After a disappointing start to the Steve Sarkisian era, Texas Longhorns fans are certainly hoping for better results in 2022. A Top 25 team entering the season, Texas won its first game over eventual Sun Belt champion Louisiana before face-planting on the road against Arkansas.
But what really told the tale of the Longhorns' 2021 campaign was a six-game losing streak in Big 12 play. This tailspin didn't end until the season finale at home against Kansas State but by then the damage was done. For the second time in six seasons, Texas didn't go to a bowl game after finishing 5-7 overall and in a tie for seventh in the Big 12 at 3-6.
So after tying for the program's worst record in the last 24 seasons what should fans except in Year 2 under Sarkisian? It's too simplistic to just say "well it probably can't get any worse," so instead let's present three reasons for optimism regarding the Longhorns' 2022 outlook.
1. Quinn Ewers
Ewers has yet to throw a pass in college but the Ohio State transfer was the No. 1 overall recruit a year ago. He gives Texas something it hasn't had at quarterback since the days of Vince Young – a blue-chip talent at the most important position on the field. Keep in mind that Sam Ehlinger came to Austin as a 4-star and wasn't even a top-100 overall recruit before he went on to cement his name into Longhorn lore.
After initially spurning the Horns, Ewers is back in his home state and while the pressure for him to light it up right away will be immense, there's a reason why everyone was clamoring for his LOI even though he was forgoing his senior year of high school. There's also the lucrative NIL (name, image, likeness) deals he signed after committing to Ohio State. If Ewers is as good as advertised and he's able to quickly get on the same page with Sarkisian, then the Longhorns' offense should do quite a bit of damage.
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2. Bijan Robinson
The good news for Ewers is that he already has a more than capable backfield mate in Robinson. In fact, it's not out of the question that Robinson maximizes his own potential because Ewers' arrival will mean defenses won't be able to devote as much of their attention on stopping him.
Robinson entered last season on pretty much everyone's Heisman Trophy list and he didn't disappoint early. He piled up 924 rushing yards (132 per game) and 10 touchdowns through the Longhorns' first seven games. After that, however, he managed just 4.1 yards per carry over the next three games before dislocating his elbow and missing the final two. Besides the injury, stacked boxes and poor offensive play took their toll on the workhorse back's production.
Robinson still posted more than 1,400 total yards and 15 touchdowns in less than 10 full games, and he's the Big'12 leading returning rusher in terms of yards per game (112.7). And besides the threat of Ewers at quarterback, Robinson also should benefit from an improved offensive line.
The Longhorns' fifth-ranked recruiting class this cycle includes seven offensive linemen headlined by a pair of 5-stars in Devon Campbell and Kelvin Banks. Combine this impressive group of newcomers with the holdovers and the fierce competition during the summer and into fall camp should result in a deeper, more cohesive group once the season starts. And that could mean more running room for Robinson.
3. Timing is everything
With this being Year 2, Sarkisian and his coaching staff can take advantage of a full (and hopefully even more normal) offseason. Time and experience are two things that are hard to measure but after going through plenty of growing pains last year, the coaches and the players should feel even more comfortable with the weekly and daily schedules, their surroundings, and their responsibilities. This also should strengthen the bond between the two groups.
It also should be pointed out that there were several close calls last season that had a big impact on Texas' record. The Longhorns led Oklahoma by 11 entering the fourth quarter of the Red River Showdown only to see the Sooners come all the way back and win 55-48. That started the six-game Big 12 skid that also included one-score losses to Oklahoma State (32-24) and Baylor (31-24), the two teams that played in the conference championship game.
And the most painful loss of all was a 57-56 overtime stunner at home to Kansas in which Texas rallied from down 14 with less than five minutes in regulation and scored first in overtime only to see the Jayhawks answer and then secure the victory with a gutsy two-point conversion. Turn any one of these games around and the Longhorns finish 6-6 and go to a bowl. It may not seem like much but there's a big difference between a losing record and going bowling, especially when it's a head coach's first season at that school.
It's probably too much of a stretch to call Texas unlucky last season since there were several areas in which this team struggled, starting with a defense that ranked eighth in the Big 12 in three of the four major categories. But the Longhorns are catching somewhat of a break looking ahead to the 2022 campaign in that Oklahoma is going through a coaching change and roster makeover while defending conference champion Baylor, Oklahoma State and Iowa State each are dealing with some significant personnel departures of their own.
The combination of lessons learned from last season with the influx of talented newcomers may be just what Texas needs to get back to its winning ways in 2022.
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