ARLINGTON, Texas — It was an emotional loss for the Longhorns, losing the Big 12 Championship to Oklahoma, 39-27.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger couldn’t find the words after this setback when asked about possibly playing in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
“I don’t have a response, we are still at AT&T Stadium,” said Ehlinger.
The worst Texas can do now at 9-4 overall is a trip to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl, which would be the third trip since 2012. But, a program’s first trip to the Sugar Bowl since 1995 is highly likely.
If Oklahoma receives one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff, Texas will represent the the Big 12 in the Mercedes Louisiana Super Dome.
Regardless of the conference title loss or if Texas ends up in the Sugar Bowl or not, how sweet has it been for the Longhorns this season?
Former Longhorn greats took notice.
But, this season’s journey wasn't so sweet at first.
The Longhorns opened the season with momentum after a Texas Bowl win over Missouri, but began with a loss to Maryland, who finished the 2018 5-7 overall.
But, the Longhorns responded with a discouraging yawner of a win over Tulsa, who finished 3-9 overall in the opener at DKR Memorial Stadium.
“We learned that the only thing that can stop us is us,” said Ehlinger.
Then the magic began to unfold.
Texas secured wins at home against TCU and Southern Cal -- both blowout wins. That's when the DKR culture began to change for the atmosphere at home games.
But, the Longhorns responded to those wins by holding on to beat Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas for the first time since 2002. Then came the eye opening moment, when the nation began to take Tom Herman's Longhorns serious.
“I learned our guys love each other and they’re all bought in,” said Herman.
Texas jumped all over Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma Sooners inside of the Cotton Bowl, only the hang on for dear life and win thanks to the leg of Cameron Dicker, "The Kicker," winning the Red River Rivalry game, 48-45.
That was followed by another "hang onto dear life" win at home against Baylor... and then Stillwater happened. Texas lost to the fighting Gundys at Oklahoma State. Doubt crept in and the Longhorns suffered back-to-back losses, falling to West Virginia at DKR as well, 42-41.
It was a face the mirror moment for the Longhorns. This team truly learned how badly they wanted to achieve the goals, faced adversity, battled though injuries, and were in a must win out situation to have any shot of playing for a championship.
Texas responded with a gritty win in Lubbock and dodged tortillas, but the most impressive win as a team may have been against nationally ranked Iowa State. UT's defense made a statement and their confidence increased with a 24-10 win.
If the pressure of needing a win in Lawrence, Kansas to claim one of the two spots in the Big 12 Championship Game wasn't enough, this was the same field in which UT was upset by the Jayhawks two seasons prior. The Longhorns returned to the scene of the crime, which ultimately cost former UT coach Charlie Strong his job. Texas prevailed and avenged that demon, winning 24-17, clinching a spot to play for a conference championship.
Along this journey players matured, leaders were born like Sam Ehlinger, Andrew Beck, Charles Omenihu, Lil' Jordan Humphrey, and Chris Nelson. All of them provided stability. Each talked the talk, but backed it up weekly regardless of deficit or adverse situation.
That led to this game, a significant accomplishment playing for a conference championship in a true conference title game. Texas traveled to Waco the final regular season game of the 2013 season needing a win over Baylor to claim the a Big 12 Title.
Texas head coach Tom Herman did say his team went, “0-1 this week,” but it’s the 1-0 mentality which played a big role in this season’s nine-win campaign.
Will it be NOLA or San Antonio for the Longhorns for the holidays? We’ll find out Sunday.