The trajectory of the Texas Longhorns football program, in both the short-term and long-term sense, may very well change on Saturday afternoon against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Austin as head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff host superstar 2023 quarterback prospect Arch Manning and a bevy of other top prospects.
Last Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, Texas lost. It was an embarrassing 55-48 defeat in the way it unfolded, to be sure, but it wasn’t a bad loss. In a vacuum, falling to the Big 12-favorite Oklahoma Sooners in the final seconds won’t really impact recruiting much, if at all, and the impact on Texas’ conference title dreams was mostly minimal.
So, all things considered, all is still well.
But on the other hand, recruiting fortunes for Texas could shift fairly dramatically — either for better or worse — when the Longhorns host the Cowboys for what’s arguably the most significant game of first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian’s young tenure at Texas.
On the surface, Texas simply doesn’t want to deal with the snowball effect of the first losing streak of the Sarkisian era and three losses in six games, and all that could come with those struggles, from fans and media scrutiny to any recruiting hesitancy to any internal doubt in the locker room that it’s just much of the same in Austin.
Win and Texas will have, again, proven its resilience and an ability to avoid lingering on losses, to let one loss turn into two, as we saw happen each season under former head coach Tom Herman.
Not to mention there’s the general momentum benefits that would surely follow Texas topping a near-Top 10 team to notch the biggest win of the season.
“One, we have to recognize what our goals are, and obviously we’d all love to win a Big 12 championship,” Steve Sarkisian said during his Monday morning press conference. “And I said it Saturday — we’d all love an opportunity to play Oklahoma again. But none of that can occur if we don’t handle business Saturday and put all of our effort, focus, attention to Oklahoma State.”
To that end, Texas’ Big 12 title aspirations remain entirely intact, just as they were leading into the Red River Showdown. If the Longhorns want a rematch with the Sooners — assuming OU returns to Arlington yet again — they don’t need any kind of outside luck to get there. There’s obviously a lot of football left, but as of now, it’s still win and get in, which is why Texas still owns the second-best odds to make the conference title game behind only OU, according to ESPN.
But lose to Oklahoma State, and suddenly, that straight shot becomes an uphill climb while Texas has to focus on winning and hoping a team like OSU stumbles a few times elsewhere along the way.
So, in short, what happens on Saturday will play a fairly significant role in whatever heights Texas can reach this season help clarify whether the Red River loss could be a mere speed bump en route to AT&T Stadium or the first step in Texas falling outside of immediate conference contention.
Maybe more importantly in regards to Texas trying to build a quality, long-term program isn’t just what happens on the field on Saturday, but how key names in the stands perceive what happens on the field.
Each year, there’s that one blowout recruiting weekend when Texas hosts a small army of recruits. That’s happening this Saturday.
Top-ranked 2023 prospect Arch Manning is the headliner of the visit weekend, and he’s the kind of generational recruit that can alter the outlook of a program, just as was the case last cycle with along with Quinn Ewers. Of course, Texas missed on Quinn Ewers — losing him to Ohio State after his decommitment from the Longhorns — and that arguably marked the beginning of the end of Tom Herman.
Now, Texas gets another chance with another generational prospect a program can build around in Manning, and they’re considered a potential frontrunner or, at the least, a legitimate contender — this weekend could help solidify that status or give Manning even more reason to look at schools like Alabama, Georgia, and Ole Miss.
And that’s just one key prospect among the masses, with other big names including top-ranked 2022 wide receiver Evan Stewart, offensive lineman Malik Agbo, safety Larry Turner-Gooden, offensive lineman Ernest Greene, safety Jacoby Matthews, and defensive end Quency Wiggins, just to name a select few. So, as Sark and his staff continue to search for the final pieces of their 2022 class and start building the foundation of their 2023 class with their kind of recruits, Saturday is an ideal opportunity to impress and make some headway in some key recruitments.
Light up the scoreboard and largely just look the part of a program that’s undoubtedly headed in the right direction, as opposed to one that looks much like it did under the previous regime, and good things will continue to happen on the recruiting front.
So, yeah, all things considered, there’s quite a bit on the line on Saturday.
Win, and Texas is one key step closer to the rematch it wants with Oklahoma while likely making headway with the kind of elite recruits who can change the outlook of the program in the second and third years of the Sark era, and so on.
Lose, and the perception regarding the program’s short-term and long-term future are much less optimistic, and that’s probably putting it lightly.