Texas coach Steve Sarkisian knows the college football world is focused on the Longhorns facing No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, with two of the sport’s biggest brand names facing off for just the 10th time in history.
But Sarkisian also is cautioning his team not to get too distracted by all the attention.
The Longhorns are 19-point underdogs at Caesars Sportsbook and are likely to close with their longest odds to win at home since the 1978 FBS/FCS split, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Still, it’s a huge opportunity to see how Sarkisian’s progress stacks up against his old boss Nick Saban.
“It’s one game, you know?” Sarkisian said Monday. “It’s a chance for us to do what we love to do. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is [thinking] this is going to be the game that’s going to define our program.
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“It might, it might not. I’m not that concerned about it. I’m more concerned about just the way we play the game.”
Sarkisian said that his goal is to play for a Big 12 championship. While the Crimson Tide will be a future SEC opponent, Saturday’s matchup is a nonconference game for now, and Sarkisian said he’s focused on what he can control.
“All along, my goal is to be in Dallas on December 3,” he said. “This game has no impact on that. … I want to play really well. I want to make sure that our guys play our style of football, our brand of football and do it the way I know we’re capable of doing it.”
Sarkisian, who spent three seasons as an assistant at Alabama, was asked how Saturday’s game against Saban compares to facing another former boss in Pete Carroll in 2009, when Sarkisian’s Washington team upset then-No. 3 USC 16-13.
“Very similar scenario,” Sarkisian said. “I worked for Pete Carroll for seven years and had a great respect for what he did and what we were able to do in our time there. I think it was buying into the idea of what the game plan was, and where we needed to be from a psyche standpoint.”
Sarkisian knows the psyche he needs against a dominant Alabama program, and laughed remembering how intense working for Saban was, although he recalled Lane Kiffin getting the brunt of it.
“Lane used to get it pretty good. I don’t mind saying that,” Sarkisian laughed. “Lane’s been a good friend of mine. There’s a couple I vividly remember. I was kind of in the press box looking down and there was a lot of [wild gestures] going on.
“I got it too. I think that shaped us. But part of it is, if [Saban] is yelling at you, you probably didn’t reach an expectation or a standard of what he was expecting of you. And if you’re a guy like me, that’s what drives you ultimately.”
Texas will be facing Alabama for the first time since the 2010 national championship game after the 2009 season. This will be their first regular-season matchup since 1922, and Texas is 7-1-1 all-time against the Tide, which is the best winning percentage (.833) among teams that have played them at least five times.
Sarkisian said he wasn’t sure where he was during that 2010 championship game, but he echoed a frequent refrain from Longhorn fans — one that will be analyzed quite a bit this week: what might have been if former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had not been hurt on the fifth snap of a 37-21 loss.
“I think we all wish, if Colt was in the game, what would have happened?” he said.
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