Whatever you think of Steve Sarkisian‘s inaugural season as head coach of the Texas football program, you will admit that it could have gone much better. Sarkisian started 4-1, then proceeded to lose six games before closing the season with a win over Kansas State. It looked as though the Longhorns had made their third poor hire in a row as the season came to a close.
But Sark did not let this deter him. He went to work and signed the number 5 class in the nation, emphasizing the offensive line and bringing in 5-star left tackle Kelvin Banks and 5-star guard Devon Campbell. He also had success in the transfer portal, bringing home prodigal son and prodigy Quinn Ewers to compete with Hudson Card for the starting job.
This was impressive enough after a 5-7 season. But Sark has not slowed down, landing the number one overall prospect Arch Manning and currently has the Longhorns in place to land the number one overall class at the end of the cycle. When you factor in that the two previous coaches struggled to bring in elite offensive and defensive line talent and missed on top quarterbacks while Sark seemingly has gotten just about everyone he wanted, it is nothing short of a miracle.
However, you are measured by one thing at the University of Texas: winning. Charlie Strong and Tom Herman recruited well; neither developed the talent they brought in, and neither made Texas relevant nationally or in their conference. If Sark wants to be remembered in a different light, he will have to win at a high level, and that needs to begin this year.
What can Steve Sarkisian do to show improvement for Texas football in Year 2?
But how much winning is needed? You have to crawl before you walk so it would be unreasonable to expect a playoff berth in year two. Having said that, coaches such as Mel Tucker at Michigan St and Dave Aranda at Baylor have made huge turnarounds in year two, so the feat is not unheard of. For Sark to atone for last year, he will need to win at least 9 games and make the Big 12 championship game. There are several reasons for this.
First Sark has never won nine games in the regular season in his eight seasons as a head coach (he won nine in 2014 at USC including the bowl game). So it will be a personal best for him and show that he is growing as a coach. Second, the Big 12 is not a good conference. Besides the Iowa State game, Texas was winning each game for a majority of the game only to fall apart in the closing moments. While there are several good teams in the Big 12, there are no elite teams. If Sark were in the SEC, eight games would suffice. In this league, he needs to win nine.
Finally, several teams in the league have new head coaches (including rival Oklahoma). This is the opportune time for Sark to strike when a down league is down even further. If he can’t win now, it becomes more difficult to believe that success will come in the SEC when Texas will not have the clear talent advantage.
The Eyes of Texas are intensely upon Sark, hoping he is the leader that will take the Longhorns out of the wilderness of mediocrity to the promised land of national relevance. That quest starts this season, and to get on the right path 9 wins are the threshold of success. Any less will keep the same questions on the table.