The Longhorns have their sights on knocking the Sooners off their throne
Oklahoma won a fourth straight Big 12 title last season but to do so it had to avenge an earlier loss to Texas. Both the Sooners and Longhorns finished the 2018 campaign ranked in the top 10 and that's where they will probably start this season. So don't be surprised if you see an encore come Dec. 7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
These two teams split their meetings last season with the Longhorns drawing first blood in the Cotton Bowl while the Sooners returning the favor in the Big 12 Championship Game. Oklahoma's win carried more weight since it helped the Sooners secure a spot in the College Football Playoff, but any victory in this rivalry is celebrated.
This year's edition of the Red River Showdown will take place in Dallas on Oct. 12. As big of a game as this will be, the expectation is that this matchup will serve as an appetizer for what's to come later in December.
So with that in mind, which team should be considered the favorite to win the Big 12 in 2019? Is it Oklahoma, the four-time defending champion? Or is this the year Texas reclaims conference supremacy?
We asked Athlon editors and contributors to pick which side of the Sooners vs. Longhorns rivalry they are riding with this season.
Oklahoma or Texas: Which Team Should be the Big 12 Favorite in 2019?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Texas is trending up, but I still like Oklahoma to win the Big 12 in 2019. And just like last season, it wouldn’t surprise me if these two teams split the regular season game and Big 12 title.
The Longhorns bring back the Big 12’s No. 1 quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, but coach Tom Herman has a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball, including a defense that returns only two starters. Receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey also must be replaced. While a handful of players from last year’s 10-win team are gone, as evidenced by back-to-back top-five recruiting classes, Texas is reloading with elite talent. How long will it take the new starters to reach their potential?
Oklahoma enters 2019 with a similar preseason storyline: Explosive offense but question marks on defense. Transfer Jalen Hurts should have a prolific senior campaign at quarterback, and coach Lincoln Riley has surrounded him with plenty of weapons at receiver and running back. An offensive line that was arguably the best in college football has to replace four starters. Riley took a big step towards fixing the defense by hiring Alex Grinch as the new coordinator. Question marks remain in the secondary, but linemen Ronnie Perkins, Neville Gallimore and linebacker Kenneth Murray provide a good foundation up front.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
Texas appears to be headed in the right direction under Tom Herman and may even have the edge at quarterback, given Sam Ehlinger's experience as a Longhorn vs. Jalen Hurts' recent arrival at Oklahoma. However, the Sooners are the four-time defending Big 12 champions and while Hurts may be new, he has plenty of skill position talent to help him get settled in, and Lincoln Riley has done just fine with a "rookie" QB before.
And while Ehlinger is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in his own right, he's lost a couple of key pieces of his supporting cast and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has to replace nine starters on his unit. Yes, the Sooners' defense was a dumpster fire last season, but Riley has brought in Alex Grinch to fix that. Talent is not a problem for either of these teams, but I'll still give the edge to the reigning champs and fully expect these archrivals to meet not once, but twice this fall.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism)
Oklahoma's streak of Big 12 titles, which currently stands at four, has to come to an end at some point. After losing another Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, a quartet of likely NFL draft picks on the offensive line, and one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the country, it would make sense if 2019 turned out to be that point. However, that doesn't mean OU isn't the Big 12 favorite this year.
The big names departing Norman overshadow Texas' losses from its 2018 team, but they're substantial. They include a majority of the offensive line; the Longhorns' best offensive player, receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey; and seven of the top 10 tacklers from last year. Even with QB Sam Ehlinger and WR Collin Johnson back, coach Tom Herman and his assistants will need to do strong work just to field a team comparable to last season's 10-4 squad.
Given what we know about Lincoln Riley's ability to coach up an offense and the talent on hand for the Sooners, OU appears capable of maintaining something that approximates the same level of explosiveness this season. Alabama graduate transfer Jalen Hurts won't be intimidated by following in the footsteps of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Can new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch clean up the problems that have plagued OU for years on that side of the ball? The Sooners possess enough talent on defense to make big strides this season, and frankly, it feels like it would be tough for them to get much worse than they were a year ago.
Next season might see OU's fortunes change, but the Sooners can likely hold on to the Big 12 crown for a fifth straight year.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Oklahoma is still the team to beat in the Big 12 as they are still the more well-rounded program and taking a deeper roster into the new season under Lincoln Riley. As we saw last year, Oklahoma can be beaten and Texas took a big step forward back to giving the Sooners a run in the Big 12, but the Sooners remain my favorite in the Big 12 for 2019, with Texas once again a close second. For 2020 however...
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
Anything can happen in college football. And though we’re in the business of making predictions, it would be silly to believe we can see the future. That said, there is no question in my mind Oklahoma is the clear-cut favorite to win the Big 12.
There are certainly question marks. Offensively, the Sooners lost a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the second straight season, must replace a running back and receiver who left school early for the NFL draft, and need to rebuild what was one of the top offensive lines in the country.
It’s difficult to replace a starting quarterback three years in a row. Nevertheless, bringing in Jalen Hurts should make for a smooth transition, and if something goes wrong there, Spencer Rattler is one of the most talented QB prospects in the nation (and we know from the last two national championship games a true freshman can lead a team to the title). And there’s enough skill position talent on hand to keep Lincoln Riley’s offense humming along. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks are both capable of putting up 1,000 rushing yards and CeeDee Lamb was already a 1,000-yard receiver as a secondary option. Plus, OU brought in one of the deepest and most talented crop of wideouts in recent recruiting history. The offensive line will need time to gel, but despite the common inference, O-line experience has no correlation to success on the scoreboard.
Defensively, Oklahoma was a mess in 2018. Still, the hire of Alex Grinch as coordinator provides reason to be optimistic, and there’s plenty of talent and experience on hand, including 76.84 percent of last year’s tacking production (even if injured linebacker Caleb Kelly can’t return to the field in 2019). And, even if the unit fails to improve dramatically, last season’s defensive struggles didn’t stop OU from winning the conference championship. For comparison’s sake, Texas returns just 40.1 percent of its tackles, 28.93 percent of its tackles for a loss, and 25 percent of its sacks (all three the lowest in the Big 12) from a defense it relied on far more heavily.