Spring practice is over and all focus has been shifted towards the season opener against Louisiana on Sept. 4. A summer full of recruiting visits and potential transfers is ahead, but everyone is eager to get back on the field.
Year one is always the most important when a new head coach takes over a program. Setting expectations, changing the culture, and inserting your system successfully is the goal. Steve Sarkisian has already done all three well from the time he had his first press conference in January.
Once the football begins, a new set of goals will take precedent for Sarkisian. To give fans, boosters, and Chris Del Conte confidence in the hire, a checklist of things must happen throughout the year. Here are three things Sarkisian must accomplish during his first season at Texas:
To start, prove his offense
Prove his offense translates
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No team was better on offense over the past two seasons than Steve Sarkisian’s Alabama. During their national championship-winning season, the Crimson Tide averaged 48.5 points per game and their lowest point total was 31 against Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. Nobody could stop them.
Alabama’s roster was undoubtedly the best in the country. NFL first-round talent was littered from top to bottom – two quarterbacks, four wide receivers, a running back, and two offensive tackles. Texas has talented players on their roster as well, but nothing like the Crimson Tide has sported over the past two years.
Wide receiver is where Sarkisian will have a major drop-off. Joshua Moore, Jake Smith, Jordan Whittington, and Xavier Worthy will be nothing like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle. The offensive line will take some time to develop as well.
Expecting numbers from Sarkisian we saw over the past two seasons is unrealistic. His type of offensive players are not in the program yet. There will be an expectation for a more cutthroat type attack in year one, though. If Sarkisian can prove his offense works at Texas, the future of the program is in good hands.
Second, a win over an in-state opponent to create momentum
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Beating Oklahoma always has and always will be priority No. 1. Before getting to the Red River Shootout is a team Texas has only beat twice since their insertion to the Big 12 – TCU. Oct. 2 in Fort Worth will be an early litmus test for Steve Sarkisian.
Even with some of Gary Patterson’s worst teams, he has found a way to beat the Longhorns. In fact, he is a career 5-1 in Austin, with the only loss coming in 2007. TCU was still in the Mountain West Conference. Four out of the last five wins have come by double digits as well.
The beginning of the end for Tom Herman was after a fourth-quarter loss to TCU last season. Before trying to compete for Big 12 championships, Texas must be able to get over the purple hump. Patterson already has a transfer portal win over Sarkisian for Shadrach Banks. A win on the field would be a monumental step toward being “back”.
Lastly, recruiting wins
Land the big-name recruits
(Photo by Caten Hyde/Texas Athletics Department)
Outside of winning on Saturday, nothing is more important in college football than recruiting. Win in the recruiting world and you will win on the field. Steve Sarkisian’s first full cycle will be the ’22 class after putting on the finishing touches on Herman’s disgraceful ’21 class.
Big names have already committed to Texas early in the year. Four-star running back Jaydon Blue and quarterback Maalik Murphy headline the offense names. After struggling at Aledo High School for years, Bryan Allen Jr. pledged to Texas after once being an LSU commit. Even with being the No. 7 class per 247Sports, more is needed from Sarkisian and his staff.
Five-star OT Kelvin Banks and four-star wide receiver Evan Stewart are must-get prospects. That goes without mentioning the quarterback. On defense, if you could take one player over anybody in the entire class, it would be Denver Harris. North Shore’s five-star cornerback could feature as the highest-ranked player in the class.
Going 9-3 or better with promising signs will boost Texas’ chances with all of the top recruits. Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M remain the main rivals the Longhorns will face until national signing day in December. Those four programs are expected to continue where they left off last season. Their recruiting momentum will not slow down.
An important seven months is ahead of Texas.