorns to SEC play, yet his first two seasons have yielded a 9–9 record in the Big 12. Now Texas can run through the Big 12 and launch the program into its next era with positive momentum, or buckle under the weight of outside expectations and once again finish in the middle of the pack in a conference they’ve decided to move on from.
2022 record: 8–5
2023 record prediction: 9–3
BIGGEST GAME: vs. Oklahoma on Oct. 7
Texas and Oklahoma are bitter rivals on the football field, but they move as one on the business side. Together, they’ve set off a seismic round of conference realignment with their departure to the SEC after this season. They have the earned leverage of two of the most iconic brands in college football, but only one of them has the recent on-field results to back it up.
Oklahoma boasts a 10–4 record over Texas since 2010 and will leave the Big 12 as the league’s undisputed king with 14 conference crowns to the Longhorns’ three. But this year’s game isn’t just about earning the last golden hat in this iteration of the storied rivalry, it’s a marker for who’s better equipped for the transition to SEC football.
Texas certainly feels they’re in a better position after crushing Oklahoma 49-0 in last year’s contest, but this year will be a fairer barometer. The Sooners return Dillon Gabriel at quarterback, who watched last year’s contest from the sidelines as Oklahoma devolved into a wildcat offense. They also have another full offseason for head coach Brent Venables to establish his culture. It’s a time of transition, but the second Saturday in October still holds each team’s game of the year.
TRAP GAME: vs. Kansas on Sept. 30
Last year’s 55-14 romp over Kansas was an aberration in this matchup’s recent history. The Jayhawks were in the midst of a 1–6 skid, and their dynamic quarterback, Jalon Daniels, was rusty after missing six weeks to a shoulder injury. When Kansas rolls into Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, they intend to give Texas a 12-round fight.
In 2019, the No.15-ranked Longhorns escaped 50-48 with a Cameron Dicker game-winning field goal as time expired after surrendering 569 yards of total offense. Then in 2021, Steve Sarkisian’s inaugural season in Austin sank to an unfathomable low when the 1–8 Jayhawks converted the two-point conversion heard round the college football world and stunned Texas 57-56 in overtime.
If Texas peaks one week ahead to their game against Oklahoma, Lance Leipold’s new-and-improved Kansas will beat them. The Jayhawks are coming off their first bowl game since 2008, and Daniels is back under center after leading the nation in QBR during a 5–0 run before his injury. Pair him with a defensive secondary headlined by rangy safety Kenny Logan Jr. and ballhawk cornerback Cobee Bryant, and suddenly Kansas has the roster to give Texas fits if the Longhorns take their foot off the gas.
POTENTIAL UPSET: at Alabama on Sept. 9
It appeared Texas would pull off the upset of the season last year when kicker Bert Auburn drilled a field goal to put the Longhorns ahead 19-17 against No.1 Alabama with 1:29 left in the game. Then quarterback Bryce Young showed why he was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, evading a sack near midfield and sprinting inside the Texas’ 20-yard-line to set up a game winning field goal.
Texas won’t be favored in this matchup, but the spread will be closer than it was in 2022. Nick Saban refuses to release his iron grip on college football, but the juggernaut he’s built is vulnerable with two new coordinators and a crowded quarterback competition to replace Young. Kool-Aid McKinstry is the leader on defense, but Alabama is still searching for replacements at safety after Brian Branch and Jordan Battle inked NFL contracts. Oh, and two-time Nagurski Trophy winner Will Anderson Jr. isn’t suiting up anymore either.
The 6 p.m. kickoff is sure to have a raucous atmosphere in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and the game will be a good benchmark for Steve Sarkisian’s team. If they can hang with Alabama again, or even beat them, they should be set up nice for the SEC. If they get blown out, it might be time for a reality check.
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