Searching for legitimacy
As Jordan Hicks clicked through the channels on Texas' bye week, his mind flipped through the possibilities.
No team the Texas linebacker saw intimidated him. In fact, Hicks became more and more convinced that his Longhorns offered just as much, and maybe more.
"You watch the game as a college football player and see what they do and put yourself in those situations and kind of play the game," he said.
Hicks -- maybe because of youthful naiveté and or his orange-shaded glasses -- said there is no doubt Texas could play for the BCS championship.
Well, the schedule presents some doubts: Oklahoma, then Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M to end the season.
But first, it is the Sooners. Both teams are ranked, and this game, like all the others since 2000, will shape the fortunes not only of the two teams involved but could shift the landscape of college football.
Yes this is the biggest rivalry for both teams, but for Oklahoma, it is also just another step for a preseason title hopeful.
For Texas, it is the season's biggest measuring stick. It is about peeling itself off the mat and putting itself back into the mosaic of legitimate teams in college football. A team doesn't do that by beating four unranked opponents. It does it by making a statement in a rivalry game against a top opponent.
The place where this statement would resonate the most is within the walls of Texas' locker room. While this is a team that says it believes in itself, to truly believe you must first establish legitimacy in your own mind. That is what Texas is searching for.
Oklahoma is a team that truly raises doubts within the fan base and the program. A win could restore belief among the upperclassmen and imbue the youth littered throughout the roster with a greater sense of purpose and focus.
Ultimately, a win would also show that all that offseason upheaval was worth it. That's what Texas is waiting on. That is what Texas has to have before it can say it is back. And that is the chance Oklahoma allows the Longhorns.
Proving on-field superiority
Now, probably more than ever, Oklahoma needs to defeat the Longhorns. Needs to pummel them into oblivion. Needs to humble college football's biggest diva.
Yes, the game has Big 12 championship implications, although Oklahoma State seems to be OU's top competitor for the conference crown. And yes, by losing in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners stand little chance of advancing to the national title.
But this time around, far more is at stake in the Red River Rivalry. Through another conference realignment debacle, state pride took a major hit in the Sooner State. Out of the Sooners' second flirtation with the Pac-12 came a disheartening revelation: The Pac-12 presidents really wanted Texas all along.
Fed up with Bevo chasing everyone else out of the sandbox, OU attempted to strong-arm the Longhorns into one of two finalities: pressure them into following OU to the Pac-12 -- where their power and influence would be checked -- or compel them to make significant concessions in a reformed Big 12.
Alas, neither occurred. Pac-12 president Larry Scott proclaimed that a Pac-14 with the Oklahoma schools wouldn't work, and "poof" went OU's leverage. With all the chips in, the Sooners drew a busted straight. OU president David Boren attempted to claim victory. But Bevo stood alone in the winner's circle touting another boardroom "W."
Last summer, Sooners fans fumed at the perception that Texas alone was negotiating with Scott to create college football's first superconference, and that OU would do whatever the Longhorns decided. When the deal collapsed, Boren and athletic director Joe Castiglione took heat for seemingly following Texas' lead. This time, Boren made sure to take the lead. And still, Texas won.
The Sooners, though, have recourse for settling the score, while restoring state pride. Just beat the Horns in the Cotton Bowl, and beat them soundly. Pummel them. Humble them. Something like 63-14 or 65-13 would be nice. But double digits should get the job done.
Texas can have the boardroom. To Oklahoma, winning on the field has always been sweeter anyway.