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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: A Red River runs through the Big 12

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When you enter the Texas State Fair on Saturday, try to ignore the following:

Big Tex, the Elvis carved out of butter, fried ice cream and the corny dogs. Oh, the corny dogs. (Homer Simpson yummy sound).

It's going to be hard, I know. But the Red River Rivalry is about much more this year than sharing a turkey leg with The Human Torso. It's a reminder that any conference that includes Oklahoma and Texas is worth saving.

That became obvious Thursday when Brett McMurphy reported that the Big 12 was adding TCU. McMurphy on TCU

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Welcome, Froggies, you're inside the circus tent along with rest of the State Fair circus freaks. (And no, that's not a reference to the Oklahoma receivers' athleticism). OU-Texas is the core of why TV networks have paid the Big 12 and will bid on its rights the future. It is the main reason to keep some sort of conference together that calls itself the Big 12 (or whatever).

Texas-OU is appointment television. It is Americana. It's a laconic Longhorn steer. It's a couple of ponies (Boomer and Sooner) pooping in the Cotton Bowl tunnel. It is much the same reason the ACC doubled its ESPN take this year. Two Duke-Carolina hoops games and the hope that Miami and Florida State rebound in football was worth the payout.

Sure, Longhorns and Sooners played each other for decades in different conferences. The shaky, combative Big 12, though, has built on the rivalry. OU-Texas is a spectacle. With a conference title and potentially a national championship at stake, it gets better.

This is only the 17th time in 106 meetings both teams have been in the top 10. This is the 13th Mack Brown-Bob Stoops meeting. Stoops has a 7-5 edge. Thirteen years surpasses Bo and Woody by three. Spurrier and Bowden went against each other for only 12 years.

The difference? Florida-Florida State and Ohio State-Michigan become culminations of seasons. Texas and Oklahoma have to hit the pause button on whatever they're doing.

"It's like a bowl game at midseason," Brown said this week. "It's tough to play the week before it, it's tough to play the week after it."

This is OU-Texas. It's good to know your opponent. You don't necessarily have to like your opponent.

"We get along fine ...," Brown said. "Bob's obviously one of the best coaches in the country and will be in the Hall of Fame."

"We got along fine ...," Stoops said. "It's more business than anything."

Do you get the idea that things are fine between them? They are separated by age -- Texas' coach is 10 years older than his 50-year-old rival. They both come from a different age. It's fair to say Brown is more old-school. Bear Bryant recruited him when Brown was a teenager growing up in Tennessee.

Stoops, pride of Ohio, gritty defensive back at Iowa, is a defensive specialist. But he has been known as much for his D as his up-tempo, triple-digit offense. Triple digits as in running 100 plays per game.

Together, they have staged some classics in Dallas. Roy Williams' famous "Superman" lunge at Chris Simms in 2001. Texas' 33-point win on its way to a 2005 national championship. Texas' 2008 victory over then-No. 1 Oklahoma that was minimized when the Sooners later won a three-way BCS tiebreaker for the South Division title.

That's why you want this to keep going, this state fair footballfest, in this league, with these two guys. No matter what goes on around it, the game just keeps better.

Scouting the Nation

Still waiting for Baylor president Kenneth Starr's tortuous interference lawsuit against the Big 12 for poaching the Big East. Oh, wait ...

God help Jeff Driskel: Light a candle. Recite a novena. Pray the rosary. Make a donation to the Jeff Driskel Fund, which will certainly be formed shortly after Florida's quarterback meets LSU;'s defense.

Driskel is the Gators' true freshman who was pressed into duty last week when Alabama's defense smashed John Brantley. The Florida coaches were kind of playing games this week, hinting at other options against LSU, but does it matter? If you're a frosh quarterback playing the No. 1 team on the road, you just hope to survive.

That's how frightful the nation's two best defenses have become. What looked like a juicy midseason matchup in Baton Rouge now looks like a case of survival for Driskel.

This is why he came to Gainesville, to play in big games before big crowds against big teams. But maybe not this soon. It's fair to say Driskel probably isn't ready for this stage. While Florida is hoping to hang in the game. LSU is ready to take another scalp. Florida-LSU preview

Know your opponent: At least three Sooners didn't know the identity of David Ash this week.

"Who's he?" OU defensive back Tony Jefferson asked reporters.

Actually, Ash is a freshman sharing the Texas quarterback duties with the slightly more identifiable Case McCoy.

"I thought [Garrett] Gilbert was the quarterback," Jefferson said.

Well, no. That was weeks ago before Gilbert lost the job, injured his shoulder, was knocked out for the season and this week decided to transfer.

"I'll have to start watching film," OU linebacker Tom Wort said. "I haven't paid much attention to Texas."

Huh? To help with Jefferson's game prep, Ash is the run-first guy who threw his first two career touchdown passes last week against Iowa State. McCoy, a sophomore, plays a lot like his brother Colt, throwing to a Shipley. For Colt it was Jordan Shipley. For Case, it's Jordan's brother Jaxon who leads the Horns with 16 catches.

Poster children for our sympathy: The tragedy about Ohio State is that things are going downhill faster than anyone expected. The Buckeyes were booed at home last week. The offense is a mess. At 3-2, the Bucks go to Nebraska on Saturday and are facing a brutal stretch. Unbeaten Illinois and Wisconsin are next.

Oh, and the NCAA is hanging around like that last guy at your party while you're cleaning up at 2 a.m. Both are annoying and won't leave. WWL isn't the only one who feels for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes who didn't sign up for this. They're the ones who are going to hurt the most, especially if the NCAA guts the program.

"I believe [AD] Gene Smith knows the truth," former Buckeye star Maurice Clarett told the Omaha World-Herald this week. "And I can pretty much leave it at that." Ohio State-Nebraska preview

Great day to be a Frog: TCU goes from one of its worse days under Gary Patterson -- last week's loss to SMU -- to Thursday being its best day in history. (See above.) BCS league, reunited with Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor from the old Southwest Conference.

Best thing: In the Big 12, TCU could lose Saturday's game at San Diego State, fall to 3-3 and still be in line for a BCS bowl. Now? It is trolling for a Las Vegas Bowl bid.

Quarterback situation going South (Carolina): Connor Shaw will start for South Carolina against Kentucky replacing the utterly confounding Stephen Garcia. Barring injury, Steve Spurrier says Shaw will play the whole game.

Question: Is that a promise or a threat?

The King of Quarterbacks is coaching the No. 102 passing attack.

Top 25 mystery team: Its two-deep is filled with 19 jucos and five FBS transfers. Its starting quarterback spent his freshman season at wide receiver and special teams. Its star linebacker had a total of 17 tackles his first two seasons. Its preseason all-conference tailback doesn't play.

Give up? Happy birthday to Kansas State's Bill Snyder, who turns 72 on Friday. His assemblage of football wayfarers may be a record, even for the nation's best coach at evaluating junior-college talent. More impressive heading into the Missouri game, Snyder has scoured the nation getting 13 starters who are either junior-college players or FBS transfers, including middle linebacker Arthur Brown.

He's the guy with those 17 tackles at Miami (Fla.). His brother Bryce, a transfer from Tennessee, is out with undisclosed personal problems. The quarterback is the overachieving Collin Klein whose Wildcats are somehow an underdog at home to Missouri. Missouri-Kansas State preview

Aggie Watch: Texas A&M's second-half problems are chronic. Either the Aggies are being outcoached or they are out of shape. Perhaps both. That's a logical conclusion from watching the second-half collapses in the past two weeks against Oklahoma State and Arkansas.

A&M has been great in the first half of those games -- scoring 55 points -- and terrible in the second, getting outscored by a combined 52-12. The Cowboys and Hogs ran a combined 104 plays in those second halves. One second-half collapse is a surprise, two is a trend. Three is grounds for Mike Sherman being on the hot seat this week at Texas Tech.

Something to chew on ... and spit out: In 300 minutes of football this year, LSU has trailed for only 6 minutes, 33 seconds.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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