The Texas Longhorns were overwhelmingly picked by Big 12 media to win the 2023 Conference title. While there’s no doubt UT has the most talented roster in the league, that’s nothing new for the program. Texas has long had the most talent in the conference, which has resulted in zero conference championships since 2009.
Unfortunately, Big 12 media is buying into the hype, again, this year. Why? Because Oklahoma appears to be down, which is their other obvious choice, and frankly, too many can’t fathom the idea of someone other than one of the teams that doesn’t consistently recruit in the Top 10 in the country winning this league. It’s an easy fallback, especially in an unpredictable conference.
But, if there’s ever a year to question Texas’ chances of winning the league, this year seems as reasonable as any other to do just that. Here are three reasons why.
Are We Really Sold on Steve Sarkisian and Quinn Ewers?
Steve Sarkisian did have nice improvement in Year 2, going from 5-7 to 8-5 last year. However, he still had arguably the most talented roster in the league and lost five games. Granted, all their loses were by a touchdown or less, and maybe they beat Alabama if Ewers doesn’t get injured, then who knows how the season changes. But they still lost five games, when they were likely more talented than four of the teams they lost to (sans Alabama). You can say they were close, but maybe losing so many close games with more talent is a reflection of the head coach?
Meantime, the Quinn Ewers hype train seems totally out of control. He completed less than 60% of his passes last season, despite having a Top 10 pick to help him in the running (and passing) game in Bijan Robinson, along with a decent enough offensive line and a slew of talented wide receivers. His footwork got sloppy as the season progressed, resulted in inaccuracy, and he has limited mobility at a time when the position suggests having some is helpful. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of talent behind Ewers, but none of them, led by Arch Manning, have consistent, or any, college experience.
Texas has, and always will, get every team’s best game. They’re Texas. And that will only be on steroids this season as the Longhorns leave in 2024 for the SEC. The guys that line up against Texas know that this is their last or only chance to have the glory of a win against the Longhorns on their resume. It will be something they tell their kids and grandkids about when they’re old. And knowing this is their last opportunity to do that is going to be something that will play a factor this season.
You can’t really measure this, but there’s no doubt that Texas will get everyone’s best game, times 100. They make their last trip to places like Waco, Fort Worth and Ames, while also traveling to Houston for the likely first and only time. These fan bases, coaching staffs and players will be absolutely electric and will make it even more difficult for the Longhorns to leave with a victory.
Then, there’s the schedule itself. Texas will expend a lot of energy going to Alabama in Week 2, and then Big 12 play begins two weeks later in Waco, against a Dave Aranda team that will be an underdog and likely underrated going into the season. Then UT is home to Kansas, which we might need to remind some of you how that turned out the last time the Jayhawks were in Austin (KU won, 2021). That game is followed by the Red River Rivalry.
Then, it’s a week off and two new Big 12 teams, at Houston and home to BYU. This may be the easiest stretch, but once again, don’t overlook the motivation of the new guys getting one chance at the Longhorns.
The gauntlet comes in the final month when Texas hosts K-State (who I picked to win the Big 12. You can see my full poll on our free Big 12 message board.), at TCU for the final time, then a road trip to Ames in late November, which is never fun, followed by a Black Friday game against Texas Tech, and you better believe Joey McGuire and those Red Raiders will give the Horns everything they can handle. In fact, that could be a game that has Big 12 title implications.
I’m not going to try to tell you it would shock me if UT wins the league this year. It won’t. But it wouldn’t have shocked me any of the past 14 seasons if they would have won the Big 12. And we know what history has shown. And when I combine history, with the existing question marks, plus the unquantifiable issue of motivation, the Longhorns are not an obvious pick to win the league this season. Big 12 media got it wrong.