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Why is This Year’s Red River Showdown Different?

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma

When you think about rivalries in college football, there are so many great ones out there. You have Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan, Notre Dame-USC, or one of my personal favorites, the Red River Rivalry (Showdown). 

What makes the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry so special is the scene there in Dallas. This game takes place at the Texas State fair inside the Cotton Bowl where it has been played every year since 1937.

Before entering the stadium, you will see a variety of staples at the fair. It’s common to find yourself holding a corny dog in one hand and a wax cup of beer in the other. And yes, you will likely end up having more than one of each. But no matter what fried food or even drink you end up consuming, it all leads to what is happening inside the stadium.

 

On every first Saturday in October, if you look inside the Cotton Bowl, you will see half the stadium in burnt orange while the other is in crimson. It truly is one of the most unique settings in all of college football.

As always, this game is important to both sides and there have been many years where both teams are ranked. From 2000 to 2008, seven of the games were Top-15 matchups and four of them were Top-Five matchups.

Since 2008, there has not been a single game where both teams entered the Red River Rivalry game in the top five. While the drama on the field on the first October Saturday certainly hasn’t had a drop-off, both programs have had some struggles over the last decade or so outside of the big game.

Even during the dominance of Oklahoma under Bob Stoops, the Sooners had a bit of a rough patch from 2011-2014. During that time, Oklahoma had just one Big 12 title (which is rare). Some questioned if Bob still had the magic touch and then they went on a tear. From 2015 to 2020, the Sooners won six straight Big 12 championships. Bob started the run winning two in a row before Lincoln Riley took the torch and won four more.

 

However, the Oklahoma reign of terror over the Big 12 ended last season when they failed to reach the conference championship game. And little did we know that the loss to Oklahoma State last November ended up being Lincoln’s last game as the head coach of Oklahoma.

Now it’s Brent Venables’ turn to get the program back on track but that has appeared to be much easier said than done. With a lot of turnover and a new staff in place, things haven’t been exactly smooth sailing so far this season. The Sooners are 0-2 in conference play for just the second time since 1998. A loss to Texas here could completely knock them out of the Big 12 title picture. If that happens then it will be the first time since the 2013 and 2014 seasons that Oklahoma went two years without a conference crown.

Most programs would kill for the success that Oklahoma has had, especially the one down in Austin where things haven’t been good since Colt McCoy left campus after the 2009 season. Since then, Texas has yet to win a Big 12 championship, has had four different head coaches, and has a Big 12 record of 56-51. Despite the subpar record, Texas has somehow managed to go into the Red River Rivalry game as a ranked team seven times in their last thirteen games in the Cotton Bowl which should be a reminder to go easy on the burnt orange Kool-Aid folks.

 

While this game is still a big one on Saturday, it has an odd feel to it. Maybe it’s because of the fact that this will be the first time since 1998 that both teams go into this game unranked. Or maybe it is because neither team feels like a contender in the Big 12 right now. If Oklahoma loses, they will fall to 0-3 in conference play and if Texas loses, they will fall to 1-2. No matter the result on Saturday, either one or possibly both teams could be out of the title picture.

When you look at the conference slate for the weekend, you know what I see? There are four Big 12 games this weekend and the Red River Rivalry game is the only one that doesn’t feature a ranked team. And to add to all the madness, College GameDay isn’t at the Cotton Bowl because they are in Lawrence, Kansas for the Kansas-TCU game.

While the Oklahoma-Texas game may steal the headlines, keep in mind that we have plenty of other great matchups on Saturday. One may say that not having Texas or Oklahoma in the conference title game may hurt or that those two schools having a down year is bad for the conference. Well, in case you haven’t been paying attention the conference currently has four schools in the top 25 and is the most competitive conference in the entire country. If you want to focus all your attention on the Red River Rivalry fine but just now that it won’t even be the best game in the Big 12 this weekend. Welcome to the new Big 12 folks, buckle up because it’s only going to be more competitive when the new schools get here.

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