AUSTIN, Texas — In perhaps the most dramatic College Football Playoff reveal in the brief history of the postseason tournament, the Texas Longhorns became the first team to jump from outside the top six in the penultimate rankings into the top four by landing the No. 2 seed from the committee on Sunday.
After a 12-1 season that included winning the Big 12 title on Saturday, Texas is headed to the playoffs for the first time.
With Michigan landing the No. 1 seed, Washington slotting at No. 2, and Alabama beating out undefeated Florida State for the final spot, the Longhorns will play the Huskies for a trip to the national championship game against the winner of the Rose Bowl matchup between the Wolverines and Crimson Tide.
Entering the season with high expectations thanks to a peaking roster, Sarkisian was embraced those expectations created by the media picking Texas to finish first for the first time since 2009, although the AP Poll slotted the Horns at No. 11 nationally before the season. After posting a 13-12 record with numerous blown double-digit leads through Sarkisian’s first two seasons on the Forty Acres, the pressure was also on the Texas head coach to demonstrate his own personal improvement as a coach since his time at Washington and USC.
The first test came against then-No. 3 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the early-season benchmark for where Texas was in non-conference play and what type of upside the Longhorns might ultimately have in the 2023 season. Behind 349 passing yards and three touchdowns from redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers, Texas upset Alabama, handing Nick Saban’s program his first non-conference loss in the regular season since 2007 and worst home loss since he coached at LSU in 2003. For the Longhorns, the Crimson Tide were the highest-ranked road win since the Game of the Century against the Razorbacks in 1969.
“If it was easy, more teams would do it,” Sarkisian said of the win.
A month later in the Cotton Bowl, however, the Longhorns lost a measure of control over its conference title hopes and College Football Playoff hopes by allowing a last-minute drive by Oklahoma to pull out a 34-30 victory.
But Texas only trailed twice for the remainder of the season despite losing Ewers for two games with notable wins in a blowout over then-No. 24 Kansas, a narrow overtime victory the then-No. 23 Kansas State while surviving comeback bids by Houston and TCU on the road before clinching a berth in the Big 12 Championship game by beating Texas Tech 57-7 in the final regular-season game.
With unfinished business in Arlington, the Longhorns thumped the No. 18-ranked Cowboys, controlling the game from start to finish in a 49-21 win to make a strong case for a College Football Playoff berth.
The season marked a stark reversal from recent Texas football history and from Sarkisian’s previous head coaching results. It was the first 10-win season for Sarkisian as a head coach and the second 10-win season for the Longhorns since 2009, the last year Texas won the Big 12 title. For the first time since the College Football Playoffs began in 2014, the Horns were a serious contender to finish among the nation’s top four teams after championship weekend.
For Sarkisian, the team’s ability to play its best football in the final two weeks of the season and win in a variety of different ways make Texas stand out among other playoff contenders.
“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 in Arlington.
After beating the Tide in Tuscaloosa and surmounting almost every other challenge this season, Sarkisian feels confident in the Longhorns competing with any team in college football.
“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.
Texas and Washington kick off in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans at the Caesars Superdome on Jan. 1 at 7:45 p.m. Central on ESPN. The Longhorns opened as a 4.5-point favorite over the Huskies, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.