ARLINGTON and AUSTIN, Texas — During a cheeky moment on Thursday’s Zoom press conference, Steve Sarkisian suggested that the beat writers covering the No. 7 Texas Longhorns should advocate for the program to make the College Football Playoffs for the first time.
Sarkisian quickly pivoted to his own responsibilities on the subject.
“I’ve got a responsibility to our team and I think every other coach feels that way — we want what’s best for our players and if I need to advocate for our team and politic for our team to try to get us into the playoffs, I’m going to do that because that’s my job as their coach to try to put them in the best position to be successful. And so I don’t back off of that,” said Sarkisian.
Of course, the Big 12 Championship against No. 18 Oklahoma State still loomed on Saturday in Arlington as Texas tried to end its time in the conference with its fourth Big 12 title and first since 2009. The Longhorns had unfinished business.
“One thing I talked to the team about today, actually on that point, was we didn’t come this far, just to come this far,” said Sarkisian Monday.
The play on the artificial turf field at AT&T Stadium reflected as much on Saturday with a convincing 49-21 victory over the Cowboys that featured the Longhorns scoring their first touchdown a little more than two minutes into the game and the second touchdown four and a half minutes later setting a trend of dominance from whistle to whistle.
Asked about the playoffs in the post-game press conference, Sarkisian took a moment to put the Big 12 title and 12-1 record in perspective.
“I didn’t want this championship to be about the College Football Playoff — this is a accomplishment in and of itself, us winning a championship, and so that’s the first part. I’m so happy for these guys that regardless of what happens, they should feel very proud that they were leaders on this team, to have our captains on the team to get us to this point, that’s the first part that I want to be really clear on that. We’re here to celebrate this victory and the season and what we were able to accomplish this year,” said Sarkisian.
But after Sarkisian noted in his opening comments that the Longhorns played, in his estimation, their best football in the last two games following weeks of consistently saying that he felt there was another level this Texas team could reach, the head coach for the Horns made his final case for the playoffs.
“One thing that we’ve shown — we’re a very complete football team. We don’t rely on one phase or one aspect of this team to win,” said Sarkisian, echoing comments he’s made throughout the season.
Eight days after star Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks ran for 95 completely inconsequential yards in the 57-7 win over the Red Raiders, the Longhorns run defense faced an arguably bigger challenge on Saturday against the nation’s leading rusher, Ollie Gordon.
“We play great defense, that offense was averaging well over 400 yards a game, that was one of the top running backs in the country. We held him to 2.6 yards per carry. Just a fantastic effort defensively,” said Sarkisian.
On offense, Texas turned in an historic performance, becoming the only Power 5 team in the last 20 seasons to gain 400 yards of offense and score 35 points in one half of a conference title game. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers completed 35-of-46 passes for 452 yards and four touchdowns, career highs in completions and passing yards that also set Big 12 Championship game records. The four touchdown passes equaled the career high for Ewers and tied the Big 12 Championship game record.
“When you go out and you have well over 600 yards and you’re able to throw it, you’re able to run it, and you’re able to almost have three receivers over 100 yards and have another back almost over 100 yards and then special teams, that’s the thing I think about our team that is unique. We are very, very versatile. We have extreme depth and we can win at the line of scrimmage and we can win at the skill position spots,” said Sarkisian.
It wasn’t until later that Sarkisian mentioned the win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which he’s called the best win in college football this season, a victory bolstered after the Texas win when the No. 8 Crimson Tide upset the No. 1 Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game.
“To go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and win that game, that’s a tremendous feat for these guys to accomplish that. When you do that sometimes that takes us toll on your team when you play those epic battles like that, like we played in Tuscaloosa. But to win that game by 10 points, I think helped us as the season went on, and it helped us have some resolve when we did lose a gut wrenching game in early October,” said Sarkisian.
“We bounced back the way that we did and I think since that ballgame that we lost we’ve only trailed twice in the rest of the games on our schedule. And so, you know, hopefully when people kind of look at the totality of the body of work, it’s not just about the record, it’s about the quality of the team and I think that’s the intent of the college football playoff is putting the four best teams in that playoff. Do we think we’re one of those? For sure we do.”
So beating Bama nearly three months ago and peaking as a team over the last several weeks left Sarkisian feeling capable of facing off against anyone in the country, even before seeing the result in Atlanta.
“This may be a little bullish of me saying, but we’ll play anybody in the country, I’m not shying away from that part. I feel very comfortable if we get into this tournament, we’ll play anybody and will find out if we’re good enough or not. But I feel like we have the team, the culture, the scheme, and the versatility to play against anybody,” said Sarkisian.
Now Texas has done all it can as the final hours tick down until the College Football Playoff committee makes its decisions following the Big Ten and ACC title games.
“This isn’t a vote. We don’t all get to go to the election booth and vote, so it’s in their hands. All we can do is, like we told the players, control what we can control, let’s play the best football we could, and I thought we did that today and hopefully put in their minds what would it look like if Texas was in a four-team playoff.”