Saturday’s much-hyped showdown between the Texas Longhorns and top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide is a massive matchup for a lot of folks. Mostly for fans and media.
It’s a hot topic for Week 2 talking points — Alabama potentially (likely) overpowering yet another former Nick Saban coordinator’s new program, Texas’ typical hype pitted against the standard in college football, multiple preseason All-Americans and Heisman candidates sharing the field, Texas possibly, at long last, showing signs of a true return with a win, etc.
But it’s mostly just outside noise, and in the grand scheme of things, the outcome will likely mean more to those watching the game than those playing it.
In the Longhorns’ locker room, though, Steve Sarkisian just wants his team to play their style of football and not make the game bigger than it needs to be; bigger than it actually is.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is like, ‘this is gonna be the game that’s gonna define our program’ — it might, it might not. I’m not that concerned about it. I’m more concerned about the way we play the game,” Sarkisian said.
“I’ve said all along, my goal is to be in Dallas December 3. This game has no impact on that, right? It would be great, awesome opponent, I want to play really well and make sure that our guys play our style of football, our brand of football, and do it the way we know we’re capable of doing it.
“I’m sure they’re saying the same thing in their locker room because we don’t impact them going to the SEC Championship game either.”
And Sark is absolutely right. Texas beating Alabama wins them very little more than the game itself. Sure, they’ll climb well into the AP Top 25 and enjoy any confidence and recruiting momentum boosts that may come from it, but that’s about it.
As Sark noted, Texas’ season goal isn’t on the line on Saturday in Austin, but of course, it feels more significant than that from the outside looking in.
After all, it was Alabama who unofficially unseated Texas as a powerhouse in the 2010 BCS title game, and Saturday will mark their first matchup since then. With that comes extra hype, and even more so with ESPN’s College GameDay and FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff shows each coming to Austin. It’s Alabama and Texas — the hype simply comes with the territory, and that’s only magnified when they’re sharing the field.
Narratives of what this game means and how it’s portrayed will be created up until kickoff, but none of them really mean much. For example, when asked earlier this week if this felt like a David vs. Goliath situation, Longhorns senior nose tackle Keondre Coburn simply said, “it’s another opportunity to play football.”
It’s a mentality Sark is seemingly successfully instilling into his team — approach every day, every practice, every game the same, regardless of the opponent, even if that opponent is amid the greatest dynasty in college football history. And to that end, what alternative approach would Texas really have? Place the Alabama game on a pedestal and possibly react to a loss the same way many on social media might? The Crimson Tide have lost just eight regular season games in the last decade, and when they do lose, it feels like a small miracle.
As Sark noted, Texas beating Alabama “would be great,” but for a rebuilding program that was 5-7 last season, beating the Tide shouldn’t be the expectation and it can’t define the season because, well, regardless of what happens on Saturday, Texas will quickly turn their attention to UTSA, and then on to the Big 12 games that actually impact their season goals.
For the fans and media, the SEC slogan might come to life on Saturday at kickoff, but Sark and his Longhorns are approaching this as they would any other game on their schedule.
“It’s one game. It’s a chance for us to do what we love to do. We only get 12 [opportunities] in the regular season every year to go play the game of football for all of the hard work these guys put in for nine months leading up to it, and then they get a chance to go perform.” Sarkisian said.
And we get a chance to do it at home in front of 100,000 unbelievable fans that will be here in great support. I want to make sure we enjoy the experience — that’s what this one means.”