The last go-around in the Big 12 for Texas could be dubbed the Longhorns’ “Embrace the Hate” tour.
Coach Steve Sarkisian suggested as much for a season where No. 11 Texas is expected to finally contend again for an elusive league championship before the Longhorns leave for the Southeastern Conference in 2024.
Texas hasn’t won the Big 12 since 2009 and every road stop, from Waco to Ames, promises to bring extra spice from home crowds eager to kick the Longhorns in the rear end on their way out.
“We’re the University of Texas, we get it,” Sarkisian said. “I think that they’ve kind of assumed this mentality of ‘Embrace the hate.’ … We can sit there and be a punching bag or we can go attack the people we’re going to play. I think that they’ve assumed that responsibility to say, hey, we’re gonna go after everybody else, too.”
Texas has a lineup ready to deliver some haymakers. Ten starters return to an explosive offense. Key transfers have added depth on both sides of the ball. All that talent has the Longhorns the preseason favorite for the league crown.
That raises the pressure on Sarkisian, who can answer whether he is really the guy to lead Texas’ long-sought return to glory.
Sarkisian is 13-12 heading into his third season at Texas, and is 59-47 overall as a head coach with previous stints at Washington and Southern California. He has never won more than eight games in a regular season, never lost fewer than four and will earn nearly $6 million this season.
Quarterback Quinn Ewers had an inconsistent and injury-plagued freshman season, but emerged from spring drills as the clear No. 1 for 2023 ahead of Maalik Murphy and Arch Manning. Teammates and coaches have praised Ewers’ growth in the locker room and huddle. Gone is the flowing mullet haircut. Still there is the natural arm talent that can mesmerize with effortless form and quick release.
“I wanted it short,” Ewers said of his new buzzcut. “It’s too hot here in Austin.”
Ewers also changed his diet and workouts to reshape his body. He’s lost nearly 20 pounds.
“The healthy stuff,” Ewers said. “I’m more comfortable in my skin.”
Texas was shocked when linebacker Jaylan Ford wasn’t selected Big 12 defensive player of the year last season after he was player of the week three times, led the team in tackles and had four interceptions. The Longhorns were maybe just as surprised when Ford opted not to turn pro and instead returned for this season.
“My motivation, as humble as I can be, is telling myself everyday when I wake up that I’m the best linebacker in the country,” Ford said.
WIDE RECEIVER RICHES
Wide receiver Xavier Worthy’s 21 career touchdowns rank third in program history. The Longhorns added Georgia transfer receiver Adonai Mitchel, and former Wyoming standout Isaiah Neyor is ready after sitting out last season with a knee injury. Tight end J.T. Sanders set a school record for catches at that position last season,
“If we can deploy five people in the field, you can’t double everybody or load the box to stop the run,” Sarkisian said. “And all those guys are hard tackles in space.”
Texas’ mediocre record over the past three seasons never let Longhorns fans truly appreciate what they had in tailback Bijan Robinson. Now he’s gone to the NFL. That leaves a group of running backs who are light on experience, but have the luxury of playing behind five returning starters on the offensive line. Freshman Cedric Baxter was one of the top recruits in the country and enrolled early to join spring drills.
Texas opens the season at home against Rice on Sept. 2, before heading to a showdown with No. 4 Alabama a week later in a matchup of future SEC rivals. The Longhorns start their final Big 12 schedule Sept. 23 at Baylor. There are back-to-back games against new Big 12 foes Houston and BYU in October after the annual showdown with Oklahoma on Oct. 7.