SEC fans, here's a primer on the state of Texas Longhorns football
Ready or not, here Texas comes.
To the SEC, that is. It’s happening. The “when” is still to be determined.
But yes, Texas and Oklahoma will indeed be joining the SEC and the college football world still doesn’t quite know what to do with that.
Plenty of SEC fans probably still don’t know what to do with that. They might know a bit about Texas’ past, and like how it owns 4 national titles and it’s home to one of the traditional powers of the sport. They also probably know that Bevo is a steer who isn’t afraid to troll teams (A&M) or attack mascots (Uga).
There’s probably a lot that SEC fans know about the team in burnt orange, which won the last national title before the SEC began its streak of 7 consecutive championships. If they’re like me, peak Texas is Vince Young bathing in confetti. Or perhaps it’s Colt McCoy and the injury that prevented Texas from winning it all in 2009 (I’d argue Alabama’s defense was a bigger factor, but that’s beside the point).
Or, if you’re up to date on all things Texas as an SEC fan, you know that “horns down” is the easiest way to troll a once-dominant program. In the Big 12, it’s also the easiest way to get flagged.
With Texas joining the SEC, I thought now would be an ideal time to examine the current landscape of the program. What do fans care about? Where could it be in a few years?
SEC fans, consider this your cheat sheet to be able to carry on a conversation about Texas that goes beyond “horns down.”
Texas is already at an SEC level when it comes to head coaching buyouts
Whenever someone asks the question about Texas fitting in with the SEC, remember that we’re almost 7 months removed from Texas firing Tom Herman and sending him home with a $15 million buyout. It was actually $24 million to fire the entire coaching staff. That was after a 7-3 season.
If that’s not SEC-like, I don’t know what is.
Texas has been doing buyouts bigger and better than the masses for a while now. Charlie Strong was fired with more than $10 million left on his contract, though offset money from his job at South Florida bailed out the Longhorns a bit. Mack Brown got $2.75 million with his buyout, which means that just from head coaches alone in the last 7-plus years, Texas agreed to pay head coaches nearly $28 million not to work.
Not bad, Texas. Not bad.
Yeah, you know that Steve Sarkisian guy
He’s that offensive wizard who led Alabama to consecutive years with its highest-scoring units ever. The Broyles Award winner revived his career in Tuscaloosa. Some didn’t want to give the former Washington/USC head coach credit for that because of the talent of Alabama’s roster. Others, myself included, saw him scheme in ways we’ve never seen throughout Nick Saban’s decade-plus of dominance.
What stands out with Sarkisian, and why Texas shelled out a $34.2 million contract for him, was the fact that his 2019 and 2020 seasons were with 2 different quarterbacks. Both were drafted in the first round. From those 2 teams, Alabama had 9 offensive players drafted in the first round. That’s not all Sarkisian, but goodness. That was Alabama’s total from 2012-19.
Here’s a wild thought: How many offensive players did Texas have selected in the first round in the past 15 drafts (2007-21)? Zero. Zip. Nada. Vince Young was Texas’ last offensive player selected in Round 1 back in 2006.
How many years until Sarkisian ends that drought? One? Two?
No, Sam Ehlinger won’t still be there
I know. You’re just as surprised as I am that he’s finally out of eligibility. I didn’t assume one day that I’d tell my grandkids about Ehlinger throwing for 400 yards in a 49-42 loss to Kansas State. I assumed they’d see for themselves.
Now, it’s Hudson Card vs. Casey Thompson for the right to run Sarkisian’s first offense in Austin. That’s an exciting possibility for Texas fans who saw Ehlinger leave as a prolific 4-year starter who won 4 bowl games, but ultimately didn’t win a Big 12 title.
Thompson took over for Ehlinger in the second half of his final college game, and he looked excellent. Card, meanwhile, is the classic, blue-chip Texas recruit who has probably heard “quarterback of the future” more times than he can count. Thompson technically has 3 years of eligibility left and Card has 4. In other words, it’s not far-fetched to think that one of them could start in an SEC game one day. Knowing Sarkisian, his starting quarterback will have a chance to become a household name.
On second thought, make sure that Ehlinger doesn’t take that first snap in Texas’ opener this season. You know. Just to be safe.
Y’all had better hope Bijan Robinson never plays an SEC game
Because he’s the truth. Technically, the Texas tailback has 4 years of eligibility left, so he could theoretically play through the 2024 season. He’s draft-eligible after the 2022 season, though. Given the way he started his college career, Robinson might not be around Austin for long.
He’s one of the top running backs returning in America after a freshman campaign in which he averaged 8.2 yards per carry. His past 2 games have Longhorn fans rightfully fired up. I mean, he racked up 355 yards on 19 carries.
Yeah. That’s 18.7 yards per carry in those 2 games to end the season. Decent, I suppose.
Nobody in college football had a better average yards after contact than Robinson (6.1 yards, according to PFF). Can you see why?
My goodness, Bijan Robinson!
Spin cycle + the stiff arm pic.twitter.com/7KWKDQSJSp
— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) November 7, 2020
Bijan Robinson. Oh my goodness. The 5-star freshman has been fantastic today. pic.twitter.com/5zUiTPsW84
— Max Olson (@max_olson) December 5, 2020
This is the part where I’m supposed to make a joke about Big 12 tackling. I refused to do that because doing that would be taking away from the greatness of Robinson.
D’Onta Foreman? Ricky Williams?!? Robinson’s ceiling is sky-high especially playing for Sarkisian, who gets a ton of love for what he did in the passing game but was also extremely successful in putting Najee Harris in the right spots the past 2 years.
SEC fans have all the reason in the world to root for Robinson so that he can bounce to the NFL as soon as possible.
The in-state recruiting numbers through the coaching change were … woof
Imagine Texas only getting 1 of the top 20 recruits from the state. That just happened.
It actually happened for the second time in 5 years. That was, of course, also when Texas went through the change from Strong to Herman.
Here’s a look at the amount of top-20 recruits from Texas who actually signed with the Longhorns:
- 2012 — 8
- 2013 — 5
- 2014 — 4
- 2015 — 6
- 2016 — 7
- 2017 — 1
- 2018 — 12 (!)
- 2019 — 3
- 2020 — 5
- 2021 — 1
The 12 top-20 Texas recruits was Herman’s first full cycle. Go figure that Strong actually signed twice as many top-20 Texas recruits in his first class — not his first full cycle — than Herman and Sarkisian combined.
It probably helped that 2018 class that Texas A&M was in the midst of a coaching change. That could explain why the Aggies’ 2021 class had 6 top-20 Texas recruits, which was better than 4 of the last 5 classes the Longhorns signed.
Everyone wants to know how Texas joining the SEC will impact recruiting, especially within the state. The 2022 class will be a fascinating study in that because it’ll be Sarkisian’s first full class, and Fisher won’t be anywhere near a lame-duck coach.
Southlake Carroll (Tex.) 5-star quarterback Quinn Ewers, who is the No. 1 overall player in the 2022 class, had a well-documented flip from Texas to Ohio State this past fall. He cited Ohio State’s ability to play for championships on a yearly basis as his reason for that decision. Would that change if Sarkisian’s offense continued to light up defenses from coast to coast? Who knows. Texas had a top-7 offense and Ewers still made that call.
Notable Texas HS QBs who didn't pick Texas:
2011 Johnny Manziel
2012 Trevor Knight
2013 JT Barrett, Kenny Hill
2014 Patrick Mahomes
2015 Kyler Murray, Jarrett Stidham
2016 Jalen Hurts
2017 Kellen Mond
2020 Haynes King
There's your problem. Guessing Sark will solve this. #HookEm
— Chris Wright (@CWrightSDS) July 28, 2021
Suddenly, Sarkisian’s 2021 offense looks like it could have some major long-term impact in the SEC. And hey, don’t forget about Arch Manning.
Defensive consistency? What’s that?
In the past 10 years, the Longhorns finished with a top-50 defense … 3 times. That was in 2011, 2014 and 2017. You’ll notice those 3 years were also each 3 seasons apart. Texas missed the memo on the whole “top-50 defense” thing in 2020. It finished No. 61 with first-year coordinator Chris Ash after Tom Herman fired Todd Orlando.
Speaking of the coordinators, here are all the defensive coordinators who came in went in the last decade or so:
- Manny Diaz, 2011-13 (fired)
- Greg Robinson, 2013 (not retained)
- Vance Bedford, 2014-16 (not retained)
- Todd Orlando, 2017-19 (fired)
- Chris Ash, 2020 (not retained)
Diaz, Bedford and Orlando all showed up and led top-50 defenses, only to never get back to that level. Mack Brown fired Diaz in Week 2 of his third season after Taysom Hill and BYU trucked the Longhorns for 550 rushing yards. It’s been a revolving door of defensive coordinators ever since the Longhorns lost Will Muschamp to Florida after the 2010 season.
That 2011 NFL Draft had 4 Texas defensive players selected. Since then, that number is an average of 1.8 defensive players per year. Only 1 Texas defensive back came off the board in Round 1 in the past decade.
That reminds me.
If Texas fans try to claim the “DBU” thing …
Remind them that this year, the Longhorns are looking to finish in the top 100 against the pass for the first time since 2015.
The future of the Longhorn Network is ironic
If you ask someone in the Big 12 about the failure of the conference in the past decade, you’re likely to get an expletive-filled response about the Longhorn Network. At the time, it was a massive win for Texas. It kept the school in the Big 12, and it aligned itself with ESPN in a way that was unique for college athletics.
The problem? It didn’t coincide with success in the 2 biggest revenue sports. In the 10 years of the Longhorn Network’s existence, Texas had 1 top-10 finish in football — it finished No. 9 in 2018, then infamously declared it was “back” — and it didn’t make it to a single Sweet 16 in men’s basketball.
ESPN reportedly lost $48 million in its first 5 years of the network’s creation. It was a 20-year contract worth $295 million. Now, as fate would have it, apparently that contract could actually expedite Texas’ process to join the SEC before the media rights agreement with the conference runs out in 2025:
A source close to the situation said the buyout money for #Texas and #Oklahoma to leave the #Big12 before 2025 could come from the roughly $160 million #UT is still owed by ESPN for the final 10 years of ESPN’s 20-yr, $300 million contract with Texas for the Longhorn Network.
— Chip Brown (@ChipBrown247) July 27, 2021
Wait a minute. Back up.
So the thing that’s associated with being the downfall of the Big 12 a decade ago is now reportedly going to serve as the bank to fund the demise of the Big 12? You can’t make this stuff up. Surely the Big 12 never looked into the crystal ball and saw that when it was being held together by Scotch Tape 10 years ago. At least I’d hope not.
Does that mean the Longhorn Network will die upon Texas’ SEC arrival? One would think so. The current contract with ESPN runs through 2031. If the driver of this deal is ESPN, however, one would think that the new SEC’s TV contract could take care of that, as well.
In other words, there’s probably not a world in which the Longhorn Network exists in its current capacity in the SEC.
And what about Horns Down?
Never mind. SEC fans, you don’t need a history lesson on that.
You’ll be doing it for the next decade, penalty or not.