Any anxiety the Texas Longhorns experienced over whether they would be included in the College Football Playoff lifted Sunday when the selection committee matched them against Washington at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, creating a scene of pure joy at the team watch party in Austin.

“All the way up until our name popped up on the screen this morning, we didn’t know,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You get into a room of 13 people and they try to get to the best four teams to represent the country in a playoff. And they chose us, and we're extremely fortunate."

Linebacker Jaylan Ford had a range of emotions as he watched two of the conference championship games that followed the Longhorns’ 49-21 win over Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title. Alabama beat Georgia in the SEC and Florida State beat Louisville in the ACC.

“We watched the 'Bama game on the bus ... We were like ‘Ok, we’ve got a chance,’ “ Ford said. ”I watched the Florida State game at home. That kind of gave me a little doubt, because you never know. When we saw that third spot go up, everybody erupted.”

The third-seeded Longhorns (12-1) are in the CFP for the first time and will play the Pac-12 champion Huskies (13-0) in a bowl for the second straight year. Washington held off Texas 27-20 in the Alamo Bowl last year.

Fresno State v Washington
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The Huskies, seeded No. 2, are in the playoff for the second time. The Huskies lost 24-7 to Alabama in the 2016 semifinal at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. They all but locked up their playoff spot in New Orleans with Friday's 34-31 win over Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.

Washington and Texas are relatively early in their coaches' tenures. This is only Kalen DeBoer's second year with the Huskies.

“If you told me two years ago that this is what we’re playing for and where we’re at, I would have been ecstatic,” he said.

He said his experience in two seasons at Fresno State taught him to set no timelines. Fresno State was 3-3 in the 2020 pandemic season and 9-3 in 2021, his second season.

“Don’t underestimate what you’re capable of doing and how quickly you can do it,” he said.

The Longhorns were 8-5 last year after having gone 5-7 in 2021, Sarkisian’s first season.

“We knew there would be way better times,” Ford said. “After that season, everyone was more motivated than ever.”

No. 1 seed Michigan (13-0) will play No. 4 Alabama (12-1) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. The national championship game is Jan. 8 in Houston.


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The game will be a rematch of 2022 Alamo Bowl quarterbacks Quinn Ewers of Texas and Heisman Trophy candidate Michael Penix Jr. of Washington.

Penix threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns against the Longhorns, who were without star running back Bijon Robinson and two other players who opted to sit out.

Ewers was 31 of 47 for 369 yards and led Texas back from a 17-point deficit. The Longhorns had a final chance to win when they got the ball with 32 seconds left, but the game ended with Texas at the Huskies' 40.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Washington v Texas
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Eight of Washington's last nine games have been decided by single digits. The last four wins have been by a total of 15 points.


2023 Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma State v Texas
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Sarkisian again will be facing his old school. Sarkisian was the Huskies’ coach from 2009-13, going 34-29 with three bowl appearances.

“Washington still holds a special place to me,” Sarkisian said. “I got my first head coaching opportunity there and had five just tremendous years in trying to rebuild that program.”

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Texas was able to offset the only loss on its resume, to Oklahoma, with its September win at Alabama. Sarkisian said it was good the committee rewarded the accomplishment yet didn't punish Alabama for the loss.

“If that game wouldn’t have gotten recognized in this selection, then that would, I think, give people some hesitation or some pause to play those nonconference, marquee games like we were able to play this year against Alabama,” he said.


Arizona State v Washington
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DeBoer acknowledged an argument could have been made for Washington to be the No. 1 seed and play closer to home at the Rose Bowl.

“But here’s the deal,” he said. "We're in the final four and we’re going to go play in an exciting venue against a very good football team. We’re breaking into new territory here with the first U-Dub team to go play in the Sugar Bowl.”

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