A new era of Texas football has begun.  A return to college football’s elite came right on time for third-year Head Coach Steve Sarkisian.  This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after last year’s 8-5 mark.  Texas improved to 12-1 and was elevated to the ranks of the elite by the CFP Committee.  The Longhorns face the Washington Huskies (13-0) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in a semifinal for the National Championship.

Texas and Washington met last year in the postseason.  Washington beat Texas 27-20 in the Alamo Bowl, a game with far less on the line than their rematch.  Both teams now step into the spotlight of the Sugar Bowl.  The project Sarkisian has had underway in Austin the past three years is now being unveiled during primetime.  The Longhorns made it to the big stage and with that comes being asked a lot of questions by the media.

Rushing The Quarterback

“We just continue to do what we do, and not worry about what’s going on outside this building,” Quinn Ewers said, moments after the Longhorns were chosen by the CFP Selection Committee.  The news had barely had time to sink in when Texas players and coaches were made available to the media.  “We’re just blessed, super blessed, to take part in this upcoming playoff,” Ewers added.  He said he didn’t sleep very well the night before the selection committee released its final rankings.

Ewers spoke candidly in his immediate reaction to Texas being chosen.  The new era of Texas football has begun under his watch.  Building a new era of Texas football was why he became a Longhorn.  “It’s unreal,” he said.  “I get goosebumps every time I even think about it.”

The sophomore quarterback gave credit to his older teammates who played on the 5-7 team two years ago when Sarkisian was just getting started.

“There’s no better feeling for those guys, and I’m just glad to be part of a team that is able to enjoy it that much because they know what’s it like to be disregarded.”

The Alabama Factor

Texas was all over everybody’s radar when the Longhorns knocked off Alabama in September.  But ever since, the argument going around has been that the Alabama of today is not the same team Texas beat in Tuscaloosa that warm September night.  The prospects of an Alabama rematch weren’t lost on Ewers.  A victory over Washington would give Texas a shot at its first national title since Vince Young claimed it in the 2006 Rose Bowl.  When asked to rate his team’s chances of winning it all, Ewers said, “I’m always going to bet on us, ’cause I’m a little biased I guess.”

The Long Road

One of the players from the 5-7 team is Jaylan Ford.  The progress the Longhorns have made under Sarkisian started during that 2020 season.  “I think, for us, especially after that season ended, I think everybody was more motivated than ever to come out here and play better,” Ford said.  It took a great deal of resilience to make it to the Final Four from where Texas started.  And now, not surprisingly, the Longhorns feel they have a shot to win it all.  “I feel we stack up evenly with anybody that we face,” he said.

It was the Alabama game when the light switched on, he added.  “The confidence definitely grew after that game.  Not a lot of people can say they go into Alabama, and go to Tuscaloosa, and beat them.”  The Butkus Award semifinalist has been through the trenches of recent years.  He said the goal this season was to win the Big 12 and it wasn’t expected to be easy.  “For us it was just about handling business knowing that we had a small room for error.”

The Coach Is Talking

This was Sarkisian’s breakthrough season after going 5-7 and 8-5.  It came a year earlier than many expected.  Now he has a month to prepare his team for a national semifinal.  That’s a long time to prepare.  “There’s a lot of work to be done.  We’ve got a month until we play,” Sarkisian told the media.  He made his first public comments within moments of Texas being chosen to play in the Sugar Bowl.  “We’ve got finals to take.  We’ve got to get healthy.”

Sarkisian agreed it was the Alabama win that served as a springboard for the Longhorns’ success.  “That win gave us as much or more confidence than anything throughout the season to help us navigate our way through some of those tougher games late in the year because it gave us more belief in what we were doing.”

Reason For Being

Sarkisian described his best moments as those watching his players celebrate winning the Big 12 Championship.  “That’s why they came to the University of Texas,” he said.  Ever since the Alabama win gave Texas a glimpse of what the Longhorns could be, the standard was set for the new era of Texas football.  The Longhorns kept going after that standard all season and bounced back from a loss to rival Oklahoma in mid-October to make it to the playoffs.  To get here, they overcame injuries and finished the season with an eight-game win streak.  “I’ve always felt like if we can get in, we can play with anybody in the country,” Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian said he knew how good Washington was going to be coming off last year’s Alamo Bowl.  Sure enough, both teams are back for a rematch but with much more on the line this time.  The Longhorns are not just happy to be here.  They are approaching the Sugar Bowl with a win in mind.  That’s been the mindset from Day One under Sarkisian.  “I understand there’s high expectations and high standards here for winning championships, but that’s why I came here.”

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

 

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