Archive for Saturday, October 11, 2008

Texas, Oklahoma jacked for Red River Rivalry

Texas coach Mack Brown, left, congratulates Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops in this Oct. 6, 2007, file photo after OU beat UT, 	28-21, last season in Dallas.

Texas coach Mack Brown, left, congratulates Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops in this Oct. 6, 2007, file photo after OU beat UT, 28-21, last season in Dallas.

October 11, 2008


— If the Texas-Oklahoma series was only about the sights, sounds and smells of their annual matchup at the Cotton Bowl, it would still be a lot of fun.

It's special, though, because on top of a great environment there's a long tradition of high-caliber, high-stakes games - and today's should be a doozy.

This will be the 103rd meeting between the Red River rivals, but only the 10th time each team comes in with a ranking that can be counted on one hand: OU at No. 1, Texas at No. 5.

The crowd will be bigger than ever, topping 92,000. That breaks down to an additional 8,000 folks in burnt orange on one side of the 50-yard line and an extra 8,000 in crimson and cream on the other side. Decades later, players remember the explosion of those colors when they walk down the tunnel and onto the field, and now it should be even more spectacular.

"I'm ready for (today) already," said Texas quarterback Colt McCoy - on Monday.

Both quarterbacks know the intensity of this rivalry and the joy of winning, each having done so as freshman. McCoy did it two years ago, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford last October.

Now they're back and leading two of the nation's most potent offenses. Whoever wins will have his team in prime position for the Big 12 title and for a national championship. They might also go home as the Heisman Trophy front-runner.

"It's more than just bragging rights," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

Heck, even the coin toss will be important.

The Longhorns are outscoring foes 52-9 in the first quarter and 132-29 in first halves. As impressive as that is, Texas coach Mack Brown has to note, "They've been better."

The Sooners are winning first quarters 103-3, a number so lopsided it looks like a misprint. Just ask Michigan fans; their team has 103 points all season. Another 22 major-college teams don't even have that many.

Oklahoma does it with a no-huddle scheme that keeps defenses from shuffling personnel and with Bradford picking on the guys coaches would've taken out.

Protected by an offensive line featuring four seniors, he throws to receivers Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Ryan Broyles, or tight end Jermaine Gresham, or gets the ball to running backs DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. The result: OU is racking up 49.6 points and 540 yards per game, and Bradford has the second-best passer rating in the country.

"We trust him so much," Stoops said.

The Sooners defense is darn good, too, allowing 159 yards passing per game, a teeny number considering opposing offenses are playing catch-up from the start.

For Texas, this starts a make-or-break stretch. Third-ranked Missouri is next, followed by No. 17 Oklahoma State and No. 7 Texas Tech.

Against Oklahoma and the rest, the Longhorns will need great defense and an offense that can run the ball to control the clock and play keep-away. They've done those things so far, but haven't really been tested - no ranked opponents, and only Colorado (3-2) with a winning record among teams they've already played. (OU has beaten TCU and Cincinnati, which are a combined 9-0 outside losses to the Sooners.)

Texas' defense is run by new coordinator Will Muschamp, a fiery guy who knows about rivalries from his days with LSU and Auburn. His resume includes a victory over the Sooners in the January 2004 national championship game. His depth chart, however, includes two freshmen starters. Still, they've given up only 11.4 points per game, fourth-best in the country, and are recording a national-best 3.8 sacks per game.

McCoy is the Longhorns' leading rusher, which shows what a dual threat he is and how much trouble Brown has had settling on a featured back. Senior Chris Ogbannaya will start, something he's done only once before.

McCoy's decision-making is what makes the Longhorns go, especially when they go no-huddle. He's fourth in the country in passer efficiency, just a bit behind Bradford.

"We are both doing a good job of leading our team," McCoy said.

Several series trends favor Oklahoma.

- The higher-ranked team hasn't lost since 1996.

- OU is 5-3-1 when both teams are in the top 5, including 2001, '02 and '04.

- Oklahoma is 6-1 when ranked No. 1, the only loss in 1963 to a Texas team ranked No. 2 and on its way to a national championship.

Even without the national title implications, OU-UT is an event every college football fan should have on their bucket list.

The schools started playing in 1900 and, since 1912, have met in Dallas, a three-hour drive from each campus. It's been at the State Fair of Texas since 1929, years before the Cotton Bowl was built.

Fans come early, taunting each other on their way into the stadium. Backers of the losing team clear out at game's end, earlier if it's a blowout; winners stick around to sing the fight song and see their flag planted at midfield.

Some regulars make a tradition of getting an oversized turkey leg on the way in. For others, it's a corny dog on the way out. There's also the chance to win a stuffed animal on the midway or to ride the continent's largest Ferris wheel.

To players, memories come from rival fans smacking and booing their bus as it rolls in next to the saltwater taffy stand. Most of all, it's about that walk down the tunnel.

"I heard about it and I was just like, 'It can't be what everybody's making it out to be,"' said Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks, a freshman last year. "Getting in there, I said, 'It's even more."'


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