For good reason, the game between Nebraska and Texas in Lincoln on Oct. 16 is getting top billing from pundits this offseason. If you think I’m lying, check out ESPN.com Big 12 blogger David Ubben’s recent poll, which attempts to find a proper nickname for what could be a preview of the conference title game.
But I don’t fancy Texas’ chances of making a repeat trip to Arlington in December if it can’t take care of business two weeks prior to the Nebraska game, when it faces OU in Dallas.
As always, the Red River Shootout will be one of the marquee games on the college football schedule, and its implications will be just as crucial to the aspirations of the Sooners, who will look to break the Longhorns’ two-game winning streak in the series.
Last season, defense ruled the day. Neither offense was able to crack the goal line more than once, and the teams combined for eight turnovers. For two teams with so much offensive firepower, it was a contest of epically ugly proportions, and the X factor was a fourth-quarter field goal by Hunter Lawrence to give Texas the 16-13 win.
Aside from a few more points being scored, the 2010 edition of this rivalry should much of the same. Both teams should, all in probability, be ranked somewhere in the top 8 or 10 when preseason polls are released, and despite OU’s brutal non-conference schedule (Air Force, Florida State, at Cincinnati), neither team is in overwhelming danger of suffering a blemish in September.
Whether he’s aware or not, this year’s Red River game features an interesting side note for Brown. If Texas captures its third win in a row over Oklahoma, the head-to-head series between Brown and Stoops will be even at six wins per side, marking the first time since 2000 that Brown has been level with his counterpart.
That season, an OU win evened the series between Stoops and Brown, who a season before, in 1999, took the first matchup between the two.
Furthermore, a Texas win in 2010 would mark the first time the Longhorns have defeated the Sooners three times in succession since 1997-99.
Texas leads the all-time series 59-40-5.
As for a comprehensive preview of the game, I’ll leave that to the Oklahoma and Texas Featured Columnists.
That being said, as a Big 12 guy, I feel compelled to at least lay out what I think will be crucial to the success of both teams:
•Is Garrett Gilbert ready to handle his first Red River Shootout? What we saw from the first-year starter against Alabama was by no means a large enough sample size, but the kid’s clearly got the talent and can win. For God’s sake, he hasn’t lost a game since, like, Pee Wee League. Will that be enough going against the best defense he’ll likely face all season?
•And what about Landry Jones? Thrust into action after Sam Bradford went down, he was effective at times in this game last season, but during others the deer-in-headlights look took over. Can he limit mistakes and manage the game as the Sooners’ No. 1 quarterback?
•Can the Horns reload effectively enough on defense? The NFL ravaged the unit, and did so at all three levels, claiming safety Earl Thomas, end/linebacker Sergio Kindle, tackle Lamarr Houston, and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy in this year’s draft. Granted, this is Texas, so coming up with interchangeable parts should not be a monumental task. The question is, will those parts be firmly in place by early October?
•Will OU’s offensive line care to show up this season? Stoops broke in numerous new starters up front in 2009, and it showed at times, particularly against Texas. Forget about the free run by corner Aaron Williams that resulted in Bradford’s injury and early exit; I want to know if the Sooners can improve on the -16 yards they gained on 22 carries against Texas last season. If experience doesn’t translate for the big guys, and the offense can't find a balance, Oklahoma—and, more specifically, Jones—could be in trouble.
•Speaking of running games, does Texas have one? And, if so, will it hop on the team bus before it leaves for Dallas? The Longhorns did average 147.6 yards on the ground last season, but that was only fifth-best in a defensively deficient Big 12. During spring ball, Brown admitted that due to the efficiency of his team’s passing attack, the run was often ignored because, well, it wasn’t needed. With the inexperienced Gilbert under center, will Brown call on the likes of Fozzy Whittaker and Tré Newton with more frequency?
•Will the teams get caught looking ahead? The week prior, OU visits defending Big East champ and BCS bowl participant Cincinnati. If the Sooners stumble, it can only because they have Bevo on the mind. Likewise, Texas must guard against a letdown at home versus an upstart UCLA team. If both the Sooners and Longhorns go down and slip in the polls one week prior to their showdown, will some of the luster be chipped away?
OK, fine, here's a prediction: Oklahoma, 23-17