Texas Football’s Rowdiest Season in a Generation

The Undertaker and Quinn Ewers after the 2023 Big 12 Championship game.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Texas Football is back. No, really back this time. How else can you describe the team’s latest resurgence, except by conjuring that tired phrase? The same punchline which suddenly became a bold proclamation after one of the most raucous and satisfying seasons in school history. 

Maybe not all the way back, critics will point out. The Longhorns lost their second consecutive bowl game and finished agonizingly short of playing for the national championship—13 yards, 6 points, and 1 second short, but who’s counting.  

Still, by winning 12 games, including the 2023 Big 12 title, and ending the season ranked No. 3 in the final AP Top 25, they achieved heights not reached since 2009, the last golden era for Texas.   

Most can remember what happened next. A series of false starts would plague the team as it cycled through head coaches capable of succeeding Mack Brown, all following their last trip to the summit: the ill-fated 2010 BCS National Championship Game versus Alabama. 

Steve Sarkisian and Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa.

Ironically, the Crimson Tide would also bookend this intervening period of frustration, some 14 seasons later, in the form of a regular season rematch on Sept. 9, 2023, in Tuscaloosa.  

“We don’t have to fear them. We are plenty good enough to come here and win,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters after the game—a resounding 34-24 victory and a watershed moment for the program.   

Since snatching the 2010 title from Texas, Alabama had become the sport’s gold standard. Led by head coach Nick Saban, they piled on five further championships and were the national barometer by which all others were measured.   

By 2022, the Longhorns figured to stack up nicely. But in the 95-degree Austin heat, they withered—and lost 20-19 to the visiting Tide, led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.  

In 2023, the Longhorns more than returned the favor. Arriving with their own Heisman hopeful in quarterback Quinn Ewers, Texas did more than win. They dominated—and left Saban with an unprecedented parting gift: the only double-digit home loss of his Alabama career.  

“I don’t think it’s really quite sunk in yet, what we did here, but I know we’re going to enjoy this one,” Ewers admitted to the media after the game.  

Widely considered the greatest college football coach of all time, Nick Saban announced his retirement four months later, on Jan. 10, 2024. One of the first names widely speculated as his replacement? None other than former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.   

“It’s a Great Day to be a Longhorn!!” Sarkisian posted online the following day, ending any thought that he might consider leaving Austin.   

A native of Torrance, California, Coach Sark has acclimated nicely—and just made the sport’s final four as the country’s 30th highest paid coach, slotting him behind Kansas’ Lance Leipold and Pat Narduzzi of Pittsburgh.  

Within days, Sarkisian inked a contract extension with Texas, one which stretches to 2030 and is expected to include a top-five salary. Here’s one California transplant most Texans won’t mind sticking around.

Despite losing the 2024 Sugar Bowl, not to mention a certain October trip to Dallas, the season was a breakthrough success. Texas otherwise ran the table in a self-styled revenge tour.   

“That’s been the theme of this year is, we obviously wanted revenge,” defensive end Barryn Sorrell said to reporters before the Sugar Bowl. The Longhorns had made good on their promise, up until that point.  

They avenged four of their five losses from 2022, but failed in the final one, falling 37-31 to Washington on New Year’s Day in New Orleans. Regardless, simply appearing in the school’s first College Football Playoff game was a long-awaited step forward.   

More are expected, and soon, with a playoff field that expands from four teams to 12 starting in 2024. Texas will also enter a loaded Southeastern Conference; play games against the last two national champions, Michigan and Georgia; and return to College Station in the fall. Sustained success remains the long-term goal, but until then, it’s worth celebrating a season for the ages.  

Texas claimed only its third conference title this century, trouncing Oklahoma State 49-21 in a game so lopsided it devolved into pro wrestling, literally.   

A handful of WWE superstars were on hand to present the league trophy in the form of a championship belt, including rabid Longhorns fan, The Undertaker. “I bleed burnt orange,” Taker told the team years ago in a motivational speech after practice.  

A chorus of boos then filled AT&T Stadium as Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark attempted to address the crowd. Fans reveled in recalling his words from August, when Yormark suggested to a Texas Tech booster club that the Red Raiders “take care of business like you did right here in Lubbock last year.”   

Bert Auburn greets a fan. Auburn set UT records for field goals made and attempted, consecutive field goals, and points scored by a kicker in a game and season.

The belt wasn’t the only hardware. Notably, super senior T’Vondre Sweat brought home the first Outland Trophy for Texas since 1977, given annually to the best interior lineman.   

Sweat and his partner on the defensive line, Byron Murphy II, are among a bevy of departing playmakers who will soon be seen playing on Sundays. Dynamic pass catchers Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell, and Ja’Tavion Sanders are also surefire early round selections in April’s NFL Draft. Despite tearing his ACL, Jonathan Brooks is a top-rated running back who rushed for 1,139 yards.  

It’s a lot of production to replace, but the team enters 2024 well positioned with a pair of former No. 1 overall prospects still on the roster in quarterbacks Ewers and Arch Manning. And Sarkisian remains an offensive innovator who has proven he can attract and develop top talent and deploy them at the highest level.  

“We knew that Coach Sarkisian was the man for the job when we hired him,” said Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte after the coach signed his contract extension on Jan. 13.  

The annual Orange-White Scrimmage will take place in Austin on April 20, and everyone will be anxious to see the team return. Let’s hope we can all stop wondering if they’re back.

The Longhorns parade through the French Quarter on New Year’s Eve.

CREDIT: Texas Athletics (6)




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