AUSTIN (KXAN) – With expectations as high as they’ve been in years, Texas football enters the season with hopes of leaving the Big 12 as conference champions. A lot of that hope is reliant on a leap from Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers.

After battling Hudson Card for the starting job last year, Ewers battled injuries and inconsistency as a passer. Now as the unquestioned starter, things have a much different feel.

“I think it’s allowed me to coach him differently,” said Texas Head Coach Steve Sarkisian about the lack of a quarterback battle. “He’s feeling like when I’m coaching him, it’s coaching him to be the best that he can be and not feel like sometimes that I’m pointing things out that he’s doing wrong.”

For Ewers, his teammates and coaches have continued to note his command and confidence from last year to this one. He senses the same thing.

“[I] feel like I’m a lot more comfortable in the system which ultimately leads to confidence,” said Ewers. “I feel a lot more confident in myself.”

Ewers finished 2022 with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 games played.

While the Texas quarterback is the most talked about player, perhaps no player has higher expectations than senior linebacker Jaylan Ford. The preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year continues to stand out to his teammates.

“[Jaylan] Ford has been making a lot of plays through fall camp,” said Longhorns senior defensive back Ryan Watts. “Punching the ball loose, and you see how he got those picks last year in the middle, high pointing the ball. He’s still on top of that.”

Ford chose to come back to Texas instead of heading to the NFL with a skyrocketing draft stock. He knows that the team success he and the Longhorns covet relies heavily on his shoulders, and that’s quite all right with him.

“The best thing about it is knowing that I finally earned the respect of my teammates in the locker room,” Ford said. “Honestly as a football player, that’s probably the biggest thing you can ask for.”

Ford led Texas with 119 tackles, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Ewers, Ford and the Longhorns open the 2023 season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Rice at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.