The Red River Showdown inside the Cotton Bowl has been the pièce de résistance of the Big 12 schedule in recent years. The unique setting -- the State Fair of Texas in the backdrop with a 50/50 split of fans wearing burnt orange or crimson inside -- is truly unlike anything else in college football.
This year feels so much different. Due to COVID-19, the State Fair has been put on hold. And in most years, either Oklahoma or Texas (usually Oklahoma) is in the national-championship conversation. Sometimes both of them are. In 2020, however, the Sooners and Longhorns enter their annual rivalry trying not to slip any further. What a time to be alive.
Oklahoma has lost two straight Big 12 games -- something it hasn't done since John Blake's final season in 1998. That also marked the last time the Sooners lost three straight conference games. As unimaginable as it seems, that's on the line against the Longhorns, who are only a slight underdog.
Texas is also trying to bounce back after losing to TCU for the seventh time in the past nine years. Another loss to Oklahoma would be the fifth in the last six years, and the rumblings about coach Tom Herman would grow just a little louder. Astonishingly, this has the makings of a game that neither side can really afford to lose, as doing so would put them significantly behind in the race for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. So let's break down the storylines in an important Red River Showdown this weekend.
Oklahoma: Where to begin? There are a lot of problems with this year's Sooners -- problems that, collectively, they've not had to face in recent years. Starting with the defense is usually simple enough. Put succinctly, it's bad. That part isn't too different. Still, Oklahoma ranks last in the Big 12 by allowing 12.3 yards per passing attempt in conference play. Their opponents: Iowa State and Kansas State. And while those teams aren't bad at passing the ball, they're not exactly the most potent, spread-em-out passing attacks, either. Tackling is an issue, too.
What normally mitigates those issues is the offense. It's still potent this year at 37.7 points per game, but things are off just a little. The offensive line, normally a strength, hasn't been opening up running lanes as it has in the past. Quarterback Spencer Rattler has all the arm talent in the world, but he's been plagued by some decision-making -- or, in some cases, indecisiveness -- issues. Finally, this appears to be a rare instance in which Oklahoma doesn't have a truly game-changing talent at wide receiver or running back. Sure, the Sooners are talented, but there hasn't been a CeeDee Lamb/Marquise Brown/Joe Mixon type to be an assassin. A lot of that has to do with attrition from last year, but that needs to change ASAP. There's no better time to start than vs. Texas.
Texas: One way to get the tase of Horned Frog out of your mouth is to beat Oklahoma. Texas has the weapons to do it with Joshua Moore, Brennan Eagles and Brendan Schooler. Those three have combined for more than 400 yards and nine touchdowns through the air. Even though quarterback Sam Ehlinger didn't have his best day against TCU in Week 5, he still tossed four touchdown passes. The offense should be able to do whatever it wants against Oklahoma's defense. What's concerning is that Texas seems to disappear for quarters on end. There will be times when the offense can move the ball but just can't finish drives. Turnovers and penalties have a lot to do with that, and they've really shown up in the last two games via four turnovers and 22 penalties for 192 yards. That lack of discipline is not uncommon throughout college football this year with COVID-19, but it's a quick way to lose a game. You'd like to think those things are fixable, but if they're still a problem a month from now, they probably aren't.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 10 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Cotton Bowl -- Dallas
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
Both teams are in a corner ready to come out swinging, and I'd bet that's reflected in a high-scoring game. I think Sooners coach Lincoln Riley sprinkles in some aggressiveness we haven't seen from his team so far. As improbable as losing back-to-back Big 12 games seemed at the time, dropping three in a row would be almost unheard of for Oklahoma. Pick: Oklahoma (-2)
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