Texas will beat Alabama in 2023, but that doesn’t mean Texas is back

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For the team that claims to be the Super Bowl for everyone else, this Week 2 matchup against Alabama will be Texas’s Super Bowl.

And just like the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, the Longhorns will win this one, even though they probably don’t deserve it. I’m a Giants fan, I can say that.

In spite of its potential win against college football’s greatest dynasty of the 21st century, Texas will not, in fact, be back. This is a perfect storm kind of scenario that Texas fans will certainly misinterpret. Here’s why:

Alabama’s offense will be awful to start the season

I’m a Notre Dame fan and follow the Irish far more closely than I probably should. Notre Dame’s offense under Tommy Rees was anemic, and Marcus Freeman sought out Sam Hartman from the transfer portal because he knew Tyler Buchner was not a high-level quarterback.

Jalen Milroe is the frontrunner to win the starting job for now, and while he’s a dynamic athlete, his accuracy as a passer is suspect. Ty Simpson may turn out to be a great quarterback, but has little experience and may not be ready to lead the Crimson Tide offense in a marquee matchup against Texas. And Buchner has not shown the ability to be a consistent passer who can protect the football.

Mix three inexperienced, turnover-prone quarterbacks with one of the worst play-callers in the Power 5 in Rees, and you have the perfect recipe for an upset. It doesn’t matter how good Alabama’s defense is (which lost some unbelievable talent in this year’s NFL Draft), if you can’t score points, you’re not going to beat Texas.

Quinn Ewers is really, really good

Ewers had a couple of forgettable games in his first season as a starting quarterback in college. But he also showed the incredible arm talent that made him the No. 1 player in the country coming out of high school.

With all offseason reports indicating a far more business-like approach by Ewers, it looks like it could be a huge year for the Longhorns signal caller. It’s certainly fair to question whether Texas is back or not if Ewers gets off to a hot start and takes down Alabama, but we’ll address why that’s not the case a bit later.

On a related note:

Texas’s receivers are unfairly talented

Quarterbacks as talented as Ewers don’t need a great deal of receiver help. They make everyone around them better.

But Ewers has the luxury of throwing to arguably the best receiver room in the country outside of Ohio State. Xavier Worthy is a certain first-round draft pick in 2024. Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell will start at the X position and will be a red-zone magnet at 6-4. He’s already caught four touchdowns in the College Football Playoff.

Isaiah Neyor is another big target on the outside who missed last year because of an injury, but he was making a name for himself as one of the top wideouts in the country at Wyoming. And the perenially and criminally underrated Jordan Whittington, whose return in 2023 uninformed, casual Longhron fans lamented. The Cuero product can do just about everything on the field and is one of the great run blockers in the country. Texas also signed some of the best receivers in the country in its 2023 class, any of whom could contribute in a significant way this fall.

Why it’s a mistake to assume Texas is back

I had a lot of nice things to say about Texas. But the reality is Texas defeating Alabama means absolutely nothing when it comes to sustained program success. Texas has been one of the top recruiting programs in the country for the duration of most of our lives, and likely always will be. Recruiting talent to Austin (my hometown) has never been a problem.

Many Texas fans will agree with that sentiment and follow it with, “Development has been the main issue.” This is a half-truth. There have been plenty of players who came in as “lower-rated” prospects who panned out in Austin and even achieved NFL success.

The reason Texas hasn’t won at a high level since the late 2000s is about one thing: culture.

Texas’s culture is preventing the Longhorns from being back

Culture is ultimately what wins championships in college football. Anyone can beat anyone on a given Saturday, but only the programs with elite culture bring home titles. While Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have cultivated team-first, grind it out, blood-sweat-and-tears cultures, the Longhorns have been all about the flash.

It’s the “me-first” mentality that has limited Longhorn success in the last decade. Recruits choose to come to Texas because Austin is a more glamorous town with more money and perks than any other athletic department in the country. It’s not about winning. That’s not the pitch Texas coaches use to lure recruits. Instead, it’s “Come live it up in Austin, party, become famous, glow up on social media, get paid, and be the big man on the country’s biggest campus.”

The type of recruit that chooses that recruiting pitch over, “Come, work your ass off, lose your ego, sacrifice for the team, and maybe you’ll get playing time in three years” ultimately isn’t a championship-caliber player. But over and over, that’s the recruit Texas has chosen. Stars over heart. That’s why Texas has lost to Kansas twice in the last six years. That’s why TCU has defeated Texas in eight of the last 11 matchups. And that’s why the Horns have only managed two victories in the Red River Rivalry in their last eight attempts.

Texas has won some huge games in the last decade, but the Longhorns have never been back.

This year, it’ll be the same story. And until there’s a major shift in the Longhorn culture, it’ll continue to be the story for decades to come.

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