Sarkisian faces the SEC, a glimpse to Texas’ SEC gamedays come 2025

Kaitlyn Harmon, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the September 10 Double Coverage flipbook.

Saturdays will look different for the Longhorns come 2025, when both Texas and Oklahoma bid farewell to the Big 12 and become proud new members of the Southeastern Conference. The road to the Longhorns football program one day becoming a perennial SEC contender, however, will be a long one.

The last time the Longhorns and an SEC program met, Texas lost. Under former head coach Tom Herman and the blistering Texas heat, the Longhorns lost out to a national championship LSU team on Sept. 7, 2019. In arguably one of LSU’s toughest matchups of the season, the Longhorns surrendered 38-45 to a team that went on a 15–0 streak. In SEC play, the Longhorns are 191–91–9, and they look to improve that record with one win this weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Lucky for Texas, head coach Steve Sarkisian has been around the SEC block a few times. If the former Alabama offensive coordinator sticks around to bring Texas into the 16-team SEC era, the Longhorns could confidently usher in a new wave of conference football with a man that has coached underneath arguably one of the best head coaches ever: Nick Saban.

“I’ve got a great deal of trust and faith in our leadership here at the University of Texas,” Sarkisian said about the SEC’s formal invitation to both Texas and Oklahoma.

While Texas Athletic Director Chris Del Conte’s play to move the Longhorns into the SEC was unexpected, it comes with choppy waters ahead.

For one, the SEC has produced the most NFL talent of all the Power Five conferences for the past 15 years. In the 2021 NFL Draft, the SEC boasted 65 drafted players, followed by the Big Ten with 44 players. The Big 12 capped off the 2021 NFL Draft with just 22 players, falling fifth to the ACC and the Pac-12.

Mirroring the 2021 NFL Draft and the last 15 drafts dating back to 2006, almost 20% of active NFL rosters are filled by SEC players. The Big 12 makes up 8.1% of 53-man rosters, the Big Ten 15.6%, the ACC 12.3% and the Pac-12 9.4%.

Texas, whether under the leadership of Sarkisian or not, will have to simply survive the first few seasons with an SEC membership. SEC defenses are built differently than Big 12 defenses, which have become infamous for allowing high-scoring games.

Then, there’s the SEC’s recruiting edge. The 2022 Alabama recruiting class, for example, ranks second in the SEC.  Saban and the Crimson Tide already have a quarter of four-star players and one five-star defensive player who have committed to the program. LSU’s 2022 recruiting class ranks third in the SEC, already having picked up defensive commits from three four-stars and two three-stars. Ranked first in the SEC and third nationally, Georgia’s 2022 recruiting class has swept up defensive players with one five-star and six four-stars. Texas’ 2022 recruiting class, while ranked sixth nationally, has signed eight defensive four-stars and a trio of three-stars.This weekend, the Longhorns will face an Arkansas defense overwhelmingly made up of three-stars with few four-stars sprinkled in. Come 2025, Sarkisian and his staff will recruit differently and even more powerfully now with the SEC attached to the Longhorns’ namesake.

The SEC is also home to some of college football’s winningest teams. In the last 21 years, only 11 different programs have been crowned national champions, and the SEC’s national championship trophy case is six times the Big 12’s trophy case of just two championships. The SEC is a behemoth Texas has never faced before.

Still, the Longhorns joining the conference is a step in the right direction.

“This is an important moment for the long-term future of the Southeastern Conference and our member universities,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in an official statement. “Oklahoma and Texas are outstanding academic institutions with strong athletics programs, which will add to the SEC’s national prominence. Their additions will further enhance the already rich academic, athletic and cultural legacies that have been cultivated throughout the years by our existing 14 members.”

Come Saturday, Texas will get a little taste of SEC play for the first time since that hot Saturday night against the Tigers, and all eyes should be on Sarkisian for how his program matches up in SEC country.

While Texas joining the SEC may come with growing pains in 2025, the Longhorns’ program can only develop into another SEC powerhouse whose name is tossed around the national championship ring in the years to come.