The matchup that everyone outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, wanted to see in the revived Big 12 Championship Game has come to fruition with the Oklahoma Sooners squaring off against the Texas Longhorns.
By virtue of UT’s 48-45 win in October, the Golden Hat will stay in Austin until the two teams meet next season in the Cotton Bowl. Both squads are still playing for big stakes, though. A win for OU would put the Sooners in line for a bid to the College Football Playoff. A UT victory would signal to the college football world that Texas is... well, you know.
The Longhorns manhandled OU’s beleaguered defense the last time they played. A frenzied comeback by the Sooners fell short thanks to a game-winning field goal by Texas kicker Cameron Dicker in the waning seconds of the contest. No one will be complaining if the two bitter rivals stage another instant classic in round two.
Big 12 Championship Game: Texas vs. Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Spread: Oklahoma -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How Oklahoma handles Texas' big receivers
The stat sheet from the last game in Dallas reads like a litany of everything that has gone wrong for the Sooners this season. For example, the Longhorns’ physical receiving duo of Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey combined for 15 catches, 214 yards and two touchdowns. Humphrey also tossed a TD pass of his own for good measure.
OU’s ability to stop the pass hasn’t really improved in the second half of the year, nor have the defensive backs grown any bigger. Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill needs to come up with a new plan for dealing with UT’s two-headed monster.
2. Texas’ short-yardage running game
UT had a failsafe option in short yardage in game one: quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Texas’ burly field general carried the ball 18 times for 84 yards, excluding sacks, and found the end zone three times. His legs played a big part in the Longhorns succeeding on eight of 16 conversions on third and fourth down.
McNeill in recent weeks has implemented some 4-3 calls with Caleb Kelly at outside linebacker in running situations. The Sooners have seen mixed results from them, including allowing nearly 10 yards per carry to the Kansas Jayhawks. That kind of effort will send OU home with another loss.
3. Pressuring Kyler Murray
Out of all of OU’s opponents this season, UT might have done the best job of harassing Oklahoma's star QB. Texas sacked the Heisman Trophy contender twice, and he coughed the ball up once inside OU’s 25-yard line. Those things haven’t happened often this season.
Murray generally avoids contact. If the Longhorns can get physical with him, it seems like the best way to throw him off his game.
Texas actually laying hands on the future leadoff hitter of the Oakland A’s is a different story.
Despite Texas’ October win, the 7.5-point spread in favor of Oklahoma for this game is identical to the line from the first meeting between these two teams. In other words, the oddsmakers don’t think much has changed with either side. In many ways, they’re right.
OU head coach Lincoln Riley made the call to remove Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator while sorting through the rubble in the wake of the first game. At best, the move might have stopped the D from sinking even further. The Sooners still count on their high-powered offense to offset the damage done on the other side of the ball.
Texas plays methodically when it has the ball, same as before. Meanwhile, OU will still find some weak spots in the UT secondary for receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb to exploit.
If there is one important difference this time around, it might be the strength of OU’s ground game. It seems strange to say that after the Sooners already trampled Texas in the first matchup for 222 yards on 31 rushing attempts. Yet, OU’s running game has reached a higher gear as redshirt freshman running back Kennedy Brooks has matured and the offensive line has gained cohesion.
Averaging a shade under a first down every time he touches the ball, Brooks currently sits seven yards away from 1,000 rushing yards this season. Look for that ground attack to play an even bigger role in Riley’s game plan on Saturday as OU avenges its earlier loss.
Prediction: Oklahoma 41, Texas 31
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.