Texas Longhorns exit Big 12 same way it arrived - as champions

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An “Irish Goodbye”, where guests at a public event leave abruptly and without a farewell, is well known in our lexicon. A “Longhorn Farwell” is likely to join soon. That refers to a team leaving a conference with the championship belt in tow. They did it in 1995 by winning the last Southwest Conference championship. Texas pulled it off again in a dominant 49-21 win over Oklahoma State to claim the final Big 12 championship before the program heads to the SEC. 

The Longhorns leave the Big 12 on a win streak against each of the remaining legacy Big 12 members except Oklahoma, and Texas will see plenty of the Sooners in the new conference. 

“I couldn’t be happier for Longhorn nation" Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said after the game. "I know it’s been a long time coming. I know everybody’s been starving for this championship. So to get it in our final Big 12 game, I hope everybody enjoys this as much as we do.” 

Texas’ second-ever game as a Big 12 member was a 71-14 victory over Oklahoma State on Oct. 5, 1996. Ricky Williams ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Shon Mitchell added 133 and a touchdown on the ground, while Priest Holmes found the end zone twice. The Bryant Westbrook and Chris Akins led defense held the Cowboys to 262 yards in a game Texas led 41-14 at halftime.

The final Big 12 game for Texas followed a similar script. Oklahoma State went three-and-out to start the contest before the Longhorns waltzed 39 yards in four plays for a touchdown. One drive later, Quinn Ewers threw his second touchdown pass in the first seven minutes of the first quarter, this time finding JT Sanders on a trick play to give the Longhorns a 14-0 lead with 8:34 left in the 1st quarter. 

Texas started hotter in the 2023 contest than that once back in 1996. The Longhorns averaged 11.6 yards per play in the first quarter and scored a touchdown on all three offensive drives. Ewers was 11-for-11 for 167 yards and three touchdowns, including one to defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat. Texas ran 17 plays in the first quarter and scored 21 points to lead 21-7 to start the second quarter. The lead was 17-7 in the 1996 blowout win to start life as a Big 12 program. 

The 2023 Longhorns led Oklahoma State, 35-14, at halftime. Ewers finished the half with 354 passing yards and four touchdowns. He was the first player to throw for four touchdowns in the first half of the Big 12 championship game. The offense gained 422 yards and registered 19 first downs on 47 plays.  It was the most yards for any offense in a Big 12 title game over the last 20 seasons. The 49 combined first half points were the most in Big 12 championship game history. 

Texas put in a blue-collar second-half shift to close out Oklahoma State. No comeback. No drama. No stereotypical playing with its food. The Longhorns entered the third quarter with a 42-14 lead and played the Cowboys to a 7-7 draw in the fourth quarter. Ewers finished the game with a Big 12 championship game record 452 yards. He completed 35 of 46 passes. Six different Texas players scored touchdowns with Keilan Robinson collecting a pair on the ground. Four different receivers caught one of Ewers’ touchdown passes. 

The defense held the nation’s rushing leader, Ollie Gordon, to 34 rushing yards on 11 carries. He entered the game averaging 131.67 rushing yards per game. Freshman Anthony Hill led the team with six tackles. He also recorded the team’s only sack and forced fumble. Jerrin Thompson and Jahdae Barron broke up two passes. 

Texas won the first Big 12 championship at the end of the 1996 season, upsetting third-ranked Nebraska, 37-27, in front of 63,109 spectators at Trans World Dome in St. Louis, Mizz. A Big 12 record 84,523 were in attendance to watch Texas’ last dance. That season ended with a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. The Longhorns hope that part of the history won’t repeat. 

Texas is likely headed to Tempe, Ariz. if Georgia claims the SEC this afternoon and Florida State wins the ACC tonight. A loss by either, but especially Florida State, cracks open the door for an invitation to the Sugar or Rose Bowl for a College Football Playoff semifinal. The Longhorns are unquestionably one of the best four teams in college football, but that isn’t what the committee picks, even if they say otherwise. The most deserving four teams go to the playoffs each year and Texas isn’t one of those if there are four undefeated conference champions, no matter the quarterback situation at Florida State. 

"We went into this season to be champions and we are," Sarkisian said. " I’m very proud about that. We’ll see what tomorrow brings (with College Football Playoff)."

This Texas team entered the 2023 campaign with a goal – to become champions. The Longhorns did that in emphatic fashion against Oklahoma State to ride off into a burnt orange sunset towards greener passes of the SEC. The burnt orange crowd chanted “SEC” with two minutes remaining on the clock. The win was a conquering of the past and a statement about the future – Texas is back. It is okay to say it out loud. 

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