Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer – The Texas-Oklahoma game changed my life. Literally.
I was a casual Longhorn fan until a friend took me to the 1977 shootout between No. 5 Texas and No. 2 OU. I was 16-years old and had never been to the State Fair, let alone a Texas-OU game. By the end of the improbable 13-7 Longhorn upset, my blood pumped Burnt Orange. It was as if Texas football, and especially this rivalry, became part of my DNA. I doubt very seriously that I would be writing this column today if it weren't for that game 31 years ago.
God help me, I love it so.
Surveying the landscape of this year's team, I would have predicted six weeks ago an historic Oklahoma beatdown along the lines of the 65-13 debacle in 2003. Now, I think Texas has a fighting chance Saturday. Many consider the 2003 edition of Sooner football the finest of the Bob Stoops era, but even that team ran into a Kansas State buzzsaw and one Will Muschamp on the LSU sideline during the BCS National Title game. Muschamp is one of two reasons why a no-name Longhorn team can hang with college football's No. 1 team. He's manufactured the nation's No. 1 sack attack, No. 2 Red Zone defense and No. 3 run defense. Quick -- when's the last time Texas has had a finer front seven than the one Muschamp is directing now? More important, the guys have their ears pinned back and with the type of intensity that was MIA most of last season.
The other reason is Colt McCoy. The junior has put up incredible numbers but his greatest assets cannot be measured: leadership, poise, heart and hustle. McCoy has played extraordinarily well in this game the past two seasons. You can't help but think that, if not for last year's turnovers, the Horns would be riding a three-game series win streak into Dallas.
It's just that Bob Stoops has a knack for identifying and eliminating Texas' strength. His defense will clamp down on McCoy's running lanes and force Texas to try to win with either Quan Cosby or Jordan Shipley. The lack of a running game, a stretch-the-field TE, lock-down corners or experience at safeties will be the difference-maker. Both teams are playing better than most anticipated, and OU looks like a bonafide No. 1 team. Both teams are averaging nearly half-a-hundred points. First one to 50 wins?
"You never know what kind of game you're going to get," said DE Brian Orakpo. "It could be 3-2 or 50-48."
Unless one team uncharacteristically has a rash of turnovers, OU looks like a seven-point favorite heading into this one. Oklahoma 30, Texas 23.
Even so -- Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!
Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor – I'm going to do it. I'm going to pick Texas to beat Oklahoma on Saturday.
But making this prediction gives me the same anxiousness in the pit of stomach that I have when my 9-year-old daughter comes to bat: I know she can hit the ball, but I'm sure as hell not sure she will hit the ball.
Sure is sweet when she does, though.
Actually, though my prediction likely rests closer to fantasy than reality, I do believe it is based on some fundamental truths, and some "inside" information directly from Sooner Nation. More on that last part later.
The primary reason I am picking Texas is this: the Longhorns will be able to find Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford – a Heisman Trophy candidate – will be right there in the pocket where he always is, standing tall and wearing #14. He won't run much – not nearly as much as Colt McCoy – and he has shown that he is much more comfortable in the pocket than out.
Furthermore, Texas defensive coach Will Muschamp has placed a priority on rushing the passer. His entire scheme this week will be based on rushing the passer, and he'll be able to say to his team, "Fellas, we know where the quarterback will be – we just have to figure out how to get to him." Call it the Boom-Mofo theory.
I believe UT is well-equipped for harassing Bradford, and well-matched for that versus Oklahoma. The Sooners have gigantic offensive linemen; Texas' defensive linemen are quick and fast. Hence, Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle will spend more time in the Oklahoma backfield than a mid-70s Norman loan officer. The Longhorns' defensive line is based and built on speed; the Sooners are all power. I envision – in my personal Shangri-La – Orakpo sprinting around the Sooners and separating Bradford from the football. OU is Ohio State up front; UT is Florida and LSU and USC and whoever else good is playing against the Buckeyes. Speed whips strength every time; the story about the tortoise and the hare is crap.
And as good as Bradford is, I'm not convinced he's creative enough to make big plays when there is chaos all around him. He certainly didn't last year in the second half against Colorado. He's a golfer, and he's prone to using golf analysis when he talks; he believes in patience, in playing "within himself." Put the drive in the fairway, hit the green in regulation, two-putt and go play the next hole. Muschamp is the photographer clicking in Bradford's backswing.
In contrast, Colt McCoy seems to thrive on the broken play. Outside the pocket he is at his best; he might run for a first down – or more – or he might just sling it over his shoulder to Jordan Shipley in the end zone, as he did last week against Colorado. I don't see that trait in Bradford. Yes, Bradford won last year's game versus McCoy, but this year's Texas defense is better, as is McCoy. And frankly, if not for a pair of inside-OU-territory turnovers last season, the Longhorns might very well have won that game.
Now, as to my "inside information."
My wife is an OU grad, and my father-in-law has lived in Norman his entire life. He still feels real pain when he sees Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers return that punt against the Sooners in 1971. When I asked him, before I married his daughter, if he was bothered by the fact that I was 14 years older than Angie, he said. "Oh no, not it all. But it bothers me that you're from Texas." He calls Barry Switzer "The King" and revels in all things Sooner, on and off the field. All of which to say: he knows OU football.
My "inside information" is this – this week my father-in-law's demeanor is much as it was in 2005 in the week leading up to Vince Young blowing up the crimson and cream. He hasn't called much to verbally abuse me, and he seems subdued, apprehensive, much less bombastic than normal.
Why is he feeling this way, I asked him earlier this week.
The Sooners' kicking game is shaky. They've missed two extra points, and most importantly, their kickoffs (and there have been plenty of those) usually do not travel into the end zone. On the other side of the field, Justin Tucker consistently kicks the ball into the end zone for the Longhorns. In my Disneyland, OU must drive the ball 80 yards for a touchdown on most of their drives. And on the rare occasions when the Sooners punt, it doesn't go very far, either.
So here's what must happen for Texas to win: Texas must and will rush Bradford, who will predictably be sitting in the pocket, causing a fumble and/or an interception. Secondly, McCoy must be McCoy, and there is nothing to indicate that he will be anything less than that against the Sooners. And as a seven-point underdog, the Longhorns must win the kicking game; I suspect they will, based on prior performances this year.
More often than not, my daughter hits the ball when she bats, despite my fear and trepidation. Texas 28, Oklahoma 21.
Ross Lucksinger, Inside Texas Editor – There is no bigger mismatch in college football.
No, I'm not talking about the game itself. Despite the tremendous margins by which previous Texas-OU games have been won, by either side, this one will be a squeaker. Even though the Oklahoma Sooners go into Saturday's contest ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, with the jolt of confidence that this Texas team has been infused with, no team has a significant psychological advantage over the other.
What I am talking about is the modern tight end. Tight ends like Jermichael Finley and Jermaine Gresham didn't exist years ago, athletic freaks who were fast enough to outrun a linebacker, strong enough to block a defensive end, tall enough to take the ball from any defensive back. They were on display last year in the Texas-OU game, when Gresham scored two of the Sooners' four touchdowns and Finley accounted for 135 of Texas' 185 yards in the first half.
This season, Gresham has 278 yards and four touchdowns and Finley...well, Finley is in Green Bay, Wisconsin making an NFL paycheck. Texas did have a solid replacement for Finley in Blaine Irby, but Irby is now gone for the year due to a dislocated knee.
Perhaps in another year this mismatch would not have as great of an effect, but with Texas' biggest question being in the secondary, it will be just enough to provide the difference.
Do the safeties focus on stopping Gresham, taking away help for the corners on the wideouts? Do the linebackers, taking away run support and pass rush? Neither seem viable options.
Texas will have its share of success, for sure, and there are plenty of opportunities. I've named but one seemingly small area where OU has an advantage that could make the difference. Oklahoma is also 102nd in the nation in net punting and has a less-than-reliable redshirt freshman kicker who has missed a pair of extra points. A key special teams mistake could cause the game to turn.
This will be a close one. One drive, one turnover will be the difference. But, thanks to mismatches like Gresham, I see that one going Oklahoma's way. Oklahoma 31, Texas 30.
Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher – I'll admit it. Before the season started, I had the OU game penciled in as a near-certain loss for Texas to go along with possibly two or three more defeats for the month of October. Those losses of course could still occur, given the murderous stretch of games during the next four weeks. But my confidence in Texas' ability to play with and even beat OU Saturday has gone from nearly non-existent before the season to an almost cocky level today.
After watching Texas destroy Arkansas and Colorado in consecutive weeks, my predominant sentiment right now is that the Horns don't have to concede a dadgum thing to these guys. Given who Oklahoma has played, I don't think we know that much even now about how good the Sooners really are. Chatanooga, Washington, TCU, Cincy and Baylor are a decent warm-up for the meat of the season, but none of those teams will remind anybody of Southern Cal. Sure, the Horns so far have not exactly played the elite of college football either, but my point is, let's see how Mr. Bradford and his giant, road-grading offensive line do against the likes of Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Roddrick Muckelroy and the rest of Texas' suddenly swarming defense. And let's just see how the vaunted OU D handles a veteran Horn offense led by Colt McCoy, Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley and Chris Ogbonnaya.
Granted, on paper, Bradford, who has been excellent this season, and his NFL-bound receiving corps look like a good bet to outscore McCoy and the Horn offense going against UT's very young secondary. But this season, OU has not faced a team that's anything close to the caliber of Texas, so I'll become a true Bradford believer when I see him actually get out on the field and put the torch to the Texas defensive backs. It ain't gonna be easy. To do it, he'll have to get the ball away real quick, because the Horn front seven, led by Miller, Orakpo and Sergio Kindle, will be in his face in a heartbeat, big OU line or not. One thing I feel sure of – the Texas defense will battle the Sooners all day, and will not quit attacking, even if they get gouged for a few big plays. Why do I think so? Well, let's just say, "In Muschamp I Trust." The DC so far has shown himself to be a great hire. The Horn defense just looks different this year, with everybody – D-line, linebackers and secondary – all making plays, but also playing with discipline.
On offense, Colt McCoy has gone into the Cotton Bowl and beaten the Sooners before, so he knows he can do it, and his team knows it, too. If Greg Davis will resist the urge to go into his protective shell and instead, call an aggressive game that allows his team to play with confidence, Texas, with help from its very good special teams, can win this game. If our friend Pat Culpepper, who's forgotten more about football than I'll ever know, is a believer in the Horns this week, then by God I'm a believer, too. Texas 24, OU 23.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher – Before the season, in our annual Inside Texas Roundtable, I said flatly, "I think Oklahoma is definitely a loss." I also predicted that this would be a down year for the Big 12. Five games in, I think it's fair to say that I was wrong about both. As to the former, the Texas-OU game is not "definitely a loss" for the Horns, and four league teams in the top 7 of the rankings (and six in the top 17) pretty much blows the latter prediction out of the water.
Having said all that, Texas is still the underdog vs. Oklahoma, and rightly so, I believe. The Sooners look like the best team in the country up to this point (although Missouri's made a pretty darn good case as well). OU has played championship-level football on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and frankly the Sooners have personnel advantages at many spots on the field, although that dynamic is most pronounced on the offensive side of the ball. At running back, wide receiver, tight end (in a big way) and offensive line, OU's personnel tops UT's, at least in terms of proven ability and depth.
At QB and across the defense, the Horns and Sooners are pretty darn equal. But the overall edge has to go to OU.
Texas can win, but to do so it will almost certainly have to win the turnover battle, and OU has been as stingy with the ball as the Horns. The biggest reason for hope that the Longhorn defenders can force those necessary turnovers is the improvement we've seen in Will Muschamp's guys over the last three weeks, and the probability that the Texas DC still has a few tricks up his sleeve that we've yet to see.
Ultimately, I believe this game will be won from the quarterback position. (It may not just be a game that is won or lost Saturday in the Cotton Bowl; the Heisman could be at stake as well, or at least the front-runner status for college football's most prestigious award.) More specifically, I think this game will be lost at the quarterback position with a game-changing interception. The team that gets it will walk up the tunnel victorious. Unfortunately, I think that team will be Oklahoma in a fourth quarter battle that mirrors last year's game. Oklahoma 28, Texas 21.
Pat Culpepper: Texas 35, Oklahoma 28.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 28, Oklahoma 25