Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 10/11/12
The droning on and on about the Red River Rivalry is decades old, now. As with any good rivalry, it doesn't have anything to do with sports at its core. It's just that a football game is the most convenient and least destructive way to express interstate aggression. "It's like a bowl game at midseason," Texas coach Mack Brown said. But as important as the game has been to the State of Oklahoma and the Republic of Texas for all this time, it is even more significant now, because both OU and UT are slowly running out of rivals. When Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big Ten in 2011, it walked away from a 99-year-old rivalry that had been perhaps college football's best during the 1970s and 80s. Likewise, Texas A&M's decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC abandoned an intrastate rivalry that, while rarely as significant in the national championship picture as the Red River Rivalry, was every bit as heated. Sure, OU still has Oklahoma State, and just about every school in Texas thinks it is UT's big rival, but the Red River Rivalry is more important than ever, if just through simple attrition. This year's edition has that going for it. And more. When Saturday's 11 a.m. game from the State Fair in Dallas is over, either No. 15 Texas (4-1) or No. 13 Oklahoma (3-1) will be eliminated from the national championship picture. Neither is a serious part of the discussion right now, but that's partially because of the way the schedule worked out. Both lost to highly ranked teams, OU to No. 6 Kansas State and Texas to No. 5 West Virginia. So every week that passes without loss No. 2 is a week that staves off elimination from the national championship picture. Saturday's game will kill those ambitions for the loser. So there is all of that, and then there is this: "You can't ride the wave," OU quarterback Landry Jones said. "There is a lot of different things that go into this game. But you can't ride the wave. You just have to stay neutral with it." Well, Ok, yes. Fair enough, Landry. There actually is a blocking-and-tackling-and-throwing-and-catching football game to be played here, and the narratives don't really matter on third-and-3. Chances are, Texas is going to run it until Oklahoma proves it can stop it. That's the Longhorns' bent this year anyway, and OU has shown itself to be vulnerable in that area, allowing 145 rushing yards per game (which ranks seventh in the Big 12). It makes for a dandy little puzzle-piece fit for Texas, which averages 209 yards per game on the ground, and will be playing into OU's strength any time it passes the ball. "They are great on the back end," UT co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "I think they have a great secondary, they play well at corner, and their safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris have got a lot of ball underneath their belts." The Sooners' move, then, would be to do whatever is necessary to make UT quarterback David Ash feel like he has to be the hero. Ash has played well this season even, you might say, heroically in a win over Oklahoma State but the Sooners would do well to take their chances with UT's passing game, in which the Longhorns still don't appear to have a great deal of confidence. An up-tempo game would suit the Sooners well, anyway. Their offense is designed for it, and is feeling good after a 41-20 thrashing of Texas Tech, which had been leading the nation in total defense. "I think this is the most in rhythm I have felt in a long, long, long time," Jones said. "Dating back even to last year." After all that, Oklahoma is a three-point favorite to remain in the national championship picture and retain the bragging rights in a game that means more now than ever. "You can see it in the players' eyes, even in the young cats," Texas running back Joe Bergeron said. "We have to do everything we can do to prepare to win this game."
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