For the 107th time, Texas and Oklahoma will meet in the Red River Rivalry at 11 a.m. Saturday. It is a rivalry like no other.
The venue is a historic landmark. The Cotton Bowl's 96,000 seats are divided equally between the teams, with crimson and cream occupying one half of the stands, burnt orange the other and the 50-yard line a demilitarized zone. The players reach the field walking down the same ramp, emerging to the roar of the crowd. The State Fair of Texas becomes a sideshow. The Midway is a long touchdown pass from the stadium. The fried concoctions provide a cholesterol-boosting tail gate.
The annual game produces stories that are woven into the fabric of both teams' histories. And before toe meets leather for each RRR, the pre-game story lines often range from compelling to competition to conspiracy.
This year's game is different than previous ones. Since becoming a conference game in 1996, Texas vs. Oklahoma invariably impacted the Big 12 South Division race and often the national championship race. The Longhorns and the Sooners each won the game en route to winning the national title and in reaching the national title game.
But in the second year of the 10-game round-robin schedule in the Big 12, Saturday's showdown is more of an elimination game. Texas is 4-1, Oklahoma is 3-1 and each team is 1-1 in conference games. Oklahoma has left the Cotton Bowl with two Big 12 losses twice (1997 and 1998); Texas has had two losses after the RRR just once (2007). It's the first time since 1999 when both teams have been ranked outside the top 10 (Oklahoma is No. 13, Texas is No. 15).
Kansas State has won at Oklahoma and West Virginia has won at Texas. The Wildcats and the Mountaineers are both in the top five and are the two undefeated teams remaining in the Big 12. UT coach Mack Brown is hoping for parity to create a log jam at the top of the standings.
"I think in my estimation we could see a conference champion with one or maybe two losses this year the way this league is, because there's so much parity in the league," he said.
Oklahoma's Aaron Colvin doesn't want to label Saturday's game as a must-win elimination contest.
"I wouldn't ever say that," he said. "We don't want to get too high. We don't want to get too low.
"You never know what's going to happen in the Big 12 or in college football, period. We're definitely going to try to go out there and get this win, try and give it our all but we don't really think of the negatives yet."
Score, Score ... Score Again
When No. 5 Kansas State faces No. 25 Iowa State Saturday, it matches two of the top defensive teams in the Big 12. Both are allowing about two touchdowns per game. Based on that, most would not expect it to be a high scoring game.
However, Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads understands that Big 12 games tend to be high scoring (such as West Virginia's 70-63 victory over Baylor. Rhoads was asked this week how many points it takes to win a Big 12 game.
"Seventy-one points generally," he answered, drawing laughter. "Forty-one points is not going to do it in the Big 12 every game. We are going to have to put up high-40s, low-50s, even high-50s maybe against certain teams."
Coach Approach, Version 1.0
After his team suffered its first loss of the season, Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said he wanted his team to get back to having fun. With No. 4 West Virginia coming to Lubbock Saturday, finding humor in the situation might be difficult.
"We've been working the heck out of them," Tuberville said. "We lift weights; we run after practice. We do a lot of running during practice. Usually, during the middle of the year, we cut back."
That's what the plan was this week. While the Red Raiders aren't easing up in how they prepare for the Mountaineers, the coaching staff is hoping that backing off the physical work will be a benefit.
"The speed of the game is going to be fast," Tuberville said. "We're trying to get our legs back a little bit. We looked a little leg weary Saturday. We're getting to the midpoint of the season. We'll jump into a mode of trying to get these guys back fresh every week, put a game plan in and try to hit full speed. We're going to need it.".
Coach Approach, Version 2.0
A 1-4 start and a 56-16 loss on the road to an in-state rival left Kansas coach Charlie Weis looking for ways to keep his team focused and motivated. On Sunday, Weis decided to look toward the future.
"I took everyone that's gonna be on the team next year and they practiced," Weis said on Sunday night. "And anyone who's not gonna be on the team next year, after we were done with their film session, they ran and lifted."
Weis said he would employ the strategy regardless of the team's record.
"You have to do two things here," Weis said. "You have to develop your current squad, but you also have to develop your future squad. What happens is, if you practice everyone who played all the reps in the game, then you're never developing anyone else at the same time.
"You have to understand," Weis said, "the steps that you have to take to get there."
Oklahoma found out Wednesday that the NCAA has declared receiver Jalen Saunders eligible to play. He transferred from Fresno State during the offseason and initially was ruled ineligible this season under NCAA transfer guidelines. Last season Saunders caught 50 passes for 1,065 yards last season and led the Western Athletic Conference with 12 touchdown catches.
In three starts against Texas, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones is a combined 79 of 132 for 853 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He's been sacked four times. The Sooners have won two of the three games he has started against UT.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has thrown 258 consecutive passes without an interception. His last pick came on Dec. 1 against South Florida when USF junior safety JaQuez Jenkins intercepted a screen pass and returned it 24 yards for a TD. Ironically, that also was the last pass USF has intercepted.
Following the team's loss at Kansas State Saturday, Kansas is at .500 in football for the first time since 1891 when it was 2-2. The Jayhawks are 573-574-58 overall going into Saturday's game with Oklahoma State.
Mark Those Calendars
Oklahoma State will help ESPN launch the Texas Kickoff Classic - an opening weekend college football game. The Cowboys will face Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. Oklahoma State, winners of the 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, will be playing in Houston for the first time since September 23, 2006 when the Cowboys played at the University of Houston.
The Texas Kickoff Classic will be staged Labor Day Weekend and will be on the same day that TCU faces LSU in next year's Cowboys Classic at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The schools had been scheduled for a home-and-home series before the recent conference membership changes and they decided to compromise for one game at a neutral site.
TCU and Texas both have announced non-conference home-and-home series with Ohio State. The Horned Frogs are scheduled to face the Buckeyes in Amon G. Carter Stadium on Sept. 15, 2018 then will travel to Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Sept. 21, 2019. UT announced this week that it will face Ohio State with the teams playing in Austin, Texas, in 2022 and in Columbus in 2023.
Texas defensive back Quandre Diggs on West Virginia's Geno Smith handling UT's pass rush:
"He was calm. With bombs going around him all night, he was cool and collected."
Texas coach Mack Brown on the absence (due to injury) of linebacker Jordan Hicks:
"Last year, we were young on the outside, older down the middle. You can cover up the outside stuff better. Now, we're young down the middle. ... The thing we've lost most with Jordan is ...leadership," Brown said. "He can settle things down and make sure everybody's lined up right."
TCU coach Gary Patterson commenting on quarterback Casey Pachall's decision to leave school and enter an in-patient drug and alcohol treatment facility:
"I think it helps to move on. There's not any lingering, 'Well, will he come back in three [games], will he come back in five [games]?' No, Trevone Boykin and Matt Brown are going to be our guys. That's who we're going to go win with at quarterback."
Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott after the Cyclones' victory at TCU:
"There's a lot of people now that respect us on a new level. We need to keep winning games like (Saturday) to do that."