We’re headed into Week 6 of the 2023 college football season, which means we’ve already reached the halfway point of the regular season for several teams.
Just two teams in the Big 12 remain undefeated and ranked, and they’ll do battle inside the Cotton Bowl on Saturday with No. 3 Texas (5-0, 2-0) taking on No. 12 Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0).
The Longhorns and Sooners were founding members of the Big 12 back in 1996, but are playing in their final Red River Rivalry as a member of the Big 12.
So, this week, the HCS staff will answer one simple question: What are you watching for in the final Red River Rivalry in Big 12 history?
What I’m Watching For: Weaknesses
Don’t get triggered OU and Texas fans. Let me explain: Right now, it appears as if these are the two best teams in the Big 12 Conference. But if one of them gets exposed in a big way on Saturday, then maybe we aren’t headed towards the inevitable rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game. As Big 12 fans, it’s sad to have this rivalry leaving the league, but I won’t shed a tear if there isn’t a rematch in the Conference Title game. I’m not ashamed to say I do not want that to happen. Big 12 fans will never hear the end of it, if that’s how it ends.
That being said, from an analysis standpoint, they do look like the two best teams right now, and on Saturday, we will get a much better idea on if that is true, or if there are holes in either team that we haven’t previously noticed.
What I’m Watching For: Is Oklahoma Legit or Just a Paper Tiger?
At this point in time, the Texas hype train is rolling about as quickly as it has since I was in high school, and for good reason. The Longhorns have two wins over Top 25 teams this season, with a 40-14 shellacking of Kansas last weekend and an uber-impressive 34-24 victory over Alabama in Week 2. As we approach the halfway point of the regular season, I feel the Longhorns have as much a claim to the title of “legitimate title contender” as anyone. What I don’t know yet, is just how good this Oklahoma team is. On paper, the Sooners look like a bonafide version of the team that we watched run the Big 12 in the 2000s under Bob Stoops. The defense has been stifling, and the offense is putting up just short of a 50-burger every week. However, their schedule to this point consists of Arkansas State, SMU, Tulsa, Cincinnati, and Iowa State. Now, that’s not an indictment of what OU has accomplished this year. They don’t choose who they face from week to week. And to be fair, they’ve won every game by at least two scores. This team leads the Big 12 in scoring offense, scoring defense, and turnover margin through five weeks, and now is their chance to prove that they are nothing close to the anomaly that we saw in Norman in 2022. If Oklahoma can cover the 6.5 points or win outright, which I believe they can, it will be time for the country to start taking what Brent Venables and the Sooners more seriously.
What I’m Watching For: Nostalgia’s Sake
This game will naturally continue in the SEC next season. But, for those of us of a certain age — and I’m the oldest one on this staff — this will be the last Texas-OU game that will feel ‘normal.’ Before the Big 12, the pair met as non-conference rivals when Oklahoma was in the Big 8 and Texas was in the Southwest Conference. Once the Big 8 and the remnants of the SWC merged, it was only natural for the two teams to continue playing, even in a divisional format. The game has always felt to me as if it was an anchor for the middle of the country when it comes to college football. In the Big 8 or the Big 12, it always felt like one of the biggest games of the season, perhaps the biggest (and that could be the case this year). When it moves to the SEC next year, I fear that it will, eventually, just become another game. As a logician, I understand why Texas and OU are going down this path. As a sentimentalist, I think the game will lose something in its new home.
What I’m Watching For: History
Is history a lame thing to say here? Maybe. I’m actually feeling pretty nostalgic about the game and have found myself thinking back on some of the historical moments from the rivalry over the years. Am I sad that Texas and Oklahoma are leaving for the SEC? Sure! But am I worried about the future of the Big 12 Conference? Not one bit! I think this game feels like breaking up with your girlfriend who isn’t a bad person or didn’t do any harm, the fit just wasn’t right. It’s kind of the comfortably numb feeling so to speak and that’s kind of been influencing me ahead of the final Red River Rivalry game in the Big 12. While I know that Texas has a 13-game lead over the Sooners in the all-time series, this final matchup feels like the one that takes the cake for me. The winner of Saturday’s matchup between the Longhorns and the Sooners will be the one that stood victorious at the end of it all. I’m eager, but also content with the future of both programs and the Big 12. It’s a strange feeling this week.
What I’m Watching For: To Say Goodbye
First of all, I am going to soak this game in. I know that Texas and Oklahoma are on their way out the door to that other conference I will not mention, but I hate that this game will be taken away from us. The Red River Rivalry is one of the premier games in all of college football and anyone who says that they won’t miss this game would be lying. From the crimson and burnt orange spilt at the 50-yard line in the Cotton Bowl to the corny dogs and wax beers, there is a lot I am truly going to miss about this game. Plus, these two programs are finally good at the same time. In fact, this is the first time since 2011 that both teams enter the Cotton Bowl undefeated. I just hope we get a better game than the one from 12 years ago.