Heather DineshSenior writer for ESPN4 minutes to read
Arlington, TX – Expectations have never been so high since 2009 regarding Texas Longhorns.
The Longhorns are preseason favorites to win the Big 12, and coach Steve Sarkisian said he hopes the league title “serves as a big bye” in Texas’ final season before heading to the SEC in 2024.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to win a championship,” Sarkissian told ESPN when asked if this could be a career season for him. “There’s no doubt, and I feel like I’ve had good teams in the past. I haven’t been able to do that. When you come into coaching, I’m a very competitive guy. And I’d like to win a championship. I’d like to win a championship last year in the Big 12.”
Texas hasn’t won a Big 12 title since 2009, and the 13-year drought is the longest in school history dating back to when it joined a conference in 1915. This year, no matter the model — computers, betting markets, or media polls — Texas is my favourite.
For the first time since the Big 12 Conference went to a no-division format, the media picked the Longhorns to win the title. The first-place votes were distributed among six teams, with Texas receiving 41 and a total of 886 points. Big 12 champion Kansas State finished second with 14, 858 points.
ESPN’s Football Strength Index gives the Longhorns a 54% chance of winning the Big 12. The only FBS team with a higher chance of winning its conference entering this season is Big Ten’s Ohio State (71%).
Sarkissian, who is entering his third season leading the Longhorns, finished 8-5 last year with all five losses by seven points or less. It was only the second time in the past nine years that Texas had eight regular season wins. In 2021, Sarkissian went 5-7 in his senior season.
The difference this season, he said, is that the show’s participants “don’t just feel it, they take action.”
“It will be a great farewell,” Sarkissian said. “The Big 12 and Texas have been great partners for decades. For us to try and get into this game at the end of the year it would be a nice send-off.”
If the Longhorns are going to take the leap, they’ll have to evolve on offense now that their two star tails left for the NFL. Bijan Robinson was taken eighth overall in the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, while Roschon Johnson went to the Chicago Bears in the fourth round.
Sarkissian hinted to ESPN on Wednesday that the offense will likely feature the passing game more, as the absence of these two stars impinges on the maturity of quarterback Quinn Ewers. The Texas wide receiver room is also teeming with talent, including first-team All-Big 12 wide receiver Xavier Worthy and Georgia transfer AD Mitchell.
“Last year I felt like we were about to become one-dimensional too [reliant] Sarkissian said of Bijan and Roshon for what they were able to do in passing the ball. “We felt we had to evolve our passing game to get back to where I used to do it. …
“Our ability to throw the football now will be able to return to where we like it to be.”
A physical and mental evolution, Ewers brings greater awareness to the line of scrimmage. Ewers joked with ESPN that when he went to class last season, he was worried about remembering the play. This season, he focused on identifying the fronts and tendencies of opposing defenses and then distinguishing them from each other.
“Generally and historically, the second year in our system is where you take that big step,” Sarkissian said. “And we see that come out of him. We see it in his preparations. He’s in great physical shape, and his understanding of what we’re doing is at a high level.”
ESPN’s Pete Tamil contributed to this report.
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