On Saturday, the No. 6 LSU Tigers will take on the No. 9 Texas Longhorns and I’m afraid there isn’t enough hype building up around this game, the buzz not loud enough, the magnitude understated, ticket prices too low.
Hopefully, my experience will help clarify why I believe this is an incredibly important game.
This was an event several years in the making that only I saw coming.
Allow me to elaborate.
When I stood on those lonely, cold bleachers in Lawrence, Kansas, in 2016, in complete disbelief at what I was witnessing, I kept telling myself one thing over and over again.
Kansas fans rushed the field and 10-year-old children flashed horns down while I stood frozen, watching my breath drift through the air, uncertain if it was my soul leaving my body or if the afternoon buzz was wearing off and I was finally realizing how cold it truly was.
Texas had lost to one-win Kansas team, and yet there I was, telling myself this one thing over and over again, an optimist amongst the sorrow.
“Corey,” I said to myself. “This stings. But this loss to Kansas means the end of the Charlie Strong era, which will usher in the Tom Herman era. And three years from now, coming off of a huge win against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, these Longhorns are going to have College GameDay coming to Austin for the first time since 2009 in anticipation for the first-ever regular-season top-10 matchup between SEC and Big 12 teams when LSU visits Texas in a Week 2 contest that has College Football Playoff implications.”
Well, here we are. Just as I predicted.
Burnt Orange Nation, we’ve come a long way from Tyrone Swoopes diving over the goal line for an overtime win that felt like everything but ultimately meant nothing.
No, Sam Ehlinger wasn’t premature in his postgame comments at the Superdome after the Sugar Bowl. Sure, Texas isn’t back back just yet, but this is as close as the program has bee since the Colt McCoy days.
And to be clear, I love Tom Herman’s take on the question of whether Texas is back, suggesting that being back means being complacent and losing sight of the goal of getting better every day.
But all of the aforementioned aside, only a fool — an individual who willfully chooses ignorance — would disagree with an undeniable truth about this Saturday’s game. This game goes far beyond the regional angle. Recruiting battles over blue-chip talents will be won and lost on Saturday night with all of the Texas recruits planning to attend and the many eyes watching on TV. Louisiana kids are going to choose Texas, or Texas kids might choose LSU. That’s merely a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things this weekend, but an important one nonetheless.
On paper, this is the biggest game in Austin, Texas since No. 7 Oklahoma State came to town in 2008 when the Longhorns were ranked No. 1. But that game, that 28-24 sort-of-thriller, isn’t even in the same discussion as this upcoming battle on the Forty Acres.
In the court of public opinion, to the standard college football fan’s eye test and the talking heads across the country, this is not just the biggest game in quite some time in Austin, but this may very well be the biggest college football game we get all season. I’m serious. Sure, we’ll see a good game or two in the SEC, the Big Ten will have some good games, and I’ll even put Texas A&M’s contest with Clemson on this list, but this game just feels different, bigger, the stakes higher, and the room for error smaller.
Of course, it’s unpredictable in Week 2, but it’s hard to imagine we will get something bigger — especially as far as non-conference games are concerned — than this matchup on Saturday at DKR.
There is a reason for this, though.
On one sideline, you have an LSU team that has been in the mix in SEC over the last several years, but the inability to overcome Alabama has stumped the Tigers from reaching the SEC Championship game, let alone the College Football Playoff. While the Tigers may not have experienced the turmoil the likes of which this Texas program has endured, there’s a strong feeling of underachievement in Baton Rouge and a lot of games and “almost” outcomes that suggest as much. Losses to non-power five programs, shutout by Alabama and a seven-OT loss to Texas A&M are just some of the recent setbacks for the Bayou Bengals.
Yet and still, a lot of pressure is falling on the Texas sideline for this game and twice as much as anything LSU is feeling, at minimum.
That’s because people still don’t buy it.
This can’t be said enough — people don’t believe Texas is for real. People believe Georgia didn’t care in the Sugar Bowl when Texas manhandled the Bulldogs — literally — for three quarters and walked out of New Orleans with a 28-21 win. Many didn’t believe the Texas Bowl win over Missouri was anything special the year prior.
Even after Texas rag-dolled Oklahoma for most of the 2018 Red River Showdown and played for its first Big 12 Championship in nine years, skeptics were still a’plenty.
You know how underestimated, taken lightly, brushed off, and doubt people have about this Texas team? Louisiana Tech safety L’Jarius Sneed felt perfectly comfortable telling the media that the Texas wide receivers couldn’t handle press coverage. This, just a few days prior to the Bulldogs coming to Austin, only weeks after Terry Bradshaw visited LA Tech and suggested Sam Ehlinger “ain’t that good.”
Outside of Austin, Joel Klatt and Kirk Herbstreit might be the only two people who are giving the Longhorns credit where credit is due.
Saturday is the proverbial punch in the mouth. Texas is either going to prove a few people right or prove a lot of folks wrong. Saturday night is the football game equivalent to being fed up with the kid who just won’t leave you alone. Saturday night, Texas can land a blow on the face of college football, the kind of swing that tells not only the kid who won’t stop pushing your buttons, but also everyone else in the cafeteria that you’re not someone to be messed with.
Once again, the Longhorns will have one of college football’s biggest stages. On national television against an SEC opponent, the likes of which many believe to be superior just because of a patch on the Tigers’ jerseys, the Longhorns will have the opportunity to once again showcase their grit and talent and they’ll do so, this time, against an opponent that actually cares about the game.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain for Texas: This moment on Saturday night is the crescendo of noise surrounding the program since last season. One way or another, debates about what they are and what they aren’t, will finally cease. This is one of the biggest college football games we will see all season and undoubtedly one of the biggest in Austin in more than a decade.
On Saturday night the Longhorns will either put an exclamation point at the end of Sam Ehlinger’s declaration that Texas is back, or they’ll turn the best quarterback since Colt McCoy into a meme that won’t soon go away.