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No. 18 Texas vs. No. 4 TCU now set up as biggest matchup of Steve Sarkisian era

To become the kind of championship program Steve Sarkisian wants to build, this is the kind of game his Longhorns must win.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a good sign for a program when games mean more; when the stage is bigger. The great programs and biggest brands enjoy those kind of moments more often than most. Of course, Texas has benefited from being the latter, but in terms of sheer significance from a football perspective, they haven’t played too many under Steve Sarkisian that truly mattered much.

Losing can tend to have that effect, so last season was almost entirely chalked in that regard. No. 1 Alabama was a great atmosphere and the kind of blue-blood matchup that’s great for college football, but as Sark said before the 20-19 Texas loss, “I’ve said all along, my goal is to be in Dallas Dec. 3. This game has no impact on that, right?”

Well, this next one absolutely will, and that’s the most notable of a few reasons why No. 18 Texas’ Saturday evening showdown with No. 4 TCU is set up to be the most significant matchup of the Sarkisian era.

Sitting at 6-3 and 4-2 in the Big 12, Texas clearly has a few blemishes to its name. But for all intents and purposes, Sark has the Longhorns right where they want to be — in control of their own conference destiny down the stretch. Courtesy of Oklahoma State’s recent stumbles, the recipe for Texas is now as simple and clear as it can be — win and get in.

“We’ve got more work to do and I think our guys recognize that,” Sark said. “They’re hungry. It’s always good when you get a win like that and then here comes a top-five team coming into your own stadium on a Saturday night who’s in first place in your league to get your attention quickly. It didn’t take long for them to recognize and flip the switch and get on to the next.”

As it stands, even with the two conference slips, Texas is in the driver’s seat on its road to Arlington. Upset the undefeated Horned Frogs, and you’re that much closer to a potential rematch with TCU, which will almost certainly compete for a conference crown. But if Texas loses, well, then on top of their final two games becoming complete must-wins, the Longhorns would need some luck with Oklahoma State slipping up at least one more time against Iowa State, Oklahoma, or West Virginia.

Simply put, Texas could see its primary season goal slip out of its control on Saturday, or the Longhorns could overcome the most significant remaining hurdle on their way to that goal.

For any single game of the Sark era, the stakes have never been higher.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch on everything else surrounding this game.

A win would mark Texas’ first home victory over a top five program since 1999, and the first top-10 win under Sark.

“The idea that we have an opportunity to do something like that, I think as a competitor naturally instills a little bit more motivation in there,” said Sark.

On hand to potentially watch it all unfold will be an absolutely loaded list of recruits, including a collection of some of Texas’ top targets who are nearing the end of some key recruitments. And to help set the stage for all of this, ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Austin for the second time this season.

“We’re a brand,” Sark said. “We’re a national brand, we’re a worldwide brand, and that’s part of the reason you come to the University of Texas is for the opportunity to play in these types of games and to have this exposure.”

So, the stage is set. All eyes will be on Austin for a matchup that’s going to significantly alter the outlook of a Texas’ and TCU’s season, for better or worse.

The Horned Frogs are inching closer to their first-ever College Football playoff appearance. Lose to the Longhorns and that all disappears in an instant.

Texas wants to be back? Well, this is the kind of game they have to start winning to get there.