Steve Sarkisian: Texas’ final season in Big 12 ‘won’t be awkward’

For one season, the Big 12 will carry 14 members — four incoming and two outgoing.

If you think that the commingling of Texas and Oklahoma with BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF would make for an uncomfortable yearlong dinner party, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian disagrees.

“It won’t be awkward for us,” Sarkisian said Wednesday at Big 12 Media Days. “I can’t speak for anybody else. It won’t be awkward for us.

“We’ve got a roster full of players who quite frankly came to the University of Texas to try to win a Big 12 Championship, and we’ve got one more opportunity to do that, and I think our guys are focused on that. And so it won’t be awkward from our end, but like I said, I can’t speak for everybody else.”

Texas and Oklahoma will depart for the SEC in 2024, but in the meantime the Longhorns were picked to win the Big 12 in the preseason media poll, edging defending champion Kansas State.

The Longhorns have gone 13 years and counting since last winning a conference title, the 2009 Big 12 banner. The storied program has only been to one of the past six Big 12 championship games since the game was re-instituted in 2017.

So Sarkisian was effusive in praising his players for being motivated by the here and now, not the SEC move.

“I know there’s been so much talk about the SEC and what’s happening in 2024, but I think one thing that I love about this team that we have this year is their focus on 2023 and this opportunity we have here in the Big 12,” Sarkisian said. “It’s going to be a heck of a season, great competition.”

While Sarkisian aimed to keep things positive in his remarks to the media, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy appeared bothered by Texas being voted atop the poll, wondering if the voting had been based on “the last 50 years” instead of the present day.

“I think it’s pretty clear and easy to say, hey, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot every Saturday,” Sarkisian said.

The Longhorns lost high-powered running back tandem Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson to the NFL, but the offense is expected to be strong behind Quinn Ewers at quarterback, Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell at wide receiver and others.

“I know a lot is made of the players that we’ve brought in, but we’ve got a lot of veteran players that came to the University of Texas to win a championship,” Sarkisian said. “They bought into a new coach, a new coaching staff, a new style of play, a new culture and inevitably they’re leaders on our team now, and they get a chance going into some of them their final season to compete for a Big 12 Championship.”

Texas’ Big 12 slate will begin Sept. 23 with a trip to Baylor. The Longhorns will conclude the regular season and say goodbye to the Big 12 by playing another in-state rival, Texas Tech, on Nov. 24 in Austin.

“I hope (the Texas Tech game) carries extra weight because hopefully we’re competing to get into the championship game,” Sarkisian said. “But the reality of it is, hey, we’ve had some longstanding games with a lot of teams in the Big 12, and we’re going to embrace every opportunity we get this year.”

–Field Level Media