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Texas Football: 5 Reasons Why the Longhorns Will Win the Big 12 Championship Game

5 Reasons Why Texas Will Win the Big 12 Championship Game

5 Reasons Why Texas Will Win the Big 12 Championship Game

The Texas Longhorns' long road back to rejoin the ranks of the college football elite is almost complete. Texas fans and players alike have waited nine seasons for a double-digit win campaign and a shot at a Big 12 title with the last of each coming in 2009 when a Mack Brown-coached team went 13-1 losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. How sweet it will be for these Longhorns (9-3, 7-2 Big 12) to accomplish both of those goals by beating archrival Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1) for the second time this season.

In most seasons, beating USC and Oklahoma in the same year could be enough to earn second-year head coach Tom Herman a statue in front of Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. If he can beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday, that statue might be on a fast track. The Longhorns kicked a two-game skid to the Sooners back on Oct. 6, winning a 48-45 thriller. The big question in the Lone Star State, can Texas do it again?

5 Reasons Why Texas Will Win the Big 12 Championship Game

1. QB Sam Ehlinger

While opposing quarterback Kyler Murray will get all the pregame hype, Ehlinger's play will be the key to this game. Against the Sooners in October, Ehlinger had arguably his best game of the season, rising to the occasion with 314 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added 72 rushing yards and three more scores to account for all but one of Texas' touchdowns.

Ehlinger may not be the flashiest quarterback in the Big 12, but the sophomore gets the job done. On the season, he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,774 yards, 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Ehlinger also played well in his first start against Oklahoma last season, posting 388 total yards and two touchdowns, so he shouldn't shrink on an even bigger stage. And as Longhorns fans already know, the Sooners' pass defense is about as bad as it gets in college football. Only three other FBS teams (129 total) give up more through the air than OU (286.6 ypg).

2. Oklahoma’s shaky defense

Speaking of defense, while the Sooners have had their moments on that side of the ball (including holding Kansas State to just 14 points back on Oct. 27), the numbers tell a different story. Oklahoma is last in the Big 12 in both total (449.0 ypg) and scoring (32.8 ppg) defense, and ranks near the bottom (111th and 99th, respectively) of the FBS as well. Over the last four games alone, the Sooners have surrendered an average of 47 points per contest, including 40 scored by lowly Kansas.

Making matters worse for OU's defense is the fact the unit could be without defensive backs Justin Broiles and Kahlil Haughton along with end Mark Jackson Jr. for its rematch with Texas due to unspecified injuries. Haughton is among the most active defenders with 50 tackles. Broiles has started five games and Jackson has been credited with seven tackles for a loss and three sacks.

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In their first meeting, the Longhorns rolled up 501 yards of total offense, 27 first downs and controlled the clock for 33:50. And it's not like the Sooners enter Saturday's game in AT&T Stadium on defensive hot streak either, considering West Virginia put up 56 points and 704 yards on them this past Saturday.

3. Have already faced Kyler Murray once

One could easily argue that Oklahoma's Murray is the most electric player in college football. The standout junior dual-threat has passed for 3,674 yards with 37 touchdowns and rushed for 853 yards and 11 more scores. As good as Murray has been, Texas actually did as good a job as any team on limiting him the first time these teams faced each other. While most quarterbacks will gladly take 304 passing yards and four touchdowns along with another 92 and a score on the ground, the aerial yardage was slightly below his season average (306 ypg).

Statistical differences aside, the fact that the Longhorns have already seen Murray and the Sooners' other playmakers, namely receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb, and that should help them prepare for Saturday's rematch.

4. Improved Texas run defense

After getting blistered by West Virginia for 232 rushing yards to start November, the Longhorns have limited their last three opponents to just 113 yards per game. That continued success is a must come Saturday. Getting linebacker Gary Johnson, the Longhorns’ leading tackler (74), back from a team suspension will be a big boost, assuming he's reinstated. In his absence last week against Kansas, Brandon Jones (eight) and Caden Sterns (seven) led the team in stops.

Even with Murray and an explosive passing attack, Oklahoma ranks eight in the nation in rushing at 264 yards per game. Texas held the Sooners to just 222 yards in their first meeting, although OU did average 7.2 yards per carry (on 31 attempts).

5. Texas' edge in intangibles

When it comes to matchups involving two quality teams, often times other factors come into play in deciding the eventual outcome. In the first meeting back in October, one of the reasons why the Longhorns came out victorious was they played clean (three takeaways, no giveaways), were better on both third (6-of-14 vs. 3-of-8) and fourth (2-for-2 vs. 1-for-1) fourth down, and also controlled time of possession (UT had the ball nearly eight minutes more). Texas is better than Oklahoma in all of these categories except for third down conversions (Sooners first in Big 12, Longhorns third) and if these trends continue on Saturday, there's a strong chance Tom Herman and company will leave AT&T Stadium as Big 12 champions.

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.