Texas gained credibility. Alabama showed vulnerability.
But that was last year’s game between the two traditional football powers and soon-to-be Southeastern Conference opponents. The 11th-ranked Longhorns and No. 4 Crimson Tide meet again Saturday night in Tuscaloosa sporting high rankings and even higher ambitions.
“It just presents a new challenge for us to see who we are as a program and test our culture,” Texas center Jake Majors said. “I think it’s going to be a really good game.”
The last one sure was, if not exactly a thing of beauty.
A penalty-plagued Alabama won last year in Austin 20-19 on Will Reichard’s field goal with 10 seconds left, vaulting the Longhorns into the Top 25 even in defeat. The preseason No. 1 Tide, meanwhile, was anything but dominant and would wind up losing two similarly close games.
The rematch could become a Top 10 showdown when the AP poll is released on Tuesday after both teams opened with easy wins. Nothing new for ’Bama under Nick Saban, who has won a record 100 games against ranked teams.
Tide players aren’t exactly contributing to the hype leading up to a game that is bringing ESPN’s GameDay to town, and that’s the way Saban & Co. like it.
“Ultimately, like I would say it’s just another game,” Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold said. “Obviously we’re keeping our poise. We have a great matchup in Texas. They’re a very great team. It’s going to be a great atmosphere but that’s why you come to Alabama.
“Every game is the same. No one is above anybody so we’re going to treat it just like another game.”
It might be just another SEC game once the Longhorns and Oklahoma start playing in the league next season.
For now, it’s a matchup of two tradition-rich programs that have only met 10 times so far, with Texas winning seven but losing the last two, including the 2009 national championship game. The Longhorns have won four AP national titles. Saban has led Alabama to six since taking over in 2007.
But Steve Sarkisian, the Longhorns coach and Saban’s former offensive coordinator, knows they have to beat only one Alabama team at a time. Not all of them at once.
“We can’t get caught up thinking we’re going to go play all 17 teams coach Saban has had over the years,” Sarkisian said. “We’re playing the 2023 Alabama football team which is very good, very well coached. It’s going to be a great environment for college football.”
As Saban said multiple times on Monday, it’s a chance to answer the question: “Where are we as a team?”
Easy wins against Rice (Texas) and Middle Tennessee State (Alabama) were good ways to start, but not much in the way of measuring sticks.
This one should be much better in that regard.
A year ago, Alabama committed 15 penalties, a problem that would prove costly in losses to Tennessee (17 penalties) and LSU (92 yards in flags).
“I remember it being hot, cleats were melting,” Alabama’s Arnold said of last year’s game in Austin. “The atmosphere, the fans, they did a really great job of kind of making the atmosphere very shaky. We had a lot of penalties on defense.
“We have to do a better job of making practice tougher on ourselves. Ultimately it was a very difficult atmosphere so we need our fans to come in and make a difficult atmosphere for them too.”
Now, Texas is favored to win the Big 12 championship, according to Fanduel Sportsbook. A three-touchdown favorite last time around, Alabama is only favored by seven points now.
A close call wouldn’t be a so-called moral victory for the Longhorns this time.
“I’m not big on moral victories,” Sarkisian said. “But I do think for some of the guys on our team if was like ’ok, continue to believe. It’s going to work. It’s getting closer.’”
But have they arrived? A better answer comes Saturday night.
AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll