Saturday marks the 108th renewal of the annual grudge football matchup between Oklahoma and Texas that has come to be called the Red River Rivalry. This was an annual affair long before the two schools became members of the same conference in 1996, when the Big 12 came into existence.
Most fans don’t realize that the Sooners and Longhorns were members of the same conference years ago, when both were part of the Southwest Coonference from 1915-1919. But the Red River Rivalry dates back even before that. OU and Texas met for the first time in the series in 1900. In the early years in the series, which Texas leads all-time 58-43-5, the two schools would sometimes play twice in the same year.
There have been years in which the two teams did not meet on the football field. In fact, the series went idle between 1924 and 1928. They have played every year since then, however, and in a number of those years, one of both teams have been nationally ranked, including Oklahoma (3) and Texas (4) in 1979 and 2 and 3, respectivley, in 2002 Since 1932, the annual shootout has been played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and during the Texas State Fair. The two teams have played this game on their home fields in Austin and Norman only one time in history.
Current and former players from both sides who have played in this classic rivalry will tell you it’s not just a game. It’s a game like no other.
Enough history and now on to the present. Oklahoma enters the game this weekend with a perfect 5-0 record and as the No. 10 team in the country, according to the current USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Texas began the season ranked No. 15, but fell out of the polls after successive horrific losses to Brigham Young and Mississippi, both by more than 19 points. Since then, however, the enigtmatic Longhorns have rebounded to win their first two conference games, against Kansas State and Iowa State.
Since Mack Brown and Bob Stoops came on the scene just before the turn of the new millenium, the Sooners have held a 9-6 advantage, including five in a row from 2000-2004 and the last three games in the series. The past two years, Oklahoma’s winning margin has been 38 and 42 points, respectively.
Of relevance to this year’s Red River Rivalry, Texas’ Brown has beaten Oklahoma three times with a quarterback named McCoy. Former Longhorn quarterback Colt McCoy, now with the San Francisco 49ers, beat the Sooners in three of the four years he started at quarterback in the Red River Rivalry game (2006, 2008, 2009). On Saturday, a McCoy will be calling signals again for the Longh0rns, as Colt’s younger brother, Case, gets the call in place of injured starting quarterback David Ash, who has been declared out of the game, still suffering from concussion symptons.
Chase, a junior, has played in this rivalry game, but only in a reserve role. Similarly, Oklahoma junior quarterback Blake Bell will be making his first start in this hotly contested and emotionally charged rivalry game and only his third career start at Oklahoma.
Both teams stand 2-0 in the conference coming into Saturday’s showdown. In the past, the winner of this game generally was believed to be in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 championship. But with two other conference teams also sporting perfect records through the first six weeks of the season, winning this game in 2013 might mean just staying in contention for the conference crown.
While Texas has been more of a running team and OU more of a pass-oriented offense in recent years, the situation seems to be reversed this season, with the Longhorns going to the air more and the Sooners defintely running the ball with more effectiveness than in the last several years. Texas still has the offensive talent and capability to strike quickly and put points on the board, but on defense, believed by many of the college football experts in the preseason to be on a par with the best in the conference, the Longhorns have been a huge deisappointment. Defensively, Texas is giving up a league-worst 465 yards a game and an average of 28.4 points.
With Landry Jones at quarterback the past four years, Oklahoma’s spread offense put up record numbers through the air. This season, however, the Sooner passing game ranks near the bottom of the league in total yardage (209.2 yards per game), while Texas is fourth in the conference in passing, averaging 266 yards per game.
While the Longhorn defense appears to have digressed from a year ago, the Oklahoma defensive unit under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has become much stingier and more disciplined than it has been for the last several years. And that’s with – and possibly even because of – just three returning starters from last season.
We could go into much more analysis on both teams, but the truth is, the numbers rankings and season records for the two teams mean nothing in a heated rivaly game such as this. You can throw all of that out the window, because the winner of this game will be the team that exerts its will more and plays better on Saturday, despite what the oddsmakers and all numbers crunchers say.
Four Things To Watch For In This Year’s Red River Rivalry Game
- Can Oklahoma’s run defense, third best in the conference this season, shut down the Texas running game and make the Texas offense one dimensional? If Case McCoy is forced to go to the air, he will be going up against the best pass defense in the league, statistically.
- Oklahoma is the best team in the league, through five games, in stopping its opponents on third down (OU’s opponents have been successful only 19 of 70 attempts on third down). Conversely, the Texas defense, in just its third game under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, is the worst team in the conference in opponents’ third-down conversion efficiency. The Longhorns have stopped their opponents from picking up a first down only 46 percent of the time.
- OU senior linebacker Corey Nelson is a team captain and one of the team leaders on defense. Nelson was injured in last week’s game with TCU. He suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle and had season-ending surgery this week. Nelson was second on the team in tackles. Will his absence on the field create a noticeable breakdown in the Sooner defense against Texas and open up offensive opportunities for the Longhorns?
- Oklashoma has not allowed its opponents any points in the second quarter this season while scoring 57 points of its own
- Texas has had 30 second-half comebacks during the Mack Brown era in Austin (1998-present); 19 have come in the fourth quarter.
Game prediction: Oklahoma 35, Texas 24
Other Big 12 Picks In Week 7
Baylor 45 @ Kansas State 34 - The Bears won’t come anywhere near 70 points, but the K-State offense won’t be able to keep up the scoring pace.
Kansas 7 @ TCU 38 - After having to play three ranked teams already this season, the Horned Frogs will welcome a date with Kansas, “0-for” in its last 22 Big 12 games.
Iowa State 20 @ Texas Tech 42 - The Red Raiders shouldn’t have any trouble at home against Iowa State. Tech moves to 6-0 after this one.
*Oklahoma State and West Virginia have byes
Last week: 5-0
For the season: 31-8 (.790)