Frisbie -- Texas-OU is a clash so epic this year that not one, but two, national television sports programs (ABC-Sports; ESPN GameDay) will broadcast live from the Cotton Bowl Saturday.
Both universities are ranked in the Top Three. Both offenses are sporadic; both defenses are "so good it's scary." Both punt return teams are explosive; both FG kickers are chanting and channeling and visualizing and doing anything to restore lost karma. Both are loaded on both sides of the ball. Both have mentally booked round-trip flights to Tempe, Arizona, the first week in January.
Both would rather lose to the Taliban than to the other.
What, then, will be the difference Saturday when the Horns and the Sooners tee it up for the 97th time?
The offensive line? When I saw how the big meat-eaters up front couldn't consistently push around North Texas, Tulane or Oklahoma State in rush blocking, I worried how they were possibly going to impede DT Tommie Harris (or, Tommy Hilfiger, for that matter).
Coaching? Here's what I saw last year: an OU player botches an assignment and he gets corralled on the sideline where both OU head coach Bob Stoops and one of the coordinators simultaneously rip the kid a new one as he hangs his head in humble contrition ("I'm sorry, sir! No excuses, sir! It won't happen again, sir!"). Meanwhile, a Texas player blows a play and he gets a hug.
Now hear this: I don't doubt for one nano-second Mack Brown's desire to win. Losses eat at him. You will never hear him refer to a loss as a "blip on the radar screen" or suggest Texas fans "learn to live with" losing. In fact, Brown said at the end of the OSU game he would prefer "to beat the living daylights out of people." And if I had an 18-year old, blue chip son who had his pick of athletic scholarships, I would want him in Brown's program that emphasizes a high level of expectation, integrity, toughness and positive-ness. Brown is a better fit at Texas than Stoops would be, and Brown will bring championship trophies to the Forty Acres.
But what is evident about Stoops (publicly, at least) is not just his brashness but also his fire in the belly (the kind associated with the Jimmy Johnson's, Steve Spurrier's and Barry Switzer's of the world). There is just enough of a ‘fear factor' associated with Stoops that losing is inconceivable, and it trickles down to his players. They can play poorly but find a way to pull it out at the end.
Enter Oklahoma State. They did in Norman last November what Texas hasn't done at a neutral site since '99. How did the Cowboys do it?
First of all, they bottled up OU's running game. Texas can do that.
Then they won the turnover battle. Texas can do that. In fact, it's just about all that UT coaches have been preaching to QB Chris Simms.
Finally, the Cowboys scored two touchdowns. (Two touchdowns beats OU last year; it should be enough Saturday).
This may be a time when my subjectivity (i.e., my emotional investment in the outcome) clouds my judgment. In short, I'm glad I'm in Dallas and not in Vegas.
Because I believe that RB Cedric Benson with turf toe is still more effective than a healthy Oklahoma RB Quentin Griffin.
I believe that, at least one damn time, DE Cory Redding becomes the playmaker, that Redding takes complete control of the outcome and literally wills the team to win (a sack would be nice).
I believe that special teams will come up big at least once (CB/PR Nathan Vasher is not 100 percent, but maybe RB/PR Selvin Young breaks one, or Tony Jeffery gets a hand on a punt).
I believe if the ground game is ineffective, then five-wides gets Texas into the red zone at least twice.
I believe that if there is a football God, then class-act Simms wins this one.
I believe in my favorite Darrell Royal-ism: "Trends are bunk; angry men win football games."
Are you angry, Texas? Does the thought of losing three-in-a-row to the Evil Empire (that would be 0-for-the 21st Century) get ya just a little hot and bothered?
How about one defensive/special teams touchdown, one offensive touchdown and Dusty Mangum connects on one-of-three?
Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Texas 17, Oklahoma 13.
Pearle -- Since Mack Brown's first season at Texas, I've honestly believed that the Horns would walk out a winner in all but maybe three of their games -- Nebraska in ‘99 in Austin, Colorado in Boulder in ‘00, and OU last year. Texas beat the Huskers and Buffs, but not the Sooners. OU destroyed the Horns in ‘00 and then beat them last season by being tougher in the fourth quarter.
My biggest worry is that with those two wins, the Sooners have gotten inside the Horns' heads. I know they've gotten inside mine. It happens. Who would believe that the Dallas Cowboys have beaten the Washington Redskins nine straight times, dating back to 1997 -- nine straight -- no matter how lousy the Pokes have been or how successful the ‘Skins? But Dallas walks on that field just knowing they are gonna notch the ‘W'. OU has no where close to a streak like that going, but they have a streak nonetheless, which began with one of the worst defeats of Texas ever in UT history.
OU does not have better personnel than Texas -- go down the list: would you trade Chris Simms for Nate Hybl? No way. Would you trade Cedric Benson for Quentin Griffin? Uh uh. How ‘bout Derrick Johnson for Teddy Lehman? Forget it. Roy Williams for Antwone Savage? Puh-lease. OK, I would definitely take Tommie Harris for just about anybody, but that's one guy.
But there's something about the Sooners -- for the same reason I can't stand the sight of them, I respect and fear them: they are aggressive and in your face -- and that's just their coaches! Sure, Nebraska and Okie State proved OU is mortal last season, but OU has proven that Texas is shaky in the biggest game on either teams' schedule the last two years.
The pressure is enormous on both teams in this game no matter what the rankings. This year, with the teams ranked #2 and #3, the pressure is magnified ten-fold. My take is that of the two, Texas is feeling the heat more than OU.
Brown, Simms, and the Texas Longhorns, in that order, must show the country that the UT program is for big-time, national-championship, prime-time real. They must show that Bob Stoops does not own Mack Brown, that OU does not rule Texas, and that Texas has the mettle to do what OU did two years ago -- take on the best of the Big 12, be crowned Kings of the Conference, and wind up National Champs.
It's a huge load to carry.
Can they handle it? Sure they can, but it will take a great performance by Simms, maybe his best ever, making plays to win the game this year and not plays to lose it. It will take a an offensive line that must be much better than it has been at opening holes for Benson and keeping the heat off of Simms. It will take a kamikaze effort by the defense, led by Derrick Johnson who, as a sophomore, can proclaim himself as one of the nation's best defenders with a ball-hawking, dominating game. It will take a rebound, gut-check effort by Dusty Mangum, who was ineffective at best against OSU and who will almost assuredly be called on to rack up some points Saturday.
And most importantly, it will take a team effort fueled by anger -- anger for the last two years, anger for Mike Stoops' low-class shots at Simms, anger over hearing Sooner players talking about how Burnt Orange makes them puke -- anger, by god!
Darrell said it -- angry people win football games, and Texas should be steamed on Saturday. Somehow, I think the Horns will pull this thing out. I'm going Texas 20, OU 17.
Ross -- For grins, I looked back at my pick in last year's Texas-OU game and I found the first line -- "This is the most difficult pick I think I've ever made" -- even more true this year than last. Just like last season, I believe UT has the talent to beat Oklahoma. I still question, however, whether Texas has the mentality to break the Sooners' streak in the series. Look no further than last year's game, a game which UT arguably outplayed OU but still couldn't crack the newfound Sooner mystique. It's not that I think Oklahoma is infallible or unbeatable. It isn't, as Nebraska and lowly Oklahoma State proved last season. And it's not that I think the Longhorn players don't believe they can win the game; they do. It's that I think the OU players, under the Stoops brother, know they will win this game. It's an attitude that gives the guys from North of the Red River a distinct advantage in this game, an advantage they will have until Texas wins again in the series. Bob Stoops has carefully cultivated that 'tude (and it surely doesn't help the Horns' cause that the odds makers have again played right into the motivational hands of the OU head coach by "snubbing" the Sooners and installing UT as the slight favorite). The worm-turning win could indeed come Saturday for Texas. If the Horns can get on top early, particularly with a Chris Simms'-led TD drive, I think OU's mental edge will be somewhat mitigated. If the Oklahoma defense tees off on Simms and Cedric Benson early -- which is a distinct possibility given the great OU defensive line and the erratic UT OL -- watch out. Sadly, I'm compelled to close this pick as I closed last year's: "It pains me to do so, and I hope I am proven wrong . . . 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 20, Texas 16.