DALLAS (KXAN) — Saturday’s meeting at the Cotton Bowl won’t decide everything in the Big 12, but it will make the picture more clear.
No. 6 Oklahoma has been in control of the conference since the beginning of the College Football Playoff era (and a lot of the 2000s). Last year, the Longhorns re-introduced themselves to the upper-tier of college football with a 48-45 win on the leg of kicker Cameron Dicker.
This year, the stakes feel even higher.
Oklahoma enters the Red River Showdown with one of the best offenses in the country with the only other true contender for the title being Ohio State. However, the Longhorns and Sam Ehlinger aren’t too far behind currently ranked No. 4 in the overall offensive efficiency based off ESPN’s SP+ ratings.
Ehlinger is at a Masters level in his understanding of this offense leading the conference in passing touchdowns with 17. But it’s OU quarterback Jalen Hurts garnering more of the Heisman Trophy attention.
It’s almost plug and play at quarterback for Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley. His offense is dynamic, no matter the circumstances. But that would be discrediting Hurts’ accomplishments so far, and he has been excellent. The Alabama transfer has thrown 14 touchdowns while running for seven touchdowns and averaging just about 100 yards a game on the ground.
Hurts will be a unique and difficult challenge for a Texas defense that is near the bottom of the country in pass defense. The Sooners will likely be doing some shuffling on the offensive line due to some injuries. The Longhorns will need to get consistent pressure on Hurts to protect their secondary and get some stops in a likely high-scoring game.
Oklahoma’s defense is in the middle of the pack in most NCAA rankings, but that’s a significant improvement compared to 2018.
It’ll be strength on strength when it comes to the “money” downs of Saturday’s game from Dallas. The Sooners are one of the best teams in third down defense. Meanwhile, the No. 11 Longhorns are in second in the country in third down offense. Something’s got to give in that match-up and whichever team lives up to its rating will likely walk out of the Cotton Bowl with a win.
The Longhorns pride themselves on being the more physical team. They showed that to Oklahoma last season in this game. With Ehlinger and a stable of large receivers, they’ll be aiming to reclaim their perch as the most physical team in the Big 12.
OU is listed as a 10.5 point favorite, according to oddsmakers, but this game is rarely decided by the point spread. Most people expect Saturday to be a classic at the State Fair of Texas.