Oklahoma vs. Texas … or, if you prefer, Texas vs. Oklahoma … this Game of Rivals has as many plot threads as Game of Thrones (minus the fire-breathing dragons, of course).
- Texas coach Charlie Strong’s fourth year in Austin might hang in the balance of the outcome. For what it’s worth, he has a fan on the opposite sideline. “I think Charlie is an excellent coach,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s got a great track record.”
- Oklahoma has lost two of three to the Longhorns and has a poor track record recently when it enters the game ranked and the Longhorns aren’t. The Sooners’ hopes of a return to the College Football Playoff are gone but OU can still win its 10th Big 12 title.
- Shane Buechele, the Longhorns’ freshman quarterback, bears the burden of winning a rivalry game against a school where his four siblings all went to school.
- Baker Mayfield, the Sooners’ electric and emotional quarterback, is from Austin and never got a whiff of recruiting interest from UT. “All the guys that don’t grow up around it don’t necessarily know what this rivalry is all about but I grew up down there in the heart of UT land,” he said. “I know what it’s all about but it’s pretty special to me and that’s why it’s exciting. Big week.”
- The Red River Rivalry in the Cotton Bowl Saturday (11 a.m. CST, FS1) is an undercard in the Lone Star state. Former Big 12 member Texas A&M is at home against Tennessee in a top 10 SEC showdown.
- The reason this game has limited national interest is that both teams enter with 2-2 records. That’s the worst combined record since 1996, the first time the teams met as Big 12 foes (Oklahoma was 0-4, Texas was 3-3).
- And from the Big Picture, What Does The Future Hold Perspective – both schools have the power and influence as the Big 12 ponders an expansion issue that has had more twists and turns than … yep … an episode of GoT.
The actual game itself is intriguing. Strong made what some consider a desperation, last-gasp move and installed himself as defensive coordinator, replacing Vance Bedford who is now working exclusively with the secondary. Texas has set the ignominious school record of giving up 45 or more points in three of its first four games.
“There’s eight games left, guys. We can still make a lot of noise,” Strong said he told his players this week. “I say to them all the time that we are just as talented as anybody in this conference. Now let’s go play. We can go score on offense. We’ve just got to get a few stops and get some turnovers on defense, and we’re going to be fine.”
While Texas is allowing 38.3 points per game and ranks 116th in FBS stats in that category, the Sooners aren’t much better. OU is allowing 35.3 per game and is ranked 103rd. In total defense, the Longhorns are 87th allowing 428.5 yards per game. The Sooners are their one-floor-down neighbor, checking in at No. 88 allowing 429.3 yards per game.
“I don’t think it’s desperate times for desperate measures,” Strong said of taking over the defense. “I’ve (coordinated the defense) before and I can see where I can help us. Play calling is a rhythm. You’ve got to get on rhythm and you try to keep people off balance. Sometimes when (the players) hear a different voice…you’re trying to give them a shot of energy.”
Of particular concern to Sooners fans is the fact that at least three key defenders will miss the game – defensive end Charles Walker along with linebackers Will Johnson and Tay Evans. OU also might be without defensive lineman Matt Romar.
With Buechele and Mayfield each running up-tempo offenses that feature plenty of play makers, all the ingredients exist for a scoring spree. Since 1996 when the rivalry became a conference game, the biggest point total is 84 (Oklahoma 63, Texas 21 in 2012).
Last season, Texas came into the Cotton Bowl with a 1-4 record but then stunned the 10th-ranked Sooners, 24-17. However, what appeared to be a program-building victory melted into a 5-7 final record. Since beating Oklahoma, the Longhorns are 5-5 and all of the losses have come to unranked teams.
Because of the Longhorns’ defensive woes and Strong’s staff shuffling during his tenure, most believe he needs an 8-4 regular-season finish to see his fourth season at Texas.
The iconic picture from last season’s Red River Showdown was Strong smiling and pointing while the game’s Golden Hat trophy was perched on his head. The imagined caption for UT fans was “new sheriff in town.”
“Right now, we’re at a point where you can go up or down,” Texas sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “I’m saying, I’m telling everyone, ‘It’s time for us to go up.’ We’re going to approach it like any other game, but with a lot more passion and enthusiasm. We know what’s at stake here. We want that golden hat more than they do.”