Three keys for the Texas Longhorns to win the College Football Playoff

Three keys for the Texas Longhorns to win the College Football Playoff

Three keys for the Texas Longhorns to win the College Football Playoff

Not long ago, the Texas Longhorns were a once-legendary program in decline.

Now head coach Steve Sarkisian and surprise QB Quinn Ewers have put the Longhorns back in the national championship conversation. But as Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, with great expectations come great pressure to win it all… (or something like that).

Alabama Crimson Tide head coach and former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has steadily improved his Texas Longhorns since taking over in 2021. He found a projected top-10 NFL Draft pick in Ewers, bringing his apparent heir with football’s most famous last name, No. 1 overall, Arch Manning, won the Longhorns’ first Big 12 title since 2009 and led his team to the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history.

Now expectations are higher than ever. Texas is ranked No. 3 in the preseason with the third-best odds to win it all in 2024. What do the Longhorns have to do to turn high hopes into reality?

Shut down opposing QBs

The Longhorns’ glaring weakness in an impressive 2023 campaign was a young secondary without much depth that finished 113th in the country against the pass. This included 430 yards and two touchdowns from Washington Huskies phenom Michael Penix Jr. in a season-ending loss in the Sugar Bowl in the College Football Playoff.

But the Longhorns have taken steps to turn this weakness into a strength. They’ve nabbed the No. 1 safety in the transfer portal, Clemson standout Andrew Mukuba, who helped lead the Tigers to a top-5 pass defense. They also managed to bring back NFL-caliber cornerback Jahdae Barron, a fifth-year senior with plenty of needed experience who had considered leaving for the draft at the end of the 2023 season.

With the continued development of second-year starter Derek Williams Jr. and incoming freshmen talent, such as four-star recruit and track athlete Xavier Filsaime, improving secondary play will be essential, especially in a matchup of sum importance against the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. QB Carson Beck, who passed for nearly 4,000 yards in 2023.

Quinn Ewers Excellence

High-level quarterback play is a no-brainer for any team, but Quinn Ewers will have to overcome multiple challenges that most signal-callers never face, much less simultaneously.

For starters, Ewers lost his top four pass catchers from the 2023 season to the NFL Draft: wide receivers Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell and Jordan Whittington, plus tight end Ja’Tavian Sanders. On top of that, the Longhorns’ move from the Big 12 to the SEC comes with a significant increase in their opponents’ defensive capabilities.

Only one defense Texas played in 2023 ranked higher than 50th in total defense, and that was 18th-ranked Alabama, a team Texas managed to defeat with just a field goal. In 2024, against a host of SEC foes, Texas will face six of those defenses, including its new SEC rival, the No. 9-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

Ewers will have to quickly adapt to his new receiving corps, including heralded Alabama transfer Isaiah Boyd, if he hopes to repeat his 2023 success and lead his team through a tough SEC and an extended College Football Playoff.

Beware Oklahoma

Who would have ever thought that the Red River Rivalry, a 95-year-old non-stop, heated showdown that is one of the most celebrated in all of college football, against all-time foe and fellow Big 12 teammate Oklahoma, could be a sneaky trap game? ?

It might seem especially unlikely given last year’s big upset at the hands of the Sooners, led by a monster 398 total yard performance from uber-talented QB Dillon Gabriel, now, of course, surprisingly an Oregon Duck. But when Texas and Oklahoma meet on Oct. 12, the Longhorns will come off their first SEC matchup against the always-tough Mississippi St. Bulldogs on Sept. 28, and then have the biggest matchup on their schedule next Saturday, a visit of the SEC’s top quarterback, Carson Beck, and the unanimous preseason No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs, a game packed with implications for the SEC championship and playoff bye.

The good news is that Texas’ bye comes just before this brutal stretch. The Longhorns will have to somehow keep Georgia out of their minds over the previous two weeks and handle matters in Dallas before turning their attention to the toughest matchup of the season.

Expectations are high for the Longhorns in 2024, but so are the challenges they will have to overcome. But on the other side of those obstacles is a realistic chance at a national championship trophy they haven’t lifted since 2005.