Pearle -- This Texas-OU clash has shaped up to be one of the most exhilarating and crucial games that I can remember the Horns playing. Both teams ranked in the top five. Both teams in the Big 12 South, needing to step over the others prostrated body to get to the conference title game. Both teams dripping with bitter malice towards each other dating back over 100 years. Youve got last years OU demolition that promises to have the Horns seeing more than just a little Sooner red. Youve got trash-talkin from OU coach Bob Stoops, turning a fairly innocuous remark by Mack Brown concerning last years game into an affront to the entire Sooner program, the state of Oklahoma, and everybody whos ever driven through it. Youve got the barbs of Stoops brother Mike from earlier this season degrading Chris Simms. Youve got prize Lone Star recruit Tommie Harris shunning the Horns to start at DT for the Okies. Man, what have I missed!? Add to these WWF sidelights the fact that these two teams are absolutely explosive on both sides of the ball, and you have the makings of what could be one of the best college football games ever.
So whos gonna win this bad boy? Well, I have believed since OU made its magic run last season that Stoops & Co. have too much mojo workin for Texas to be able to handle this Sooner team, which returned the bulk of the squad that toppled Florida State last January. I still believe it today, particularly after watching every minute of their punch-out with K-State last weekend. (In case you need reminding, OU has now won three straight over the Wildcats -- that is strong). The Sooners believe, and Stoops and his staff give them the reason. This game is played as much between the ears as it is between the stripes, and I am afraid that OU has the edge in confidence and swagger. Seventeen straight! And those 17, which came against a whos who of college footballs titans, werent won with smoke and mirrors, but with hard-working soldiers like Rocky Calmus, Roy Williams, and Quentin Griffin whove executed game after game after game. Nate Hybl has not looked near as effective to me as Josh Heupel, but the guy has made plays and improved. Theres a drop-off, but its not a fall from Everest.
On the other hand, this Longhorns team has looked devastating. I love what I am seeing this season. The addition of guys like Nate Vasher, Derrick Johnson and Ivan Williams to the mix of seasoned veterans has produced a faster, harder-hitting, more physical football team. With the maturation of Chris Simms, Roy, BJ, Tony Jeffery and Sloan, with the re-emergence of Bo Scaife, with the destructiveness of Quentin Jammer and Kalen Thornton, and with the steady play of special teamers Beau Trahan, Dusty Mangum and Brian Bradford, I believe the 01 Horns are better, way better, than they were in 00. Texas does not appear to have any real weaknesses, so I think they will line up Saturday and take every shot the Sooners deliver without flinching. And I think that the final blow wont be landed until the last second has ticked off the clock. When it does, though, I think the scoreboards gonna tell a tale that will be hard to take. I think its gonna read OU 31, Texas 27.
Ross -- This is the most difficult pick I think I've ever made. The struggle in my mind is this: if the current situation were reversed, with the Horns coming off a national championship season and returning the vast majority of the team that had beaten Oklahoma last year 63-14, I think I would scoff at anyone foolish enough to pick the Sooners in this year's game. Blind Okie optimism, I'd probably call it. But is it blind Longhorn optimism to think Texas can indeed win this game? No. The Horns are capable of beating OU. The Sooners, of course, are also capable of beating UT. Match-up wise, this game should be fairly even, with the Horns having a slight edge on offense, the teams virtually equal on defense and the Sooners having the edge on special teams. Which to me means this game, as it so often does, will turn on intangibles and frankly, I don't know where that advantage lies. Is it with Texas, a team potentially hell-bent on avenging last year's embarrassment, or is it with Oklahoma, a team supremely confident based on last year's huge win and run to the national title? Is it with UT after smashing Texas Tech, a less-talented clone of the team in Norman, in its best performance of the season, or is it with OU after beating a top 15 team in a close one? Is it with the Horns who are on a mission to prove to the pundits that this team has heart, or is it with the Sooners who, despite 17 consecutive wins, are ranked below Miami and Florida and who are underdogs to the team they demolished 63-14 last fall? I just don't know. Last season, going in, most signs pointed to a Texas win. This season, those signs are mixed. So, who do I pick, knowing that what the teams have shown so far doesn't necessarily mean a thing come Saturday? Who do I pick knowing that the intangibles can tilt this game strongly in favor of either team? Who do I pick? Oklahoma. It pains me to do so, and I hope I am proven wrong, but I must go back to the reverse scenario above. I believe both the Sooners and Horns (finally!) are worthy of their high rankings, but my instinct tells me that overall -- the combination of talent, coaching, motivation and attitude -- OU is still a better football team than UT. Oklahoma 35, Texas 27.