Allow me to draw your attention to a little football game taking place this weekend in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
It’s Texas versus Oklahoma (or as I like to call it, Mobilhoma) in the Red River Shootout, and it’s arguably the best rivalry game in college football featuring two powerhouse programs. Now I’m a Texas alumnus, so what follows will be from a homer’s perspective. But this is a game that touches a nerve, brings out passion and hatred from the fans of the two schools like no other game in college football.
The Longhorns and Sooners have been playing their annual grudge match since ’00 — that’s 1900. They’ve played in Dallas since 1912 (except for 1913, 1922, and 1923), and in the Cotton Bowl since 1932. The game takes place at Fair Park in Dallas during the height of the Texas State Fair. The series is close, with 59 Texas wins, 41 Oklahoma wins, and five ties.
Ah, the Cotton Bowl — the House that Doak Built. At kickoff on game day this Saturday, you’ll see 92,100-plus fans screaming, yelling, and stomping like maniacs. (ABC had better not let its microphones get too close to the stands, or their broadcast could violate some FCC regulations.) It’s an electric atmosphere. From the air, you can easily see that the seating is split down the middle at the 50 yard line between Texas and OU, with the north end of the stadium a solid Texas burnt orange, and the south end Oklahoma crimson. The south endzone is where you’ll see The Tunnel, the only way into and out of the stadium for the two teams. Freshman players on both squads routinely loose the contents of their stomachs walking down the tunnel at the start of the game, and Texas players and coaches get a little extra “motivation” from the OU fans, who have nice things to say about the players’ masculinity and family pedigree as they dump beer and nachos onto their helmets and shoulderpads. Keith Moreland — who played baseball and football for UT, and who went on to a career in the major leagues — has said he’s stood at home plate during the World Series, and that it was nothing like walking down The Tunnel onto the field at the Cotton Bowl on the second Saturday of October.
This game has featured giants of college football coaching, such as Dana X. Bible, Bud Wilkinson, Darrell Royal, Barry Switzer, and Fred Akers. Past players from both teams include such NFL notables as Cedric Benson, Sam Bradford, Earl Campbell, Tony Casillas, Jamaal Charles, Happy Feller (how’s that for a great football name?), Keith Jackson, Bobby Layne, Colt McCoy, Tommy Nobis, Adrian Peterson, Greg Pruitt, Lee Roy Selmon, Billy Sims, Ricky Williams, Roy Williams, and Vince Young. The path to the Big 12 championship has often passed through Dallas and this game — not to mention the national championship. This game usually defines the season for both teams. Emotions and tensions run high on both sidelines. The hits come harder and the snot flies farther on every down.
This year, OU comes into the game ranked third in the country, and Texas twelfth. OU has been an early-season favorite to reach the BCS title game, and has manhandled its opponents thus far this season. They’ve faced only one real challenge — against Florida State in Tallahassee — but won that game going away in the second half. They are the odds-on favorite to beat Texas this year for the second year in a row.
Texas was a big question mark coming into this season. Head coach Mack Brown had to replace most of his coaching staff after last year’s disappointing 5-7 season. New hires include defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (son of former Miami mayor Manny Diaz) and co-offensive coordinator Brian Harsin, who as Boise State’s offensive coordinator engineered the Broncos’ 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over OU in overtime on a Statue of Liberty play. Texas through its first four games has shown defensive aggressiveness that it lacked last season, and innovation and execution on the offensive side of the ball that’s probably causing Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables a lot of heartburn this week.
In its win over Florida State earlier this season, Oklahoma looked physically dominant, fast, and strong, so it’s hard to argue with their being the favorite. They have an elite group of wide receivers and a quality quarterback in Landry Jones. Jones isn’t much of a run threat, however, so if Texas is creative enough with its blitz packages, the defense might create some turnovers to keep the game close. On offense, Texas features a dual-quarterback system with sophomore Case McCoy (Colt’s little brother) and true freshman David Ash; true freshman wide receiver Jaxon Shipley (little brother of Jordan); true freshman running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron; and true freshman center Dominique Espinoza. That’s a lot of freshmen. They’ve all been nails this season, but Texas/OU is an entirely different animal from Rice and BYU at home, and UCLA and Iowa State on the road.
Logic and Vegas make Oklahoma a 10.5-point favorite, and a 42-35 outcome seems realistic to me. However, I’m picking Texas in a blowout, because I hate OU.
So for those of you unfamiliar with the thrill and pageantry of the Red River
Rivalry Shootout, I strongly recommend that you join me and my pitcher of Bloody Marys at 11:00 a.m. central time to watch a college football game like no other.