Red River Rivalry : The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

Dan WeinerCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2009

DALLAS - OCTOBER 11:  A general view of the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns during the Red River Rivalry at the Cotton Bowl on October 11, 2008 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Florida is going to play in the BCS national title game.

I really wish I could be contrarian and suggest that the Gators won't be in Pasadena, but I can't.  There is simply too much talent and depth for the Gators not to dominate the SEC.  The SEC is a tough league, but the Gators are a cut above.  Or two cuts. Or three.  Really, it's hard to say.

 Even if a monumental upset happens, a 12-1 Florida team will play for the national title, unless that monumental upset happens in the SEC Championship game.  The sooner we all realize that it's happening, the easier it will be to accept it.

The other participant in this year's national championship game will likely be decided on October 17th in Dallas.  The Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma has always been among the most heated in College Football.  The 2009 edition could be the biggest game in series history.

The Longhorns are still hurting.  A dream season turned nightmare in Lubbock as national title hopes began fading on a west Texas night.  Oklahoma crushed Texas Tech.  The Big 12 tie breaker favored the Sooners.  Oklahoma went to the national title game and Texas settled for the Fiesta Bowl. 

The Sooners lost to Florida by the same margin by which they lost to Texas.  Both games took place on a neutral field.  That fact stings Texas.  They have October 17th circled on the calendar. 

First, they have some revenge to extract upon the Red Raiders on September 19th.  Other than that, they shouldn't be challenged before the Oklahoma game.

What if you're Oklahoma?  All you've heard all off-season is about how angry Texas is and how you can't win Bowl games anymore.  You've heard all this talk about how your offensive line is a huge question mark.  Your Heisman winning quarterback has taken a back seat to Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy in terms of pre-season hype.

But your a damn good football team too.  You played a better non-conference schedule and put together more impressive looking wins than Texas did last year so your appearance in the title game was justified.  You're angry, too.

Yes, you have a tougher non-conference slate than the Longhorns again, but BYU and Miami aren't good enough to beat you.  You can't wait for October 17th either.

The juiciest rivalry in college football right now couldn't take place in a better environment.  Georgia and Florida can talk about the neutrality of their game in Jacksonville, but that's baloney.  The state fair of Texas in Dallas is almost equidistant from the Texas and Oklahoma campuses.  The seating is split right down the middle of the stadium at the 50 yard line.

From the moment the teams come out of the locker rooms that are less than 10 feet away from each other and down the one tunnel into the stadium the nerves either turn to Jell-o or steel.  There is no in between.

One side of the stadium is exultant while the other is forlorn every moment of the game after kick off.  By the end, one side of the stadium will still be packed with either burnt orange or crimson clad revelers while the other side is deserted with the blue and white seats of the Cotton Bowl left empty.

The setting is one of the things that makes this the greatest rivalry in college football at the moment.  The success of the programs is another.  Texas and Oklahoma have been at their best points concurrently since the early part of the decade. 

With USC breaking in a freshman quarterback, a lot of new players on defense and two new coordinators, a national title run is unlikely.  Every other team has major question marks.  The winner of the Texas-Oklahoma game will likely play Florida for the national championship.

I was lucky enough to cover the 2005 edition of the rivalry.  That year the Longhorns pounded the Sooners en route to a national championship.  I followed mammoth Texas Lineman Justin Blalock up the tunnel towards the post game area.  At that moment an Oklahoma fan leaned over the railing and shouted at him.

"It's OK, YOU STILL SUCK." shouted the upset Sooner.

Pride has always been on the line when Texas and Oklahoma meet in early October.  There has been as much pride at stake in this rivalry as there has been in any other rivalry.  In 2009, there's a whole lot more at stake.

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