DALLAS (AP) — It’s a perfect setting: Oklahoma and Texas in the middle of the State Fair of Texas on an early fall Saturday with their passionate fans clad in crimson and burnt orange, split 50-50 in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.
It’s nice that the game carries some national prominence, too.
For the first time since 2012, both teams are ranked, which means the No. 19 Longhorns enter the annual Red River Rivalry game with the No. 7 Sooners (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) as a Top 25 team for the first time in six seasons.
“This is two of the more storied programs in college football history, and obviously our program has not pulled its weight of late,” Longhorns coach Tom Herman said. “But hopefully we feel like moving forward, we should be able to pull our weight in terms of making sure this game is a big one on a national level, hopefully pretty much every year.”
The way it used to be.
Both teams were ranked — often in the top 10 — for 12 of 13 meetings before the recent drought. The lone exception was 2005, when unranked Oklahoma pounded the No. 2 Longhorns 45-12.
The Longhorns (4-1, 2-0), with their first four-game winning streak since 2013, have a chance now to show if they are ready to be one of the Big 12 heavyweights again.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley knows the outside perception of the game might be different because both teams are ranked, but that doesn’t change what he expects.
“The games have been great here the last three years,” said Riley, who became head coach last year after two seasons as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “Is the game going to be any better than it’s been the last three years? I doubt it. … It’s such a unique game. The game’s always great, the atmosphere’s always great. I’m sure it helps when both teams are playing well.”
In the last four years, Oklahoma won three times— each game by five points. Texas had a seven-point victory in 2015, and the Sooners have since won 26 of 27 regular-season conference games and three consecutive Big 12 titles.
Oklahoma blew a 20-0 lead in last year’s game, but won 29-24 after Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield threw a 59-yard TD pass to Mark Andrews in the fourth quarter. That go-ahead score came only a minute after then-freshman Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger had an 8-yard TD for the only Texas lead.
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While Mayfield is now in the NFL, dual-threat Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray is the Big 12’s most efficient passer completing 71 percent of his passes (77 of 109) for 1,460 yards with 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He is also one of the league’s top 10 rushers at 57 yards a game with four TDs.
“He can put the ball almost anywhere. He’s a boss. But you’ve got to step up for those kinds of games,” Texas defensive end Charles Omenihu said. “Kyler’s faster than Baker. … Kyler definitely, when he gets outside the pocket, you have to go get him or else he’s going to run by everybody. He’s probably as fast as a receiver or DB.”
Ehlinger has thrown for at least 200 yards and a touchdown in the first five games, becoming just the fourth Texas quarterback to do that — and the first in a decade. He hasn’t thrown an interception during the four-game winning streak.
“It just looks like he’s making the natural progression that you would expect a quarterback of his talent to make,” Riley said. “He’s played in a good amount of games now, had some different experiences. It looks like he’s more comfortable offensively, more comfortable within the scheme.”
Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown already is the national leader with six catches of at least 40 yards — those account for his five touchdowns. Brown has caught 24 passes for 544 yards, a Big 12-best 22.7 yards per catch. His 109 yards per game rank third in the Big 12 and eighth nationally. CeeDee Lamb also has five TD catches for the Sooners.
Texas leads the series 61-46-5, and is the only Big 12 team with a winning record against the Sooners. … Herman will try to avoid being the first Longhorns coach to start 0-2 against Oklahoma since David McWilliams in 1987-88. Riley can become the first Sooners coach to win his first two games against Texas since Barry Switzer in 1973-74 … The series began in 1900. It has been played since 1912 in Dallas — halfway between Norman, Oklahoma, and Austin, Texas — and at the State Fair since 1929.