No. 21 Texas hosts No. 23 Louisiana in Steve Sarkisian’s debut
No. 21 Texas will have its hands full when it opens the Steve Sarkisian era against No. 23 Louisiana, a team ranked higher than the Longhorns in last season’s final polls, on Saturday afternoon in Austin, Texas.
It’ll mark the first time Texas has opened the season in an AP Top 25 matchup since 1992.
The Longhorns head into play with a new coaching staff, led by former Alabama offensive coordinator Sarkisian, and with a new starting signal caller. Gone is record-setting quarterback Sam Ehlinger, with redshirt freshman Hudson Card and junior Casey Thompson vying to earn the nod behind center.
Indications from fall camp are that Card will be the starter, but that Thompson should see some snaps.
“I told them, ‘You guys need to make this decision as hard as you can on me,’ ” Sarkisian said. “Because I name one guy the starter doesn’t mean we don’t need the other one because the other guy’s a play away.”
Texas went 7-3 in 2020 and posted a definitive victory over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. Eight starters return from an offense that averaged 475 yards and 43 points per game in that truncated season. That list doesn’t even include sophomore running back Bijan Robinson, who was named as a preseason All-America by the Associated Press.
Nine players that started on defense in the Alamo Bowl also return for the Longhorns. Sarkisian puts little credence in the preseason polls.
“If we listen to what people say we’re supposed to be, man, life would be tough,” he said. “Then we’d have no Saturdays, and that wouldn’t be very fun for any of us.”
Louisiana’s ranking in the preseason AP poll is its first ever, and comes on the heels of a 10-1 season in 2020. The Ragin’ Cajuns spilt the Sun Belt Conference championship, won their third straight Sun Belt West Division title and posted their second straight bowl victory, a 31-24 win over UTSA in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl.
Louisiana, with Billy Napier heading into his fourth year as head coach in Lafayette, finished 15th in the final AP poll of 2020, four spots higher than the Longhorns. The Ragin’ Cajuns feature an offense triggered by fifth-year quarterback Levi Lewis that averaged 422 yards and 34 points per game a year ago.
The Ragin’ Cajuns set the table for a wild season in 2020 when they upset No. 23 Iowa State in Ames. Twenty starters return from last year’s team, with Louisiana poised to have one of its best campaigns ever.
It’s a talented team on both sides of the ball, with its defense, highlighted by linemen Tayland Humphrey and Zi’Yon Hill, one of the more underrated units in college football.
“When you start, it’s easy,” Napier said after the final fall camp practice last week. “You have great energy; you have great excitement and enthusiasm. Everybody’s motivation is high. Expectations are high, but then reality sets in.
“The challenges come, the obstacles come, doubt comes, and fatigue sets in. We want to be finishers.”
If the Ragin’ Cajuns can duplicate their beginning from last season, it could be a benchmark year on the bayou.
–Field Level Media