It’s been a roller-coaster season for Texas on the field, they played Alabama well, got their biggest-ever win over arch-rivals Oklahoma, and escaped against Iowa State. Despite a loss to Texas Tech, some people claimed after their win to Oklahoma they should still be playoff contenders with two losses. A blown second-half lead in Stillwater ended that talk and quite frankly made it look ridiculous to begin with.
Despite all that, the season is far from over in Austin, and there’s still a big prize to be won in Arlington. Texas hasn’t won the Big 12 title since 2009 and has finished top two just once since then. While it’s not a national title, a Big 12 title would be massive for a struggling Texas football program. After chips fell their way last week, this Saturday in Manhattan can catapult Texas firmly back into the Big 12 race.
Can Texas Still Make it to Arlington?
It’s a massive week around the Big 12, with all ten teams in action against each other. TCU will host Texas Tech in the Battle for the Saddle, and try to keep their Playoff hopes alive. Oklahoma State will go on the road to take on a Kansas team trying to clinch their first Bowl Berth since 2009. Baylor goes to Norman, after reviving their Arlington dreams to take on an OU squad that may just be turning things around. Then West Virginia goes to Ames, with both teams needing a win to have much of a shot at a bowl game, and the loser likely to be named the worst team in the Big 12.
Despite all the other games, the headliner has to be Texas at Kansas State. With both teams alive in the Big 12 race, it’s starting to look like Kansas State is peaking at the right time. While Kansas State fought hard through quarterback injuries against TCU and rebounded with a stunning 48-0 trouncing of Oklahoma State. Texas responded to their 49-0 win over OU with an escape vs Iowa State, before a letdown in Stillwater, despite a 31-17 late in the second quarter. Second-half collapses have become all too common for Texas under Sarkisian, but last week Texas was thrown a big lifeline. Texas Tech, who held the tiebreaker over Texas, fell to Baylor at home, and Kansas State slaughtered Oklahoma State.
Despite all this, Texas still doesn’t control its own destiny. They have a daunting November with a trip to Kansas, who could have Jalon Daniels back, and home games against TCU and Baylor. Now I don’t think Texas will win their last four, and they’re clearly on the brink. But sports is full of examples of teams coming back from the brink, excuse my examples, after the World Cup is just a few weeks away. In 2006 France went into halftime of their last group game scoring just one goal in two and a half games, needing a win to advance, they got it, and went all the way to the final. In 2010 Spain lost their first match and needed to win six straight, they did just that and won the tournament. So Texas would need to win four straight, and have either TCU or Oklahoma State drop one more (TCU needs to drop one to someone other than Texas.) Now as a Texas Tech fan I was obviously happy with their loss to Stillwater, but I also knew you can’t count them out of the Big 12 race. With a team as talented as Texas, and a conference as crazy as the Big 12, you’d be out of your mind to say they’re out of the Big 12 race with just two losses, and the top two teams still on their schedule.
How Does Texas Make It To Arlington
The path for Texas isn’t overly complex, to start with they need to win out. After that they could have TCU lose a game to someone other than them, so they need to root for Texas Tech this week. If that happened, they’d likely beat Oklahoma State and TCU on a three-way tiebreak and make it into the top two. Another scenario would be Oklahoma State loses again, with that Texas would be assured of winning any tiebreaker, so they may need to root for Oklahoma in Bedlam. The deadly scenario for Texas is if they win out, TCU only loses to them, Oklahoma State wins out, and Kansas State drops another. With that Texas would lose the tiebreaker to Oklahoma State and be a game behind TCU, but that seems more unlikely than any scenario that puts Texas into the Big 12 Championship.
While I don’t expect Texas to win out, if they did, I’d be at least relatively surprised if they don’t play in Arlington. After all four teams have made it through the Big 12 with two losses since 2017, and only one hasn’t made the Big 12 Championship. That was Oklahoma last year, and they lost to the two teams to make it, Texas if they win out would have beaten at least one and possibly both. Now the problem for Texas starts in Manhattan, despite their struggles in Big 12 play over the last five years, they’ve been able to routinely beat two teams, Texas Tech and Kansas State. They beat Texas Tech five straight times in Lubbock until they dropped one this season. Now with Kansas State, they haven’t lost since the Charlie Strong era, meaning five straight wins, but this is also the best Kansas State team they’ve faced since then.
Kansas State does have vulnerabilities though, while Ewers definitely had a Freshman game against Oklahoma State, he remains a dangerous quarterback. On the flip side, Kansas State has questions there, not whether they have good ones, but who’s going to start? Adrian Martinez was an early Heisman candidate but isn’t a great downfield threat, then he got injured and Will Howard came in. He lit the world on fire against Oklahoma State, there’s no question he’s talented, and as a Tech fan, I’m not looking forward to playing him in the coming years. However, was last week a moment where a team didn’t have film on him, and he was able to do what he wants? We saw Blake Shapen get critical wins for Baylor last season then struggle this year before looking great against Texas Tech, we saw Behren Morton light up Oklahoma State and West Virginia, before throwing three interceptions against Baylor. These concerns aren’t knocking Will Howard, rather they’re pointing out how young QBs come on strong and then struggle for some time before regaining their form.
Either way, the priority for Texas needs to be to find a way to limit Deuce Vaughn and make the quarterbacks air it out, if they do that they have a chance. Should that happen the focus on the other side of the ball needs to be establishing a run game. Ewers is talented but remains young, if Texas can get Bijan and Johnson going that will open up room for Ewers to play, and get after Kansas States’ secondary. It’s a tall task, and I expect Kansas State to win, but this is where Texas can prove they’re Texas.
I’m by no means a Texas fan, but I know plenty, this week they can really begin to change the narrative. Sure in their down decade they’ve played Oklahoma tough, but a road game in Manhattan is different. This game presents not only a top 25 road win opportunity but one they can get to remain relevant in the Big 12 race. Texas fans are rightfully sick and tired of coming up short. After the loss to Oklahoma State, they were mocked for what happened with the fight song, win this and no one will talk about that. This is a win Texas fans need, this is a win Texas as a program needs to prove they can be back, heck this is a win Sark needs to prove he’s the guy. This is an opportunity for Texas and one that could lead to more opportunities as this month goes along, but it’s all a moot point without a win Saturday.