Why Texas football is moving to the SEC at the perfect time

Texas Tech v Texas
Texas Tech v Texas / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Texas football may be all the way back -- even if the program is joining one of the juggernaut conferences of the sport.

One of the biggest offseason storylines revolves around both the Longhorns’ and Oklahoma’s departure from the Big 12 to the SEC. While there is some speculation as to how either program will immediately fare amid their departures, Texas couldn’t have asked for a better time to join the SEC.

Internally, Texas has not been on this much of an upswing since 2009, when the Longhorns went 13-1 and reached the BCS National Championship Game. But let’s not forget that Texas was a play away from reaching the national title game just five months ago. 

First things first, if a team is going to compete in the SEC, they need to recruit, and recruit well. According to 247Sports, since 2019, Texas’ average recruiting class ranking is tied for the fourth-best in the nation, only trailing Alabama, Georgia, and LSU. 

On the field, Texas has gone 5-6 against Top 25 opponents since 2022. Not great. However, in those 11 games, the Longhorns’ average margin of victory is 14.8 points, while their average margin of defeat is only 5.3 points. Of course, what overshadows these numbers is the fact that Texas reached the College Football Playoff last season — something only four different SEC schools, including Oklahoma, can say that they've accomplished.

From an opponent standpoint, Texas is currently in a stronger spot than a few of its coveted rivals. While Oklahoma did defeat the Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry last October, the Sooners are likely to struggle in the immediate future despite their brand power. 

Since hiring head coach Brett Venables in 2022, the Oklahoma faithful have not seen the reload that it once anticipated. The Sooners have gone 16-10 overall and are just 3-3 against Top 25 opponents with Venables at the helm. Those results, paired with offensive line struggles and a passing defense that ranked 100th in the FBS in 2023, leaves some pessimism.

Aside from Oklahoma, Texas A&M has gone 12-13 since 2022 and is going through a serious transition period, while Alabama’s legendary head coach just retired.

While doubts were lingering around head coach Steve Sarkisian’s ability to get this program over the hump, the Longhorns put all uncertainty aside last season and are poised to make another big run in 2024. 

It all starts with the guy under center.

Longhorn fans will get another encore season from one of the country’s top signal callers in Quinn Ewers. The rising junior has reached elite status since his first campaign in 2022, tallying 5,656 career passing yards (eighth in program history) and 37 career passing touchdowns (tied for seventh in program history) to just 12 interceptions. But what Ewers has shown is that he’s continued to blossom and elevate his game each year.

Through his development, Ewers’ accuracy (58.1 percent in 2022 to 69.0 percent in 2023), yards per attempt (7.4 in 2022 to 8.8 in 2023) and QBR (132.6 in 2022 to 158.6 in 2023) all ticked up substantially this past season. In the same vein, Ewers’ poise was off the charts, as his turnover-worthy play rate descended to 1.7 percent in 2023 compared to 3.6 percent in 2022. 

He’s also a clutch performer on the big stage. According to Pro Football Focus, Ewers’ two highest-rated games in 2023 came on the road against Alabama (90.3) and in the Sugar Bowl against Washington (81.8). He culminated 667 passing yards and zero turnover-worthy plays in those two games.

Ewers is as much of a lock as there is to go early in the NFL draft in 2025. Leading Texas to the national championship in 2024 is the million-dollar question.

From a personnel standpoint, he will be supplied with a new set of targets from the transfer portal in burner Isaiah Bond (Alabama), dangerous slot receiver Silas Bolden (Oregon State), and second-team All-Big 12 wideout Matthew Golden (Houston) to go along with one of the nation’s premier backfields.

Defensively, it will be difficult for Texas to replicate its terrific defensive line play from a year ago — one that featured All-Americans T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy II — but the addition of UTSA transfer Trey Moore, who is the reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year, will help fill those voids.

What needs to be addressed the most is the secondary. The Longhorns allowed the 105th most passing yards per game last season (254.4) and were heavily exploited in the CFP semifinal game against Washington after yielding 430 yards through the air, including six throws of 20-plus yards.

Aside from that, the Longhorns’ roster looks very SEC-ready. 

In terms of the schedule, it’s not easy (welcome to the SEC), but it’s not overwhelming. An early-September road trip to Ann Arbor against the reigning national champion Michigan Wolverines will be the tone-setter. Then a two-week stretch against arch-rival Oklahoma and a home game against Georgia in mid-October will predicate how legit of an SEC title contender the Longhorns really are. A season-ending trip to College Station could be interesting, but it’s hard to gauge how good A&M will be in year one under Mike Elko.

There is little to nit pick about Texas heading into 2024. Sarkisian, who is one of college football’s most brilliant offensive minds, has done a tremendous job revamping this blue-blooded program and focusing on the things that matter most to winning big in the sport: recruiting, coaching, and (now) consistency.

We are in the midst of a new era of Texas football. I think it’s safe to say that they are in fact “back.”

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