Bob Stoops has argued the Oklahoma Sooners are better than what we saw after the first three games of the season. After a dominating performance at Texas Tech last week, Oklahoma fans are willing to give the Sooners the benefit of the doubt.
In order for fans to fully believe in this team they must win in the Cotton Bowl. It's important for Stoops, the program and Landry Jones.
While the Sooners appear to be back on track in Lubbock, a loss to Texas will mean the 2012 season is all but lost for Oklahoma. It could also mean any love for the senior quarterback will be lost as well.
Jones has taken plenty of criticism during his time at Oklahoma, but it will be taken to a new level if he plays poorly against the Longhorns. That makes this Saturday's game about as important to Jones as it is to the Oklahoma program.
After losing to Kansas State many, including this writer, began to question the Sooners' program and where it is heading. A lack of talent appeared to be the blame and some braced themselves for a five- or six-loss season.
All of this makes this game against their most hated rival somewhat of a turning point for Oklahoma. A loss and fans will be calling for heads to roll. A win and the term "national championship" will once again find its way back into the minds of Oklahoma fans. It may not be the first term uttered by fans, but nothing gets the Sooner Nation more excited than leaving the Texas State Fair with a win.
Stoops desperately wants to prove to the critics that his program is not slipping. But, starting off the Big 12 season at 1-2 would almost eliminate his team from the conference title race. That would mean the Sooners would go two consecutive seasons without winning a Big 12 championship for the first time under Stoops.
At Oklahoma that's considered slipping.
Jones passed up the NFL draft for a shot at winning a national championship. If that hope isn't already gone, a loss to Texas would seal the deal. It would also mean his decision to return to Oklahoma will turn out to be a costly mistake.
If there is one thing we all should have learned about this rivalry by now it's that you just can't predict the outcome. Surprise players make game-changing plays in this game. The unexpected can always be expected. Both teams hold back certain wrinkles and plays just for this game. Most any prediction is just a guess.
One thing that is for sure is that the one quarterback most likely to have a big game is Jones. David Ash has shown improvement this season, but you just get the feeling he's playing at or near his ceiling.
Jones has done it before. And, he's done it in the Cotton Bowl. With a win Saturday not only will Jones have the most wins of any quarterback in Oklahoma history, but he will also become just the fourth Sooner quarterback to go 3-0 versus Texas as a starter.
Sure the Texas offense appears to be better than last year. But, so is the Sooners defense. The Longhorns appear to have been dramatically overrated on defense and have been torched by Oklahoma State and West Virginia the past two weeks.
The weakness appears to be the Longhorns defensive line. They have given up some big yards on the ground. While the Sooners probably like the way their passing game stacks up against the Texas secondary, it's Oklahoma's ability to have success on the ground that will be the key.
If Oklahoma is able to make plays in the running game it could be a long day for Texas. That's why Damien Williams or Dominique Whaley could be that guy for Oklahoma who becomes a star on Saturday.
Despite the up-tempo spread offenses these two teams have made so popular in the Big 12, it's the running game that will decide the outcome of this game. The good thing for the Sooners is that they have the better quarterback. Therefore, success in the running game for the Sooners doesn't mean they have to out-rush Texas. They just need to make the running game a real threat.
If that happens Jones is just good enough to pick the Texas secondary apart.
It's been a long time since we've seen such a dire situation in one game. But the difference between a win and a loss in this game could be just that drastic for Jones and the Sooners. Then again, it may be just as important to Texas. It's just another aspect that makes this rivalry so big.