AUSTIN — The last time Texas faced an SEC opponent, the Longhorns romped and quarterback Sam Ehlinger roared: "We're back!"
Fast forward nine months and the biggest game in Austin in more than a decade will measure just how far they've come. And maybe how far they still have to go. And unlike Georgia back in the Sugar Bowl, no will say anything about LSU not wanting to be there.
The No. 6 Tigers (1-0) and No. 9 Longhorns (1-0) meet tonight in a showdown that is one of the marquee non-conference games of the season.
Win this one and the Longhorns aren't just back, they are part of the playoff conversation. Same for the Tigers, who boast arguably their most talented lineup since their last SEC championship in 2011.
Of course, both will have to get through their conferences first, but tonight's winner leaves the field with huge momentum for the 2019 season.
"It's important for us. We kind of understand that to get to where we want to go as a program, that we're going to have to play in and win these kinds of games," Texas coach Tom Herman said. "But I also know that (Big 12 Commissioner) Bob Bowlsby is not going to be handing out the Big 12 championship trophy after this game, either We know there is a bigger picture goal out there, as well."
For Texas, everything starts with Ehlinger, a dual-threat quarterback who is drawing comparisons to former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Beyond his ability to run and throw for touchdowns, Ehlinger has brought a swagger to the position not seen in Austin since Vince Young and Colt McCoy fueled a decade of dominance that ended in 2009.
Facing him across the line of scrimmage is an LSU defense dotted with players projected as future NFL first-round draft picks. And the Tigers unveiled a new up-tempo offense last week that saw quarterback Joe Burrow tie a school record with five touchdown passes — in the first half alone.
Texas hasn't hosted a top 10 matchup since 2008, and the Tigers are the highest-ranked team to come to Austin since No. 1 Ohio State played No. 2 Texas in 2006. Some lower-level seats at Royal-Memorial Stadium listed at more than $2,000 on the secondary market, and some luxury seats approach the cost of a year's worth of tuition.
"They know the magnitude of this football game," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said of his players. "We're not going to make it bigger than life. We've been in big games before. This is a big game and they know it."
Today's Big 12 Schedule
11 a.m. — West Virginia at Missouri, ESPN2
11 a.m. — Bowling Green at Kansas State, FSN
3 p.m. — UTSA at Baylor, FSN
6 p.m. — Coastal Carolina at Kansas, Big 12 Now on ESPN+
6 p.m. — South Dakota at Oklahoma, TBD
6 p.m. — McNeese State at Oklahoma State, Big 12 Now on ESPN+
6:30 p.m. — LSU at Texas, ABC
7 p.m. — UTEP at Texas Tech, FSN