No. 11 Texas and No. 3 Alabama meet again to battle for national stakes, not SEC supremacy. For now

Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy (1) past Rice cornerback Sean Fresch, right, after making a catch during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


AP Sports Writer

Texas and Alabama will someday meet as Southeastern Conference rivals bidding for league supremacy.

Just not quite yet.

The 11th-ranked Longhorns (1-0), who are on their last hurrah in the Big 12 Conference before joining the SEC next season, visit the No. 3 Crimson Tide (1-0) on Saturday night in a game that lacks only the league stakes. The winner enters or remains firmly in the national championship conversation.

The loser remains among the favorites in their respective leagues. It’s certainly a better barometer for where both teams stand than their blowout openers.

“It’s a great opportunity for our team to see kind of where you’re at as a football team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Everybody wonders that all the time.”

It’s also a chance to help redeem the SEC, which had opening flops from LSU, South Carolina and Florida last weekend.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is trying to restore his proud program to its glory days as national contenders. Sarkisian has been there before, having served as Saban’s offensive coordinator during the Tide’s 2020 national championship run.

But he emphasized the key to winning Saturday night was in the preparation “to put yourself in position to win.”

“I think that’s what we have to make sure that we do, and I think we’ve got a mature enough team that can do that,” Sarkisian said.

His Longhorns nearly pulled off an upset of the Tide last season before falling 20-19 on Will Reichard’s field goal with 10 seconds left. It wouldn’t be as big an upset this time.

“It’s an opportunity to show what Texas is all about,” Longhorns defensive back Jahdae Barron said. “This is a brotherhood that we created. We just want to go out there and win.”

Texas tight end JT Sanders said last year’s close call “was definitely a confidence builder.”

Texas is 3-6 in true road games under Sarkisian. In their last SEC game on the road, the then-15th-ranked Longhorns fell 40-21 to Arkansas.

“If we don’t come out there with the right mindset, we’re definitely going to get whipped,” Sanders said.


Sarkisian has led a team through a big game at Bryant-Denny Stadium before. It was Alabama, in fact.

With Saban sidelined by COVID-19, Sarkisian coached the Tide to a 42-13 win over rival Auburn on its way to the national championship for the 2020 season.

“Sark did a nice job of managing things, and I sat here and felt a little helpless,” Saban said after watching from his home office. “I could see things and yell at things and listen to (wife) Miss Terry yell downstairs. It’s a little different. It still feels good to win.”


Both teams are replacing first-round NFL draft picks in the backfield. Texas running back Bijan Robinson was picked eighth, four spots ahead of Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs.

Highly touted freshman CJ Baxter started the Longhorns’ opener and had a 32-yard run before going down with an injury. He has practiced this week. Three other Texas backs ran for at least 40 yards. Alabama counters with veterans Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, along with some younger backs.


Alabama is parking all the visiting fans — and the band — in the upper deck. It’s a bit of payback from last season when Alabama chose not to send its band to Austin rather than sit the 400 members in the higher-up seats.

“We are able to reciprocate a similar seating arrangement to what we had last year in Austin,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne told The Tuscaloosa News.


The game should feature some battles between one of the Big 12’s best receivers, Xavier Worthy, and Alabama’s star cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry. But Texas slot receiver Jordon Whittington had five catches in the first quarter of last season’s game, and the Longhorns added Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell to the mix.

Alabama defensive backs Malachi Moore and Jaylen Key are both battling injuries, leaving their status uncertain.


The kickers played huge roles in last year’s game. Reichard’s 33-yarder with 10 seconds left was his first game-winner since the third grade. For Texas, Bert Auburn kicked four field goals in the game with a long from 49 yards.

The two kickers will also be featured in an ad this weekend as part of a Goldman Sachs campaign.