Texas having the easiest path is certainly a surprise
I’d be willing to bet that the objection folks have with that conclusion stems from remembering what was said when news of the Sooners and Longhorns heading to the SEC first broke.
Right away, the narrative was engulfed by both powers’ years-long failures to win a national title as members of the Big 12, a far less impressive league than the SEC. While Oklahoma always got grief for its nasty habit of tripping over its foot in the CFP’s semifinal round, Texas was a much bigger laughing stock for never even sniffing that point.
The question was simple: If the Longhorns can’t make a run with just Oklahoma and a couple of 3/4-loss foes standing in their way, how are they ever going to make one with schedules consisting of names like Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and so on? Luckily for Texas, the answer has since become quite simple as well: the Longhorns have changed for the better.
This last season, for the first time in who knows how long, we saw Texas exceed expectations instead of fail them, with a narrow loss to a 10-win Sooners squad being the sole obstacle between it and being unbeaten. On top of that, its crowning achievement was a 34-24 win over the SEC’s beloved Alabama Crimson Tide, in Tuscaloosa.
Come Selection Sunday, the combination of their near-perfect record and that telling victory was enough to send the Longhorns to the College Football Playoff for the first time ever, and check the box of SEC-readiness in the process.
Now I can hear the whining already: “Austin, Texas isn’t ready for the SEC. They played just one opponent, that’s not indicative of an entire conference schedule. Also, how does their latest game—a semifinal loss to Washington, the 2024 CFP’s weakest team—imply readiness for the toughest league?” Boy, there’s a lot of inaccuracy to dig into there (and no one better pretend that any of it is made up for engagement, as SEC diehards did/do say stuff like that all the time).
For starters, Texas didn’t just beat one SEC team, they beat the SEC team; Alabama, under the great Nick Saban, which went on to take the SEC title, make the CFP, and take the eventual-champ Michigan to overtime. If you can convincingly outplay that squad on the road, you can handle the bulk of the rest no problem.
Secondly, earning the opportunity to play a then-unbeaten Washington in the CFP — and then fighting to the very end to keep the game competitive — does not equate to struggling against the SEC, as at least 12 of its 14 current teams were far worse than the Huskies.
At this point, it’s pretty difficult to not notice the underlying theme here: the heavy majority of the SEC was not good enough to compete with Texas in 2023, and there’s a good chance that’ll be the case again, especially when looking at who all the Longhorns do/don’t face in 2024.
Speaking of which, that’s precisely where their chances to win a conference title before Washington and SMU begin to fade into play.