Amidst all the drama surrounding the Big 12's future and the Red River Rivalry's 110th birthday this fall. The realignment outcome that seemed most certain was the preservation of Texas and Oklahoma's storied rivalry.
So with the Big 12 breathing once again, we can finally continue discussing what's really important: football. Here are my predictions on the game, along with some keys strengths and weaknesses for each team.
A season ago, the loss of Sam Bradford had an atomic bomb sized impact on the city of Norman. His injury essentially destroyed Oklahoma's shot at a return to the National Championship. Now Sooners fans are grateful that quarterback Landry Jones is entering his sophomore year with more than half a season under his belt.
Jones showed promise after being forced to fill Heisman-sized shoes, throwing for 3,200 yards and posting a 26-14 touchdown to interception ratio. With nine returning starters on offense, which includes stellar running back DeMarco Murray and an impressive array of wide outs featuring Ryan Broyles. The Sooners shouldn't find it hard to put up the necessary points.
Murray should find success against a shaky Texas defensive line, giving the Sooners the advantage on that side of the ball. This also gives Oklahoma the balanced approach Bob Stoops likes.
The cause for concern is on the defensive side of the ball. Only five starters return to a top-ranked OU defense, which may be the Sooners' kryptonite against a consistently athletic Longhorn offense.
The losses of Gerald McCoy and Austin English will hurt, but the Sooners have arguably the best pass rusher in the Big 12 with Jeremy Beal. Expect Beal to cause havoc in the backfield, with only two returning Texas offensive linemen. The primary issue will be at linebacker, where all-conference selection Travis Lewis is the lone returning starter.
Keep your eye on: WR Ryan Broyles
Broyles emerged as the favorite target for Landry Jones, accumulating 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore. It should be fun to watch Broyles compete against a stout Texas secondary.
Following the heartbreaking injury to Colt McCoy and loss to Alabama, all eyes will be on quarterback Garrett Gilbert as he emerges as the new face of the Texas Longhorns—only their third quarterback in eight years.
It's safe to say that Longhorn fans are encouraged by the youngster's potential, given the fact that he's already played (and did well) in a bigger game than most of the players in the country have ever played in.
Besides McCoy, the biggest loss offensively for the Longhorns will be on the o-line, as they lose three decorated veterans including Adam Ulatoski. In addition, the Horns lose All-American WR Jordan Shipley to the NFL and WR Dan Buckner, who transferred to Arizona. This leaves the athletic Jon Chiles and James Kirkendoll as Gilbert's primary targets, both of whom can make big plays.
It looks like Tre Newton will emerge as the premier ball-carrier, and must be ready to make a significant impact in play-making and yardage production. It's likely that Mack Brown will somewhat alter his offensive scheme, given that his past two quarterbacks have made major contributions to the running game.
Defensively, Texas will be led by their experienced secondary who, despite the loss of Earl Thomas, should emerge as possibly the best in the Big 12, as they return three starters.
Expect safety Black Gideon to build on his improvement last season and make some big plays in 2010. Despite the return of Lott Trophy finalist Sam Acho, the Texas defensive line looks to be suspect. The Horns lose star DE Sergio Kindle, leaving Kheeston Randall and Emmanuel Acho to anchor the line. In addition look for bother Acho to emerge as a force at linebacker.
Overall, with seven returning starters, the Longhorn defense looks poised to be among the leagues best.
Keep your eye on: QB Garrett Gilbert
All eyes are on Gilbert to follow in the footsteps of Vince and Colt McCoy, amid great losses at WR and an O-line that was spectacular in 2009.
Predicted winner: Oklahoma
Bob Stoops knows where his team stands offensively, which will be the key in this matchup. Expect Landry Jones and the Sooner offense to be successful in this one. The Longhorn defensive line and linebackers must bring their A game in order to contain DeMarco Murray, who is my chosen MVP for the game.
The key for the Longhorns will be on the offensive side. If Texas can match Oklahoma in yardage and points, the Horns will have a much better chance of coming away with a win. If not, expect to see the Sooners pull off the upset. I have a lot faith in Bob Stoops' offense which I think will be reason enough for Oklahoma to take the game.