"If you look at the parity in college football, it usually comes down to who plays best that day," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Ohio State may be good enough not to have to play well every week and still win, but most teams have to play good when they're playing a team like themselves."
Personally, I'd say there is a fine line separating the teams: Texas' offensive line. This may be the best O-line that Brown has ever fielded; the ninth-year Texas coach estimates that RS-quarterback Colt McCoy has "only been touched three or four times" this season. Conversely, Oklahoma's inexperienced offensive front was further hit by attrition when J.D. Quinn was dismissed in early August along with QB Rhett Bomar. Adrian Peterson has become his own blocker, and Texas wins this game if he's held to 100 yards. Peterson barely got his uniform dirty in 2004; he'll be hit harder than at any time in his career this Saturday because 1) his line is shoddy, 2) Texas' defensive front may be its finest in a quarter-century and 3) Longhorn coaches have basically stirred the collective embers of the D by suggesting they havent proven much yet.
But when people ask me to name the X-Factor in this series, I always reply 'Greg Davis.' After all, neither Cedric Benson nor Roy Williams ever scored a TD against OU on Davis' watch (not to mention the shutout in 2004, ending the nation's longest scoring streak that had stood for 24 years). If Sooner QB Paul Thompson can get the ball downfield, and Davis opts not to, then the Sooners will win by 10 points. (This would indicate that OU is running the ball effectively and that Davis has regressed to pre-Vince Young stature.) Davis has long maintained that he prefers to go deep once or twice a quarter, and Texas went up-top at least a dozen times in last year's 45-12 runaway because OU contained VY as a running threat. Decent teams have been able to throw on OU. The Sooners are giving up 191.25 ypg passing (NCAA No. 60). If QB Colt McCoy is as poised and accurate as Texas coaches say he is, then he is capable of more than hitches, curls, bubble screens and that lateral pass down the LOS that never gets anwhere against a team with OU's closing speed.
This is an amazingly cyclical series, and history is currently on Texas' side. The Horns are not scheduled to lose again until, say, 2009. But this one will be won in the trenches. Texas 24, Oklahoma 17.
Ross Lucksinger, InsideTexas.com Editor -- Both teams may have one loss, but this game is a must-win for both and will have all of the passion we've come to associate with the annual shootout at the State Fair. However, the game will only be slightly more competitive than last year's, as Texas holds the advantage in the most important areas. Where would that be? I'll quote Clendon on this one: "It's the lines, stupid!"
The Texas offensive line will be able to move the ball on the ground and give Colt McCoy sufficient time in the passing game to work the Longhorns down the field, but the real advantage is the Texas defensive line vs. the OU offensive line. The Horns boast the nations' No. 2 rush defense and the performance of the front four (no matter which four they decide to put up front) has been nothing short of spectacular. Adrian Peterson has made a lot this season out of very little running room, but he'll have virtually none this game.
This is not to say that Texas will completely shut down the Oklahoma offense. QB Paul Thompson has been significantly better than expected this season. Of course, the OU defense has been significantly worse than expected. Assuming the Longhorns don't suddenly catch an epidemic of fumble-itis and McCoy doesn't suffer an absolute meltdown, expect Texas to roll.
Blowout like last year? No. But Texas comes out of the Cotton Bowl with a solid win over a Top 15 team, in the driver's seat for the Big 12 Championship and, maybe, a shot at getting back into the national title picture. Texas 27, Oklahoma 17.
Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor -- The questions are different for Mack Brown this year. The week prior to the Oklahoma game in years past have been a bit difficult to endure for the Longhorns and their leader prior to 2005. But now, instead of "Why do you think youve had trouble beating Oklahoma?", most of the questions thrown toward the Texas coach are actually about the game itself.
Thats what a crystal national championship football in your atrium can do for you it relieves tension, lifts burdens, eases angst. But now Texas fans want Mack Brown to do it again. As of Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Dallas, the honeymoon will be over.
Actually, for Brown, Saturday will prolong his honeymoon because the Longhorns will win the football game. They have the better offensive and defensive lines, and they have more weapons on offense. Granted, the Sooners might have the best football player on the field Saturday in Adrian Peterson. The problem is, whoever the second-best player on the field is for Bob Stoops team can barely see Peterson ahead of him.
The Longhorns dont have Peterson, but they have Jamaal Charles, and Selvin Young and Henry Melton. They have big-play receivers. Most importantly, on the defensive side of the ball, the Longhorns have a Cotton Bowl-full of talented and experienced players. The Sooners dont, and that will cost them Saturday. How many Oklahoma defensive players would start for Texas? Three? Two?
The Longhorns will run the ball effectively, as they have in every game they have played this year, forcing Peterson to watch the great majority of the game from the sidelines. Hell gain 140 yards on 30 carries, but he will be the whole show for the Sooners. The Longhorns, on the other hand, will spread 175 rushing yards around to four or five players and will score on at least one play of 40 or more yards, because Oklahoma gives up a couple of ground-gobbling plays each game.
Despite this Burnt Orange leaning, as everyone knows, weird things can happen in this game. Should the Longhorns turn the ball over or give up a long return of some sort to the dangerous Reggie Smith all bets are off. No one truly knows how Texas will respond if OU jumps to a 10-0 lead. Vince Young, if you havent heard, is gone.
Something else Greg Johnson has performed admirably this season with one glaring exception: a botched field goal try against Ohio State. With punting and kickoff duties also on his to-do list for Saturday, ask yourself this question about him: if Texas needs a 45-yard field goal at the end of the game to win, how will you feel?
Confident, but uneasy.
But dont worry. If games are truly won up front, then Texas will win this game comfortably. Texas 28, Oklahoma 14.
Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher -- I've been on a roller-coaster ride for weeks deciding who I like in this game, and it has nothing to do with the State Fair.
Once OU booted Rhett Bomar and J.D. Quinn, I felt that the Sooners' obvious edge had been removed and that with Paul Thompson at quarterback, OU would be far less of a threat to beat Texas. But after watching Oklahoma for a couple of games this year, I have been impressed with Thompson's poise and his ability to find his receivers. Let's just say he looks far from clueless out there, and much better than I would have expected from a guy who's a converted receiver. Thompson is undoubtedly benefitting from a healthy Adrian Peterson, but together they make a formidable pair. As for Peterson, well, when healthy, as he will be Saturday, its hard to recall a more devastating running back.
And then there is the Mack Brown-Greg Davis factor. After beating OU bad last season, the focus has shifted away somewhat from the fact that Texas had lost five straight to OU prior to that game. But it is a fair question whether the Horns can beat Oklahoma without a once-in-a-lifetime stud leading them, as they did with Vince Young last season. Without Vince, will Brown and Davis go back to their old ways and tighten up with an ultra-conservative game plan, trying to make sure Colt McCoy does not make a mistake to lose the game, rather than letting him try and make plays to win? I would say that the coaches surely must have learned their lesson by now, but after watching the Ohio State loss, I am not sure. Visions of that 24-7 loss, with throw after throw into the flat, and the 12-0 loss to OU in 2004, keep clouding my vision.
So much for the trough of the roller coaster. That sucker starts rising again when I think about all of the speed, depth and talent Brown has amassed on both sides of the ball. Texas has great talent at the skill positions, very good offensive and defensive lines and not one, but two talented, heady young quarterbacks who are rapidly maturing. With Drew Kelson returning from injury and Sergio Kindle starting to find his form, the Horns have explosive players at linebacker, guys who have the speed to help keep Peterson from breaking the long ones.
As for coaching, well, by god, Mack Brown, with Greg Davis, Gene Chizik and Duane Akina, brought Texas a national title last season and kicked the dog out of OU and Bob Stoops in the process. They know what it takes to win this football game and they have a one-game streak going. Colt McCoy will be allowed to make plays for Texas and should become another in a prestigious line of UT freshman quarterbacks who have won this game in their first try.
Defensively, as good as Paul Thompson has played, he still is relatively inexperienced, and I am sure the defensive staff will throw in some wrinkles to keep him confused and off balance. I like Texas' chances to limit Thompson's effectiveness throwing the ball, and load up to stop Peterson. Adrian will get his 100-plus, but won't continually maul the Horns as he did in 2004.
The game will be a close, brutal slug-fest well into the fourth quarter, but Texas will hang on for the victory. When the gun sounds late Saturday, guys like me will finally begin believing that this Texas team, without Vince Young, but with Colt McCoy and plenty of speed, talent and heart surrounding him, is the real deal. Texas 27, OU 24.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher -- Back in August, I was pretty outspoken in my belief that the pundits had it wrong about Texas and Oklahoma's respective place in the Big 12 pecking order. But that was before any actual football had been played. So, perhaps I should reevaluate my stance from back then based on knowledge gleaned from the first five weeks of the season.
The big picture: heading into the first weekend in October, Texas isn't quite as good as I expected (although not by much) and Oklahoma is a bit better than I expected (although not by much). The Texas offense has indeed been largely "deliberate", as I expected from Mack Brown and Greg Davis with a freshman at signal caller, although I expected the tight end to be a bigger part of that philosophy. The Oklahoma offense has been a bit better overall than I expected, largely due to Paul Thompson playing better than expected at the QB position. Adrian Peterson is, well, Adrian Peterson, one of the most gifted running backs in college football. On the defensive side of the ball, both the Horns (slightly) and the Sooners (much more so) have disappointed. I expected much better play from the Texas linebackers than we've seen so far, and that has diminished the overall effectiveness of the defense. The Oklahoma defense, though, is far from the unit projected as potentially one of the stingiest in the country. Instead, teams have gouged the Sooners running up the middle (both Washington and Oregon averaged approximately 5 yards per carry) and the biggest defensive concern going into the season, the secondary, has proven that concern to be warranted (OU gave up almost 700 passing yards in its first three games).
Fundamentally, though, the main reasons why I liked Texas over Oklahoma in the preseason remain in place: the Horns are superior on both lines (particularly on the O-line), and I believe that is where this game will be won for Texas on Saturday. I would have predicted a substantial margin of victory back in August. I'm not that confident now, which means turnovers (or an overly conservative gameplan from Mack Brown and Greg Davis) could tilt a close one to Oklahoma. But I see the start of a Longhorn streak by dusk in Dallas. Texas 27, Oklahoma 17.
Pat Culpepper, Special to Inside Texas -- Texas 21, Oklahoma 17.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 28, Oklahoma 17.
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