The 2023 college football season is fast approaching, and the hype for Texas football in Year 3 of the Steve Sarkisian era is high. The Longhorns bring back 17 starters from a 2022 squad that won eight games and had flashes of greatness. Those flashes must become more consistent if the Horns want to leave their mark during their final season in the Big 12.
In July, Texas was selected atop the Big 12 Media Preseason Poll for the first time since 2009. The Horns received 41 of 63 first-place votes, ahead of Kansas State’s 14 and the four received by Oklahoma and Texas Tech. This solidified Texas as the program to beat in the Big 12 this fall.
The Longhorns first took the field for fall camp on Wednesday, Aug. 2. The hype for Texas football and the 2023 season has grown with every passing practice. I thought it would be apropos to take a game-by-game look at the Longhorns’ 2023 opponents, diving into every aspect of what Texas will face this fall.
After Texas football’s home opener against Rice, they travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to take on Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. The game kicks off at 6:00 PM CT on Sept. 9, and will be shown on ESPN. According to ESPN’s matchup predictor, the Horns open up as a seven-point underdog and have a 23.6 percent chance to beat the Tide.
Here is everything you need to know about the 2023 Alabama Crimson Tide and their matchup against Texas.
How Texas football stacks up against Alabama:
Although I won’t put Texas fans through the heartache of pooling over last season’s Alabama game, I believe that result did two things for the 2023 Longhorns. It gave this roster the belief they could play with any team in the country, and it lit a fire under them to leave Tuscaloosa with a win.
Alabama comes into the 2023 season with the second-best odds to win the College Football Playoff. Nick Saban is nearly impossible to beat; it’s even harder to beat him in Tuscaloosa. Saban holds a 102-8 record as the head coach of Alabama inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. He is 44-1 in non-conference games at home. The lone loss came against Louisiana-Monroe in Saban’s first season. Texas will be facing an uphill battle on Sep. 9.
The primary question surrounding the 2023 Alabama Crimson Tide is: who will start at quarterback? The three-man competition between redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe, redshirt freshman Ty Simpson, and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner rages on throughout fall camp. All three bring various strengths and weaknesses to the table, and Saban has yet to give the media any inkling on who will take the Week One starting snaps.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, I expect the Tide and new Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees to rely on the rushing attack this fall. Seniors Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams anchor a running back unit that features five blue-chip prospects.
They return four offensive linemen with starting experience, including potential 2024 first-rounder JC Latham. Look for the Tide to use their massive offensive line and stable of backs to their advantage this fall.
On the outside, Alabama returns its three starting receivers – Jermaine Burton, Ja’Corey Brooks, and Kobe Prentice. That said, none of those three receivers surpassed 700 receiving yards last year with Bryce Young as their quarterback.
In last year’s matchup, Texas only gave up 109 yards to Alabama’s wide receivers. I expect the Horns to once again have the advantage on the outside. Five-star JUCO transfer Malik Benson will provide a much-needed interjection of flash, but he does not add enough for the Texas secondary to be scared of this receiving corps.
It will be interesting to see how Coach Saban and Coach Rees manage the offense this fall. I suspect they will look to control the clock and limit turnovers, forcing their opposition to press against what looks to be one of the best defensive units in the country.
Kevin Steele is back in Tuscaloosa as the Defensive Coordinator for the Tide after spending the previous eight seasons in various roles at LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, and Miami. Steele must replace three All-SEC First-Teamers, including the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Will Anderson. That said, the Tide brings back multiple players poised to find themselves on All-American lists at the end of the year.
Dallas Turner, the linebacker who knocked Quinn Ewers out of last year’s game, will look to fill Anderson’s role. Turner has 14 sacks in two seasons and is someone the Texas offensive line must key in on in pass-pro.
In my opinion, the matchup nightmare on this defense is sophomore nose tackle Jaheim Oatis. The former high-four star prospect is listed at 6-foot-5, 328 pounds. He combines elite-level strength with an innate ability to shed blockers and make plays in the backfield. If Jake Majors is Texas’ starting center, the Horns must give him help on the inside against Oatis.
In the backend, Alabama returns one of the best corners in the country in Kool-Aid McKinstry. Beyond McKinstry, the Tide have questions in their secondary. Sophomore Terrion Arnold will likely start opposite McKinstry, and freshman five-star Caleb Downs will likely start at strong safety. These are two very talented players, but their lack of collegiate experience is something to watch for early on in the season.
Looking at the returning production (or lack thereof) that Alabama brings into the 2023 season, I have become increasingly optimistic Texas can hang with the Tide. Texas has a decisive advantage on the outside, and thanks to the recent recruiting of Coach Sarkisian, Coach Flood, and Coach Davis, the Horns are not too far behind along the lines of scrimmage.
Despite my optimism, I think it is important to take a 30,000-foot view of this game. Alabama has not lost a game under the lights of Bryant-Denny since 2015. Nick Saban has lost just three non-conference games as the head coach of Alabama. Despite the lack of returning production, the Alabama roster has an absurd blue-chip roster percentage of 90. I love how Texas matches up with Alabama, but I can’t get myself to pick the Horns. I, like every other Longhorn fan, have been scorned one too many times. Texas 27 Alabama 30