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Texas embracing lofty expectations for 2023 season

While high expectations are nothing new for the Longhorns, they hope their new mindset leads to different results.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Media Days Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

“The pride and winning tradition of The University of Texas will not be entrusted to the weak or the timid.”

If you’ve been around Texas Longhorns athletics for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard this old adage, and despite recent history on the football field, the expectations have never dipped for Texas fans and supporters, only enhancing the frustrations of both groups over the last 13 years.

It’s common knowledge that Texas has spent the seasons following their last to the national championship and conference championship struggling, including four losing seasons in that run. In the middle of all of that mess, the Longhorns have had periodic spikes of expectation that nearly always ended in disappointment for players, coaches, and fans.

As we approach yet another “this should be the year” year for Texas, and despite all of the previous disappointments, Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian is not shying away from the expectations.

“This is why we chose to come to Texas. This is why I want to be the head coach here. It’s why these guys chose to come to school here is to compete for championships,” Sarkisian said during a preseason interview with ESPN. “Predictions expectations are just that. What’s going to define us is how we play this fall and what we do each Saturday and we got to prepare for that. So you acknowledge them, we push them to the side, and then we get focused on what we need to do each day.”

Setting expectations for Texas this year seems at the same time easy and challenging.

The Longhorns are the highest-ranked team in the preseason AP Poll (No. 11) and Coaches Poll (No. 12), were picked to win the conference by 41 of the 65 preseason media poll voters for the first time since 2009, and placed more players than any other on the preseason all-Big 12 team. But the recent memory of high expectations ended in disappointment — including being selected to finish third in the conference in 2021 before turning in a 5-7 season and finishing seventh.

In their entire stay in the conference, Texas has won the conference just three times (1996, 2005, and 2009), tied with Baylor and Kansas State behind Oklahoma for Big 12 championships.

As they enter their final year in the conference, Texas players know they have one final chance to win the conference and put metaphoric bookends on the school’s tenure in the conference.

“We’ve got a roster full of players who quite frankly came to the University of Texas to try to win a Big 12 Championship,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got one more opportunity to do that, and I think our guys are focused on that.”

Despite the goal and expectation to win the conference, the history of the Big 12 suggests that something closer to the season total of 9.5 games is more likely than an undefeated season.

In the 27-year history of the Big 12, there have been more two-loss conference champions (eight) than there have been undefeated champions (six), with one loss being the likeliest outcome. The last three conference champions finished with two losses, while there has been one undefeated champion in the last decade.

That being said, all but one of the undefeated conference champions played for the national championship (the 2016 Oklahoma Sooners had two non-conference losses), with three of the five winning the title.

Long story short, it’s hard to go through the Big 12 without a blemish, but any deserving champion has been rewarded for its trouble.

So for Texas, it becomes a simple matter of taking care of what’s in front of them, something Sarkisian feels they are mentally equipped to do.

“They’ve taken this mindset of being on a mission. They’ve kind of adopted the John Wick mentality… They want to go do this. They want to be focused on the task at hand,” Sarkisian said during Big 12 Media Days. “This is our last year in the Big 12 when we can sit there and be a punching bag or we can go attack the people that we’ll play.”

With just two weeks until the season kicks off and three weeks until the big road trip, the Longhorns can come out and make a statement early in the season, building momentum for their final run at the Big 12.