AUSTIN (KXAN) — No matter how many times marketing partners and television executives try to rebrand the game, it’s always going to be Texas and Oklahoma, and it’s always going to be one of the fiercest rivalries in college football.
The bitter rivals, yet somewhat partners as they bolt from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference next year, will clash before noon at the Cotton Bowl in the Red River Rivalry with the State Fair of Texas in the background. ESPN College GameDay will be there doing a live 3-hour broadcast Saturday morning to get the juices flowing, and as he’s said before, this is the stuff head coach Steve Sarkisian lives for.
“The spotlight of college football is on us,” he said. “This is why we’re in college football, to be part of games like this.”
The Sooners enter the game undefeated at 5-0 and No. 12 in the latest Associated Press Top 25. Texas is also undefeated and ranked No. 3, so clearly something has to give. The last time the two rivals entered the game ranked as high as this was in 2019 when No. 6 Oklahoma edged No. 11 Texas 34-27. Last season, both were unranked headed into the game for the first time since 1998 and the Longhorns walloped the Sooners 49-0.
But enough about the history of the game, because quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter.
“We have a great deal of respect for OU and Coach (Brent) Venables,” Sarkisian said. “(Dillon) Gabriel is playing at a high level and distributes the ball beautifully, and they’ve upgraded defensively and Coach Venables is one of the best in the business game planning and preparing his defense. It’s going to be a great challenge and we’re looking forward to seeing our fans in Dallas for what I think is the best setting in college football.”
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This will be the third game between top 25 teams Texas will be part of this season, the latest coming against then-No. 24 Kansas last week and in Week 2 when they went into Tuscaloosa and knocked off mighty Alabama who was ranked No. 3 at the time. Every team Texas has played has a winning record (yes, Rice is 3-2), and Sarkisian said that has helped prepare his team for Saturday.
The Longhorns could be somewhat shorthanded if Ja’Tavion Sanders and Ryan Watts can’t play. Sarkisian said both were “day-to-day” with their injuries suffered against the Jayhawks. Sanders has emerged as one of the country’s best tight ends and Watts’ steady play in the secondary has been a big reason why the defense has played so well. He said he’d “have a better answer” on their status by Thursday, but Gunner Helm filled in nicely against Kansas and the secondary is perhaps where Texas is the deepest, so there’s not too much of a replacement player drop-off.
“We’re going to get Oklahoma’s best version,” Sarkisian said. “I’m sure they are talking about last year’s game, too. We’re going to get an emotional team that we’re going to have to compete against.”
Gabriel didn’t play in last year’s blowout due to a concussion. Backup quarterback Davis Beville wasn’t good, completing 6 of 12 passes for 38 yards and an interception. Gabriel is healthy and thriving this season for the Sooners, currently No. 5 in the country with 12 passing touchdowns and No. 7 with 1,593 passing yards, so it’s best to toss last year’s romp in a trash can full of Corny Dog sticks and fried butter wrappers.
“We’re trying to compete for the Big 12 title, and so are they,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re dialed in.”