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Texas hoping to turn season around against rival Sooners

If Texas wants to pull the upset, it can't turn the ball over to the likes of Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It's been a while since the Red River Showdown carried major Big 12 title and national championship implications. For the third straight season, Texas will arrive at the Cotton Bowl unranked, this time starting 1-4. Still, this game has always given such an opponent the opportunity to salvage its season. And a win over Oklahoma would give Charlie Strong a foundational win to rebuild the program. That won't come easy, though. The 10th-ranked Sooners have been one of the most impressive teams in the country through the first month of the season.

Below, Max Olson and I break down the 110th edition of the Red River Rivalry (12 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN Watch App):

How Oklahoma can control the game: Heavy underdogs have thrived in this game with early success and big special teams or defensive plays. In 2013, as a two-touchdown underdog, the Longhorns jumped on Oklahoma early with a pick-six; later, Daje Johnson took a punt return to the house. That gave the Longhorns the confidence and belief they could beat OU; and sure enough, they did. This time around, the Sooners need to test Texas' resolve early. If the Longhorns get down like they did last week against TCU, it's difficult to see them coming back, especially given the locker room infighting. -- Trotter

How Texas can pull the upset: Texas has averaged 177 rushing yards in its last five wins over Oklahoma and 85 yards in its last five losses in the rivalry. Two years ago, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray controlled the game by teaming up for 243 yards. This year, the trio of Gray, D'Onta Foreman and the elusive Jerrod Heard must get the job done. If Texas can’t get a physical run game going, the Sooners defense will just tee off on Heard. Defensively, the Horns have to weather the storm of whatever shots Baker Mayfield lands early and pressure him into making mistakes. If he has all day to throw and wide lanes to run, Texas has no chance. -- Olson

Oklahoma's X-factor: The Sooners don't go to tight end Mark Andrews often, but when they do, good things usually happen. Andrews has three touchdown catches on eight receptions this season. The Longhorns are sure to be focused on Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. That should create opportunities for Andrews in favorable matchups down the middle of the field. -- Trotter

Texas’ X-factor: Special teams, obviously. Texas has already endured some brutal shenanigans on that front with the missed extra point against California, the botched punt against Oklahoma State and the long snap for a safety against TCU. Now Charlie Strong has reopened the competition at placekicker. What if backup Nick Jordan, who hasn’t kicked in a game since 2012, is called upon in a critical moment? Texas also needs a difference-maker in the return game if Daje Johnson is out as expected. – Olson

What a win would mean for the Sooners: A win in Dallas would continue to solidify Oklahoma's status as a bona fide playoff contender. The Red River Showdown usually brings out the best in a big underdog (see: 1989, 1996, 2013). If the Sooners can survive that trend, it would be another sign of OU's staying power as a Big 12 title contender and playoff possibility. -- Trotter

What a win would mean for the Longhorns: If he pulls this off, Charlie Strong’s biggest victory yet at Texas couldn’t come at a better time. Pulling off the upset would quiet some of the national scrutiny of the Longhorns and seriously boost the confidence of a youthful team that’s tired of losing. Though Texas would still only be 2-4, a win by any margin could become a turning point for Strong’s rebuild. They sure could use a victory that hushes any hot-seat talk and helps their recruiting efforts. -- Olson