No. 11 Texas isn't afraid to say expectations are sky-high in Austin.
The Longhorns begin the 2023 season at home against Rice on Saturday afternoon in what's expected to be searing Texas conditions.
It's the Longhorns' most anticipated season in years. Expectations are built on an upward trajectory under third-year coach Steve Sarkisian, a handful of talented players and depth not seen on a Texas team since its most recent run to the national title game in 2009.
"I do think we're pretty good. Now we need to go play like it," Sarkisian said.
Texas was 8-5 last season, ending with a loss to Washington in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The totality of the 2022 season was a huge step forward from Sarkisian's first year when the Longhorns struggled to win five games. Texas' losses in 2022 were all by seven points or fewer, including home defeats by one point to Alabama and by seven to eventual CFP finalist TCU.
Alabama awaits next week, but Texas insists the team is focused on one at a time.
Texas has been picked as the favorite to win the Big 12 Conference for the first time since 2009 as the Longhorns take on an even more hated role in their final year in the Big 12 before moving to the Southeastern Conference in 2024.
Sarkisian on Monday echoed the team's preseason stance of "embracing the hate."
"You can't just sit back and keep taking punches and it's just OK," Sarkisian said. "At some point you have to go hunt and punch back and fight back. Every time we take the field, our opponents are going to get our best shot."
Expect nothing less from Rice, which was 5-8 last year and went to a bowl for the first time since 2014. The Owls had a losing regular-season record but played in the postseason due to the team's high APR rate and when there were not enough teams that reached the six-win bowl-eligibility threshold.
"We'll get challenged by Rice in two ways most notably," Sarkisian said. "One, their style of play. Like I said it's very intricate in all three phases and they've got really good coaches. Then by the way they play - they play hard, they play tough. They're relentless that way. We've got our work cut out for us."
Rice is in its first season in the American Athletic Conference after leaving Conference USA on July 1. Owls coach Mike Bloomgren said this year's team is his best in his six-year tenure at the school.
"You always want progress," Bloomgren said. "We all want it faster, too. Maybe that didn't happen for a variety of reasons. But here we are in Year 6 with our best football team yet - playing the best competition we'll ever get to play."
The Owls will have at least one player that's uber-familiar with the Longhorns. Quarterback JT Daniels will be making his third career start in a game at Texas. His first was in 2018 as a freshman at USC. His second was last year with West Virginia, which was his third school following a stop at Georgia.
It's the 97th time the two programs have faced each other, with Texas owning a 74-21-1 advantage. The Longhorns have won 15 straight against the Owls and 43 of their past 44 contests against Rice dating to 1966.
--Field Level Media
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