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Following the release of Texas’ finalized 2021 schedule, one particular stretch of games stands out as the most daunting for Steve Sarkisian during his first season in Austin.
The 12-game schedule hopefully has no need for extra open dates, roster cutoffs, or anything else coronavirus related. It opens with a rising Group of 5 team in Louisiana followed by games versus old Southwest Conference foes Arkansas and Rice.
The presence of the Owls, still attempting to build under Mike Bloomgren, disqualify the opening three games as Texas’ toughest stretch. But don’t underestimate Louisiana. They may walk into Memorial Stadium with a better preseason ranking than the Longhorns. Also, Arkansas is looking to continue its growth under Sam Pittman and the Hogs would love nothing more than to beat Texas in Fayetteville.
Nevertheless, Texas’ non-conference slate won’t be where Sarkisian’s inaugural season is defined.
A determining stretch must include Oklahoma and/or Iowa State. The Sooners are No. 3 in the most recent ESPN SP+ rankings, and Iowa State is No. 7 (Texas is No. 20, third in the conference). It cannot include both as two games and a bye week separate the contests in Dallas and Ames.
Pick Iowa State, and a home game versus Les Miles’ hapless Kansas gets thrown in. Even if Matt Campbell gets his Cyclones to No. 1 in the nation, the presence of a sputtering Jayhawk program reduces the difficulty of the stretch of games.
It’s also rare for a combination of games without the Red River Shootout to ever be considered essential. With the way the Sooners were playing at the end of the 2020 season, and with who they have slated to join/return, Lincoln Riley’s squad must be a part of the stretch.
But which games occur around the annual showdown in the Cotton Bowl?
Texas plays TTU on 9/25, at TCU on 10/2, OU on 10/9, OSU on 10/16, then has a bye week before a trip to Baylor on 10/30.
Texas Tech under Matt Wells is falling behind the schools in Texas along the I-35 corridor in recruiting, and despite the addition of Sonny Cumbie, the growing talent gap has the Red Raiders competing for bowl eligibility as opposed to a conference title.
Baylor may show some improvement in 2021 under Dave Aranda, but they’ll need to break in a new quarterback and offensive coordinator. Meanwhile Max Duggan has the quarterback spot in Fort Worth locked down and Gary Patterson always runs a formidable defense.
Oklahoma State is not just a throw-in either. With Spencer Sanders still in Stillwater and Mike Gundy at the helm, the Cowboys are always a difficult out. Plus, the Longhorns are 1-5 against Oklahoma State in Austin since 2010.
The consequential three-week stretch from October 2nd through October 16th will pit Sarkisian against a defensive master at TCU, an arch-nemesis in Oklahoma, and an offensive master at Oklahoma State.
October is always an exciting time in college football. The wheat starts to separate from the chaff. Award candidates arise. Coaches determine their futures, good or bad. Games played during October tend to define storylines for the rest of the season.
When Texas’ 2021 schedule was finalized, the first three games of October were established as the defining stretch for Steve Sarkisian’s first season.
Cover photo by Josh Gateley, provided by OU Athletics