For years, the idea that "Texas is back" has been thrown around with the Longhorns nowhere near competing for a national championship.
Under Tom Herman, Texas made it to the Big 12 Championship Game in 2018 before Herman was unable to meet expectations in Austin. Herman was fired after the 2021 season, giving Steve Sarkisian his third chance to be a head coach.
In just his third year at Texas, Sarkisian has returned the Longhorns to national prominence, going 12-1 in 2023 and bringing the Big 12 Championship back to Austin for the first time since 2009.
Texas will face Washington in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, with kickoff scheduled for 8:45 p.m. ET.
Let’s take a look at a few Texas players to watch with the College Football Playoff semifinals just days away.
One year ago, not many people would have believed that Quinn Ewers would be the player leading Texas back to college football relevance.
Now, Ewers is not only the leader of an offense playing for a chance at a national championship, but he’ll be one of the frontrunners for the 2024 Heisman Trophy should he return to Austin for his junior season, which is believed to be the case.
Ewers is coming off an all-time performance in the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma State, where the sophomore QB set records on the field.
Ewers set a Big 12 title game passing record, throwing for 452 yards and passing Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford on the list. The Longhorns’ offense had the most yards in any half of a Big 12 title game over the past 20 seasons, and Ewers became the first player to throw for four touchdowns in a half of the championship game, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
After missing two games due to injury, Ewers finished the year on a tear, throwing for 1,246 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions in the final four games of the year.
Ewers has thrown for 3,161 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2023, and the sophomore QB drastically improved his completion percentage, going from completing just 58.1% of his passes in 2022 to 70.7% in 2023.
Texas will be facing a Washington defense that allows 263.2 passing yards per game, eighth in the Pac-12.
While Texas will certainly need to score in order to keep up with the explosive Washington offense, it’s the Longhorns’ defense that has the most pressure.
With T'Vondre Sweat, the Texas defense finished the year fourth in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (80.3) and is coming off a Big 12 title game in which they were able to limit Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Ollie Gordon II to just 34 yards on the ground.
Sweat was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after finishing the season with 42 tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries and two sacks.
And it’s not just stopping the run for Sweat after the 6-foot-4, 362-pound lineman caught a touchdown in the Big 12 Championship Game.
"Well, I mean, I was going to Coach [Kyle] Flood [offensive coordinator] all the time and Coach Sark, waiting on this opportunity to get this touchdown," Sweat said of his touchdown, according to On3. "They told me during the game, I was going to get the touchdown, and it happened."
In the three games after star running back Jonathan Brooks suffered a season-ending ACL injury, Texas had three separate running backs lead the team in rushing.
Against Iowa State, it was freshman CJ Baxter, who rushed for 117 yards on 20 carries. In Week 13 against Texas Tech, sophomore running back Jaydon Blue led the team with 121 yards on 10 carries. And against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game, it was senior Keilan Robinson who led the way with 75 yards with two touchdowns on just four carries.
The Washington defense allowed 133.8 yards per game on the ground during the season, the fifth most allowed per game in the Pac-12.
The Texas offense averaged 189.1 yards per game on the ground during the season.
Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell has a chance to win his third straight national championship after spending the first two years of his college career with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year after coming back home to Texas, Mitchell has 51 catches for 813 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdown grabs.
Xavier Worthy is another wide receiver to be aware of when Texas takes on the Huskies at the Sugar Bowl.
Worthy led Texas in receptions (73) and receiving yards (969) in his junior season.
The Longhorns' offense was third in the Big 12 in passing yards during the 2023 season with 286.8 yards per game.