Every season, two rivalry games seem to stick out on the Oklahoma Sooners' schedule: Bedlam (Oklahoma State) and the Red River Rivalry (Texas). Bedlam is always a huge game considering the in-state bragging rights, however, the RRR is always the most important rivalry.
Thanks to the level of dominance Oklahoma and Texas have had in the Big 12 Conference, the prowess of this rivalry cannot be matched. Yes, I'm aware that Oklahoma State won 12 games en route to winning the conference last season. Yes, I'm aware that Texas has only won 13 games in the last two seasons—none of that matters.
If you were to take a poll asking "Which game is more important: Bedlam or the RRR?" and give it to every Sooners fan, my guess is that the RRR would be a 10:1 favorite. Of course, I'm basing this assumption on my own time spent at the University of Oklahoma—keep in mind that I graduated in December of 2011, so I was around for Texas' drop off and Oklahoma State's uprise.
It might surprise you how little the majority of OU students care about Bedlam when comparing it to the RRR. I promise, I'm not trying to disrespect the Cowboys or diminish that game's importance in anyway, but the rivalry with Texas is on another level.
Students don't even have to go to school the Friday before the RRR. This allows a very, very large number of students to travel three hours south to Dallas without being rushed, and it acts as a mini-holiday/vacation for those less interested in football.
Let me say that again—the Red River Rivalry is an unofficial holiday. It's, without a doubt, the biggest game of the Sooners' season, every season.
Have I sold you on Texas being the Sooners' most important game, yet? Good, because I'm about to defy rational logic and explain to you exactly why the RRR is NOT the most important game for the Sooners this season. Instead, that honor belongs to an unfamiliar face—newcomer West Virginia.
The first point I'm about to make is likely going to sound condescending, but bear with me; I'll try to justify my reasoning. OK, I know I just made the point that even though Oklahoma State was the better team last season, it still wasn't presented as the most important matchup when compared to Texas.
Hold the phone, because I'm about to make the same comparison but with a different outcome. West Virginia is a better team than Texas, and that makes that matchup more important this season. Why is that, you ask? Scheduling.
"But Alex, Oklahoma State was the last game of the season in 2011, AND they're a rival, AND it was for the conference championship." I know, I know. Here's where I try to rationalize this point. Oklahoma has two three-game stretches this season that will make or break its title hopes, here's what they are:
- Week 4: vs. Kansas State
- Week 6: at Texas Tech
- Week 7: Red River Rivalry
And now for the second set:
- Week 12: at West Virginia
- Week 13: vs. Oklahoma State
- Week 14: at TCU
What is the most important game on Oklahoma's schedule?
Let's analyze the first stretch, the one that includes Texas. While I can note that Kansas State is going to be a good team this season (I had them ranked No. 20 in my preseason poll), I still don't think the Wildcats are much of a threat to the Sooners. The Sooners are able to defend the Wildcats' brand of offense better than most teams, as was evidenced by the 58-17 shellacking in last season's game.
Then there's a week off, which will be greatly needed to prepare for an always dangerous Texas Tech team, especially in Lubbock (insert OR IN NORMAN LIKE LAST YEAR RIGHT GUYS?! HAHAHA comment). This is the biggest non-trap game disguised as a trap game in the history of...those types of non-trap games. Here's what I mean.
The casual fan may look at that stretch and see a likely unranked Texas Tech team and say, "What a trap game! Oklahoma better not be looking forward to Texas!" However, the Sooners are going to want to annihilate the Red Raiders after last season's loss. With a week to prepare, the Sooners are going to be ready, and they're going to be thirsty—for, I assume, water or Gatorade, but let's say the opposing team's blood to make the metaphor seem more authentic.
So, if the first two games go as predicted (wins), the Sooners will be heading to Dallas unscathed, a perfect 4-0, and will look to keep the ball of momentum rolling after a big road victory. The Red River Rivalry is never taken lightly, and even though the Sooners appear to have the better team, it's still going to be a hard-fought match.
However, if the Sooners get by the Longhorns (which, again, I'm predicting they will), they will have four winnable games in a row (Kansas, Notre Dame, Iowa State and Baylor). With the exception of maybe Kansas, I'm not ruling out the possibility of the Sooners losing to any of these teams, but they aren't going to be as well-prepared or as talented as the Texas team the Sooners have already played and beaten.
That leads us to Week 12—on the road at West Virginia. The Sooners could be 9-0 at this point, and heading into their most difficult stretch of football. Likewise, if West Virginia gets through Texas in its Week 6 matchup, the Mountaineers have a really good shot at also being 9-0.
This Week 12 matchup could not only decide the conference winner, it could also decide the fate of either team's national title hopes. When you add in the unfamiliarity factor with the fact that the game is going to be on the road in a rowdy and raucous Morgantown, WV environment, this game looks really scary.
The scheduling and timing of this game make it a must-win situation for the Sooners in terms of winning either a conference championship or a national championship. If the Sooners lose to Texas in Week 7, it's possible that they still wouldn't have enough time to fight back up the polls for a national title berth, but at least they would have the opportunity to have the time.
West Virginia will be the most talented team that Oklahoma faces this season, and, at least for this season, that makes that Week 12 matchup the most important game for the Sooners.