The annual October meeting in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl between the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners represents one of the marquee rivalries in all of college football. For nearly a decade, however, it has been hard to know if the series really counts as a rivalry.
In the last eight meetings of the border war, the Sooners have won six times. The hype that typically accompanies the game had all but vanished — along with the Longhorns’ hopes of competing for a Big 12 title and more.
This year, however, the two teams sport a combined record of 9-1 heading into the Red River Showdown. After a frustrating loss to Maryland in their opener, the Longhorns are riding a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s meeting with the undefeated Sooners.
By most accounts, UT is on the road to recovery. A win over OU would help head coach Tom Herman put the pedal to the metal on the program’s journey.
Texas vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Cotton Bowl (Dallas)
Spread: Oklahoma -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Throwing long
Both Texas and Oklahoma have receivers who can generate big plays in the passing game. Which side will produce more on Saturday? The answer might depend more on the quarterbacks throwing the ball than guys catching it.
If so, that’s advantage Kyler Murray.
2. Can Oklahoma get its running game going?
The Sooners aren’t running the ball with their typical efficiency this season. Rodney Anderson’s season-ending injury in game two against UCLA appears to be the most likely reason for the swoon, but OU observers will tell you that the offensive line lacks some of the cohesion it has had in years past.
This would be an opportune time for the big fellas to get in sync.
3. Special teams
Both of these squads excel in the oft-neglected third phase. Plays such as blocked field goals and long kickoff returns have put both of them in position to score some cheap points in multiple games this year. Coming up with a key play on special teams in this game would likely tip the final outcome to one side.
Oklahoma’s mastery of Texas in this decade probably comes down to one position: quarterback.
The Longhorns have torn through an assortment of signal-callers since Colt McCoy graduated after the 2009 season. (Ironically, UT’s only two wins in the last eight years came with Jerrod Heard and Case McCoy, two of the least heralded QBs in that span, behind center.) Meanwhile, Oklahoma has enjoyed a relatively stable line of QBs, including three-year stints from Landry Jones and Baker Mayfield.
This time around, Sam Ehlinger is making his second career start against the Sooners, while OU is rolling with one-year rental Kyler Murray. Having seen Ehlinger in action last season, the Longhorns have to feel confident that they will get the same cocksure QB who nearly engineered an upset of the Sooners 12 months ago.
Murray is more of a wild card. The soon-to-be member of the Oakland A’s and Texas high school legend wouldn’t shrink in this kind of moment, would he?
More pertinent to this matchup might be how Murray deals with his toughest defensive challenge yet. Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has assembled a hard-hitting unit built to combat high-powered spread offenses like Oklahoma’s.
With OU’s running game stumbling, head coach Lincoln Riley will be tempted to pin the Sooners’ hopes on the arm of his QB. Everything Murray has done on the field this season suggests he’s ready for that.
Watch for a big day out of Murray as the Sooners’ firepower proves too much for a Texas team that needs one more year to get on OU’s level.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Texas 24
— 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.