Texas and Oklahoma have identical records but obtained them in very different ways.
The Sooners topped the preseason polls and have won each of their four contests by double digits. Their highly anticipated trip to Tallahassee ended in a 23-13 victory over No. 5 Florida State while Oklahoma has won its other three games by an average score of 49-16.
Texas, on the other hand, began the year on the fringe of the rankings, coming in at No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and being left out of the Associated Press Poll altogether. Despite coming off their first losing season since 1997, the Longhorns are unbeaten. Texas squeaked by BYU at home but has won their last two games against UCLA and Iowa State convincingly, jumping out to 21-0 and 34-0 first-half leads in those contests.
“I don’t think anybody thought we’d be 4-0 at the start of the season,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We had a tough game when we had to come from behind against BYU. Then we had to go on the road and play a UCLA team that dominated us last year. And then you go play an undefeated Iowa State team with their second-largest crowd late at night.”
Because of the different paths that Texas and Oklahoma have taken to get to 4-0, the Sooners are 10-point favorites this weekend.
“Since they’re the No. 1 team in the nation, they’re obviously going to be the top dog,” senior linebacker Keenan Robinson said. “We were a team that was barely in the top 25 at the beginning of the season so we’ll be the underdog obviously.”
Keep in mind that the last time Oklahoma entered the game ranked No. 1 (the Sooners are on top of the coaches’ poll but are ranked third in the AP poll) was in 2008, when Texas toppled the Sooners, 45-35. That game also marked the last time both teams came into the Cotton Bowl undefeated and did not disappoint, combining for 80 points, the most in Red River Rivalry history.
Each of the quarterbacks that played in that game, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy, are both starting on Sundays now. While the Sooners bring in another pro prospect behind center with Landry Jones leading the offense, Texas will thrust Case McCoy and David Ash into their first game against Oklahoma.
“It is a time and opportunity for a guy to get overwhelmed,” senior running back Fozzy Whittaker said. “But our quarterbacks have been in situations where adversity has been present and situations where they’ve had to deal with the success.”
In the most recent Red River Rivalry, however, the Longhorns fell short. Texas outgained Oklahoma 373-360 but committed crucial third-down penalties on three of the Sooners’ scoring drives, falling 28-20.
But one of the main reasons Texas kept the game close and had a chance to win in the first place of D.J. Monroe’s 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
“I remember I had that one big play right before halftime,” Monroe said. “What I remember the most was the ending. That was the most painful part.”
Despite the long scoring sprint, Monroe’s only career touchdown and a play where he went in the end zone untouched, the speedy running back got only four carries that game and 23 for the whole season. Under the direction of new co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, Monroe is now seeing the field more often.
“I knew it was going to be really, really different when I came back from track for spring ball,” Monroe said. “[Harsin] called this package and I’m like, ‘Huh?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, you’re in.’ And then another thing came along. I felt like I had a lot to learn.”
Not only did Texas triumph the last time the Longhorns and Sooners entered the Red River Rivalry unbeaten, but the last time the Longhorns were big underdogs to the nation’s top-ranked team went well for them.
In the 2006 national title game, Texas came into the Rose Bowl eight-point underdogs to a vaunted USC squad that featured two Heisman Trophy winners. The Longhorns, of course, came out on top, 41-38.
It might be a stretch but the point is – Texas has a chance this Saturday. Even if Vegas doesn’t think so.