Forget Nebraska, Let's Talk Oklahoma

Over the course of Big 12 Media Days, much was made (largely by Nebraska media) about the potential heat leading into the Texas-Nebraska game. But while the Red River Shootout might have taken a step back in terms of publicity at the annual media get-together, there's no question that the game in the Cotton Bowl is a bigger fixture on Texas's schedule.

After all, lose the Nebraska game and the Longhorns are still very much in the hunt for the South title. Lose the Shootout, and the Longhorns have given away a likely two-game advantage to the Sooners.

Those who favor Oklahoma in the 2010 version of the annual rivalry game typically seem to point at three main factors:

1) The Sooners return a trio of offensive talent in quarterback Landry Jones, running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Ryan Broyles, all of whom have playmaking ability. Jones passed for close to 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns a year ago, while Murray, who had injury problems, had more than 1,200 combined rushing and receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Broyles, the top returning receiver in the Big 12, had 89 catches for 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. Add Jones's passing, Murray's rushing and Broyles's receiving numbers up, and the trio produced 5,023 yards and 49 touchdowns. Texas's top three returnees in those categories (Garrett Gilbert, Tre' Newton and Malcolm Williams) combined for 1,412 yards and 10 touchdowns.

2) More experience on the offensive line. It's amazing, especially among media members, what a difference a player can make. Return two offensive line starters, and your team is rebuilding. Return three, and you're bringing back "most of the line," and have a strong foundation. Unfortunately for Texas, the Longhorns return the former, and fortunately for Oklahoma, the Sooners bring back the latter. Because of this, the Sooners are expected to improve along the offensive line, while many think Texas will struggle, at least initially, at those spots. It's worth noting that both coaches were optimistic about their offensive lines at Big 12 Media Days last week.

3) Less perceived turnover. The Sooners return more starters (barely, 11-10 according to Athlon), and aren't making any fundamental changes from a year ago. Meanwhile, the Longhorns are changing their offensive philosophy (though tackle Kyle Hix said the shift wasn't "that different") from a year ago and must rely on players not named McCoy and Shipley. The Sooners took their lumps last year with a young lineup caused by several key injuries. So many people think the Sooners will "grow up" from those lumps, while Texas, with new players, could take some lumps this year that it didn't a year ago.

But let's also take a look at three of the advantages the Longhorns might have:

1) Texas will have the better defense. There are a lot of things to like about the Sooner defense, such as a strong defensive line that can pressure the passer and a young but extremely talented group of linebackers. But the Longhorns also return players who can get after the quarterback, return a more experienced set of linebackers and arguably the top group of defensive backs in the country. If the Longhorn defensive line can pressure Jones and allow the defensive backs to wrap up the Sooners' receivers, while closing up running lanes and aiding the Longhorn linebackers, the Sooners' triad of stars could have a rough go of it again. If defenses win championships, Texas's group could lead the Longhorns to the South title yet again.

2) Texas will have a deep, and talented, group of skill-position players on offense. The Longhorns may not have a DeMarco Murray or Ryan Broyles, but they boast a deep and versatile running back group, led by Tre' Newton, Fozzy Whitaker and Vondrell McGee and big backs Cody Johnson and Chris Whaley. At receiver, the Longhorns are even deeper. Malcolm Williams certainly has No. 1 potential, while James Kirkendoll could also produce at that level. John Chiles has earned rave reviews for his work in the summer, but he'll be tested by slick sophomore DeSean Hales and speedsters Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe. Add in talented redshirt freshman Greg Timmons and top-notch young talents like Mike Davis and Darius White and the Longhorns have a number of options on both sides.

3) Texas is more injury resistant. What I mean here is that Texas is better equipped to handle key injuries. Both Texas and Oklahoma would be devastated by an injury to the quarterback, though Texas would seem to be more equipped to handle it with a fifth-year senior backup. If the top running back went down, the drop-off from Murray to Jermie Calhoun is greater than that of Newton to Whitaker. And Texas's receiver group is deeper than the Oklahoma version. Both teams would struggle with injuries to the either line, while Texas is deeper at linebacker and defensive back. Considering the game is in week five, injuries could certainly come into play.

It's way too early to make a score prediction of the game, and of course, so much could change between now and then. But it's probably a safe bet that defenses will again rule the day, and that a play or two, possibly from somebody unexpected, could swing the game for either team.


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