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Matt's Monday Morning Musings: Week Two - The Long(horns) way 'round.

Each week, our Executive Director, Matthew Redding (5’11, 185, 4.78 40-yard dash, $4.99 on Wish, 5.49 on TEMU) sits down with a cup of coffee and ponders life in the world of College Football and beyond. Ask him anything on Twitter (@TheBarningMan) and he may answer it next week over his breakfast. In this edition of Matt's Monday Morning Musings, he invites you to join him in remembering what could have been the most significant game of the century - Texas vs. Alabama.

It was on January 7th, 2010 when the sack heard around the world took place in the Rose Bowl. The marbles? The BCS National Championship Game. The teams? Texas vs. Alabama. The Longhorns, little did they know, were in the final days of the championship caliber Mack Brown era in what would be his final appearance in the title game for UT, and Alabama, little did we know, was about to kick off one of the greatest dynasties in college football history, with their first appearance of many. The sacked player in question was none other than Longhorn QB Colt McCoy, who was injured on the play and never returned to the game, leading to a decade of "what-if" scenarios for anyone who wears burnt orange and white.

Who could have known how different each program's paths would be? In 2010, Texas went through a losing season, missing a bowl game and setting the stage for Mack Brown's resignation in 2013. Alabama, meanwhile, sat back and watched Auburn win the title game before making back-to-back appearances and winning both times in blowout fashion. History will always look back on the Saban dynasty for many reasons. Reasons like how it changed the landscape of college football forever, leading to the formation of the Playoff and the coaches on his staff who eventually left for other big-name jobs.

All of it began with that one play that doomed the Longhorns night in Pasadena, which after the game ESPN declared it was the "Colossus Rises Again" and boy were they right.

Everyone would watch and wonder when it would all finally end. Alabama would no longer start the year ranked in the top 4 despite sending multiple players to the NFL. When someone would truly have Saban's number, and force the old man into retirement. Gus Malzhan seemed to ruin his season every now and then, and Hugh Freeze is still the only coach to beat him in back-to-back years. Every time there was a loss, such as the 2014 Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma or the 44-19 shellacking that Clemson dealt them in 2019, the cries for the end of an era erupted with thunderous applause... Only to be hushed by another championship run the following year or two.

Even when Kirby Smart left for Georgia in 2015, the dynasty continued. Saban grabbed a couple more championships with Jeremy Pruitt and Pete Golding calling the defensive shots, while Smart and Co. got their juggernaut in Athens going.

The questions remained. If not making it to the playoff with the generational talent known as Bryce Young at QB couldn't slow the train, nothing would.

Meanwhile, in Texas.

History will remember Alabama for the birth of the playoff, but conference expansion didn't ramp up in big-time news until the Longhorns, desperate to do something to put their brand at center stage, announced the Longhorn Network. A move that was criticized, and rightfully so, and prompted the exits of Texas A&M and eventually Missouri to the SEC, which prompted Louisville to the ACC, and so on and so forth.

Texas never justified having its own TV network, however. After Mack Brown, entered coach Charlie Strong, who was a defensive mastermind at Florida and Louisville, but there was no Teddy Bridgewater to help bridge the gap between Big East football and Big XII expectations. Texas faltered to ho-hum 6 and 7-win seasons, with the lone highlight being the upset of No. 5 Notre Dame in his final year.

Strong was fired. Enter Tom Herman. Known for his offensive prowess and recruiting ability, Herman is who made Houston an attractive candidate for power five expansion, going 11-1 in his first season, winning the AAC and beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl, and following it up with wins over No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 3 Louisville on the way to a respectable 9-3, going 22-4 overall in two seasons.

Why that never translated to Austin, I'll never know. His win over Georgia in the 2019 Sugar Bowl had everyone believing that Texas was "back", but the momentum never carried over. Texas was just... Texas. Despite four bowl wins in four seasons, Herman was shown the door as well. Going 1-4 to your major rival (Oklahoma) and struggling against ranked teams will do that to you, I guess.

In the offseason, Alabama had draft pick after draft pick enter the NFL and go on to stardom. Justin Tucker was the only relevant Longhorn alumni in the league, and he's a kicker ( though Colt McCoy himself has been a serviceable backup QB). The misery, now with the looming thought of Texas entering the ultra-competitive SEC in 2024, seemed like it would continue for another few years. History was just waiting, however, for the right game and the right time.

Enter former Alabama OC, Steve Sarkisian.

Coach Sark, as he's called, enjoyed success at Washington and USC before alcohol abuse led to his removal from the Trojans program. Many wondered if we would hear from the QB guru again on the sidelines every Saturday. Ironically, Nick Saban hand-picked him to take over for Lane Kiffin in 2015, and once he got his image back and showed he could still dial up plays, it was time to give him another shot. Texas, with nothing else to lose, gave him the call in 2021.

It took a couple years. Arkansas ran all over the Longhorns in his sophomore season (to the tune of 333 yards) and the groans started all over again. Knowing that he didn't have the quarterback of the Longhorns's future on his roster, he plucked former five-star Quinn Ewers from Ohio State to take over and began a lengthy recruiting effort for some kid named Arch Manning for the years afterward. The following season, Alabama came back for a rematch of the 2009 title game, with Bryce Young at the helm, looking to redeem a lost 2021 campaign that ended with a loss to Saban's former right-hand man Kirby Smart in the title game. For a moment, something felt different in the air. Quinn Ewers was living up to every expectation with having the words "former five-star" in your title, and Alabama was suddenly fighting an opponent who could punch back. So naturally, they pulled out the oldest trick in the "Beat Texas" playbook.

Injure the QB.

Early in the game, Quinn took a hit to his abdomen that knocked him out for the rest of the day. Hudson Card took over and played well, protecting the ball with 158 passing yards, but in the end, the Longhorns could not put away the Crimson Tide. Bryce Young put together a miracle last minute drive to set up the game-winning field goal for a 20-19 win, but this victory couldn't have felt good for Saban and Co. Some could see it as they walked off back to the busses.

The cracks in the dynasty were showing.

One year later, here we are. It's not over until the fat lady sings, as Opera traditions dictate.

But who better to warm her up for her song for Alabama, than Texas?

At first, it looked like it would be another typical "Texas is NOT back" laugh-fest. Texas couldn't move the ball on the opening drive, and despite getting a turnover from Alabama early, they only had 3 points to show for it. If a receiver was out on the field, Kool-Aid McKinstry was already covering him. Then something... Clicked.

Quinn Ewers wasn't getting injured this time. He wanted to make up for lost time, and boy did he ever. 349 yards, 3 TDs, and no picks. Future first-round talents for Texas such as Xavier Worthy and JaTavion Sanders refused to yield, and at the end of the day, Sarkisian hung 34 on Saban and Steele for the upset win.

The ghosts of Colt McCoy's injury were finally exorcised, and all the jokes of Texas being "back" were silenced. All it took was over two decades of memes, jokes, recruiting busts, and coaching turnover, but eventually, all good things to those who wait.

Somewhere in Austin, you can still hear chants of "We want Georgia".

With the Longhorn's current recruiting class, and Arch Manning waiting in the wings, this is only the beginning. We'll watch to see how they handle success this season, should they find more, but for now they're off to a great start.

Welcome to the SEC, Longhorns.

Texas is... 2-0, as ESPN said.

The Playoff is still a few more games down the road.

As for the other sideline.

Even with Bryce Young, Saban couldn't bring home another national championship to Tuscaloosa. Even with the era of paying players through NIL and the additions of the Transfer Portal, Saban can't keep up with other programs that are suddenly filling the gaps that would normally take two to three years to fill.

He's tired. I've heard it over and over again from sources around the SEC. He's done everything he can to get Congress to slow the NIL train down so he doesn't have to enter a bidding war rather than recruit, and he isn't a fan of having to keep recruiting his players to stay at Alabama after they arrive at Alabama. He failed to get Ryan Grubb to be the OC at Bama, and he failed to get Sam Hartman to follow Tommy Rees from Notre Dame when he wound up taking the job. Kevin Steele is a fine DC, but like Rees was not Saban's first choice. Normally, Saban would GET his first choice, but this is uncharted waters. Five stars are now looking at Georgia (and now Auburn) with more interest, and they had to practically beg the Playoff committee for an invite after going 10-2 last year.

Is the dynasty over? No. It never was. Kirby Smart just ripped it from the old man's hands and took it to Athens. Now, Nick is left to figure it out.

But so far, his best move in that was buying that retirement home in Jupiter Island, Florida.

No doubt it looks a lot cozier now.

- M


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