ARLINGTON -- He might never act like it, but Bijan Robinson is the face of Texas Football. Under Steve Sarkisian, he could be one of the faces of the 2021 college football season.
Robinson's name has fluttered around the Heisman talk, the Doak Walker Award and even top runner in the country. Last season, he was an afterthought for most of the season.
Then again, running an offense that doesn't cater to the ground game will hurt anyone.
With Tom Herman gone and Sarkisian calling the shots, the run game will be influential to Texas' success. After all, Sark prides his success on pounding the rock at a consistent level.
“Every year I’ve called plays in college football, I’ve always had a 1,000-yard rusher,” Sarkisian said Thursday at Big 12 Media Days. “So I believe in running the ball, and I believe in having that guy that is kind of the bell cow that you hang your hat on. So for Bijan, one thing is he didn’t have a lot of carries a year ago. So understanding what that workload looks like, feels like, kind of tastes like week in and week out over a long season is going to be something of an adjustment for him."
Robinson's workload is about to double in 2021. Last season, he never saw more than 16 carries per game. Coming out of high school in Arizona, he averaged less than 20.
Sarkisian might be the blessing is disguise to reach the untapped potential inside of Robinson. Considering what he did during his time with Najee Harris in Alabama, this is second nature.
In his final season with the Crimson Tide, Harris tore up the SEC with 1,466 rushing yards and 30 total scores. Robinson, if healthy, should pass the 1,000 yard marker with ease.
"Bijan's got the it factor," Sark said. "It's not a some time thing. It's in his soul. As good a football player as he is, he's probably a better human being."
Robinson set a school record for yards per carry (8.2) during his first season on the Forty Acres. In his final two games, wins over Kansas State and Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, he rushed 19 times for 355 yards (18.7 ypc), caught five passes for 88 yards and scored six times.
Robinson took home the bowl game's MVP. That's not enough for him in Year 2. To improve, his focus in the offseason has been on building his stamina for the 20-25 carries range.
"I just want to make sure my endurance is good," Robinson said. "So I'm prepared for whatever they ask, whether it's 25 carries a game or 10."
Robinson seems to poised to be Texas' next it runner. There's a few names that have come through Austin and left their footprint on the program.
Well before Robinson was even a thought, it was Earl Campbell leading the Longhorns' backfield to a Southwest Conference title and a Heisman Trophy. Ricky Williams set an NCAA record while donning the burnt orange.
He too holds college football's most prestigious honor.
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Lost among the Charlie Strong years, D’Onta Foreman cracked 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns in 2016. Strong rode the offense behind his lead runner, giving him 323 carries that season, including a record-setting 51 carries in one outing.
Maybe 50 is too much for Robinson, but running the ball is something Texas is known for. Sarkisian is known for the same thing as well.
"Bijan's got that one-cut ability where he can be going full speed, make one cut and not lose speed," Sarkisian said. "I saw that every day with Reggie Bush (at USC), and Bijan is impressive."
With the new NIL ruling of players being able to profit off the name, Robinson has several deals in place. Recently, he partnered with Raising Canes chicken. He also now has a deal with Cameo, in which people can request a shoutout from the tailback on special occasions.
Prices run from $100 for greetings and $150 for special messages, like a birthday wish or an anniversary. Robinson said he'd do as many as he could a day just to make people happy.
"I'm the type of guy who wants to put a smile on your face whether it's on Cameo or in real person" Robinson said. "Just giving those 30 second two minute videos, you know it's been pretty cool to see how it affects and see their messages come up."
Robinson's name has been building since his commitment back in 2019. The sample size of 86 carries showed Texas had a lead runner. The addition of Sarkisian proved he was the face of the team.
As the season approaches, Robinson could be the name to beat in the Big 12. He was one of two running backs to earn First-Team Big 12 honors, with Iowa State and current FBS leading rusher Breece Hall taking the other spot.
Sarkisian's development of quarterbacks is herald, but his success with elevating running backs' game is impressive. A player ready to take college football by storm and a coach looking to teach?
Where's the sign up sheet to that bandwagon.
Robinson grew up idolizing Bush so much so, he dons the No. 5 jersey. With the offense in Austin, perhaps his numbers could be even better than the master.
"This guy’s extremely talented. He’s got really good vision," Sarkisian said. "He’s physical. He’s got one-cut ability. He’s got breakaway speed. He’s got good hands. He’s an unbelievable human being and a great leader.”
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