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Texas takes significant step towards elite status with Sugar Bowl win over Georgia

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With the 28-21 win over Georgia, Texas captured its first 10-win campaign since 2009, and in doing so, set a school record with a fifth win over a ranked foe this season.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Texas Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Victory is sweet... sweet like sugar.

The Texas Longhorns latest victory, a 28-21 Sugar Bowl win over the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs, is as sweet as any that folks around the Forty Acres have savored in recent memory. For a once-prominent program that’s long been starved of the substantial success second-year head coach Tom Herman and his Longhorns are currently celebrating, such a sentiment is especially true.

This is a program that in the not too distant past — though it appears increasingly distant at this present moment — seemingly fell to the Big 12 cellar as a 24-21 loss to Kansas not only effectively ended the Charlie Strong, but capped a three-year stretch in which the Longhorns lost five more games than they won throughout back-to-back-to-back losing seasons.

Two short seasons later, with a largely dominant Sugar Bowl showing over a Georgia team that many pundits argued was worthy of a playoff bid, Texas captured the program’s first 10-win campaign since the end of the Colt McCoy era in 2009.

The Longhorns celebrated accordingly, cloaked in confetti and all.

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Texas v Georgia Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Victory is sweet... sweet like sugar, and it’s even sweeter considering the sour taste recent seasons have left in the Longhorns’ mouths.

“It’s amazing. It’s amazing, for real. This team, we’ve done fought through so much, you can’t tell us what can’t be done,” junior B-Backer Malcolm Roach told Longhorn Network’s Alex Loeb of Texas’ Sugar Bowl win. “Two years ago we were thinking, ‘where are we, what’s going on?’ For us to come back like this, 10 wins in I don’t know how long as Sugar Bowl champs. We didn’t even go to a bowl game my freshman year. It’s amazing.”

“After my freshman year, everybody was second-guessing what’s going on,” Roach added. “Last year, we started to lay it down brick-by-brick. We won the Texas Bowl and this year we took off.”

Texas took off, indeed.

A roster chock-full of Longhorns who endured a forgettable five-win finish in 2016 has since seen that number double in size in just two year’s time, and the fact that Texas solidified that feat on a New Year’s Six stage speaks volumes of the direction that the Horns are headed in under Herman.

“I think it means we’re headed in the right direction. Our trajectory is very bright,” Herman said of what Texas’ Sugar Bowl win means for the program. “We’ve got a bunch of seniors who two years ago bought into our way of doing things and I can’t think them enough and they will be remembered throughout the University of Texas history forever.”

Sam Ehlinger, the Longhorns budding star gunslinger, sounded off with similar sentiments.

“I think last year that winning the Texas Bowl gave us motivation heading into the offseason knowing that we can beat teams when we play our best and we just beat an elite team,” Ehlinger told ESPN’s Holly Rowe post-game. “So I’m really excited heading into the offseason.”

To be elite, you have to beat the elite. Texas did exactly that on Tuesday night in New Orleans, and furthermore, despite the general dominance in a game that wasn’t as close as the score may indicate, the win wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan performance for this rapidly-rising program.

With No. 5 Georgia becoming the latest to fall short against the Longhorns, Texas has topped a school-record five ranked foes this season, boasting an average margin of victory of 12.4 points throughout those five performances. The former four finishes against No. 22 USC, No. 17 TCU, No. 7 Oklahoma, and No. 16 Iowa State were likely looked at as a sign of things to come from the Longhorns.

The latter, however, looms much larger: It’s validation of the heights that the Horns have already reached under Herman, but certainly not Texas’ be-all and end-all.

No, beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl won’t net Texas the 2019 national title, nor does it discount the fact that there’s still plenty of room for improvement for this program going forward. It does, however, set Texas up for what’s almost certain to be a top 10 finish to the 2018 season; one that from start to finish, has seen the Horns take significant steps towards rejoining college football’s elite, with no example more notable than what took place in New Orleans on Tuesday night.

“It is incredible. We are on the way,” Ehlinger said of what the Sugar Bowl win means for Texas. “This was a stepping stone for Texas to get back to the elite level. This is going to give us great momentum headed into the off season, and I am really excited for what we are going to do next year.”

So, at long last, just hours removed from cementing its most successful season since its last national title trip, is Texas finally back, folks?

Sam Ehlinger says that Texas is back. Now you can let everyone know.