NORMAN, Okla. (AP) – The Red River Rivalry is back at its best.
For only the second time in the last seven years, Oklahoma and Texas arrive at their annual showdown in Dallas with unblemished records. The Sooners (4-0) have slipped two spots from their preseason No. 1 ranking despite winning all four of their games, while the Longhorns have climbed all the way to No. 11 with four straight wins.
That sets up a high-stakes showdown between the Big 12 powerhouses Saturday at the heart of the State Fair of Texas.
“Undefeated. Texas-OU. You can’t get any more bigger than that,” Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis said. “They’re trying to take off our heads, we’re trying to take off theirs and it should be an exciting game to watch.”
The Sooners and Longhorns have taken turns suffering early losses in recent years, removing just a little bit of the spice from a century-old rivalry that’s always one of college football’s fiercest. The annual Cotton Bowl showdown as at its heyday between 2001 and 2004, when the teams were both undefeated and ranked in the top 5 three of those four years.
It happened again in 2008, when top-ranked Oklahoma lost to No. 5 Texas — but that’s the only time in the past six seasons both teams made it to early October without losing.
“That’s always a big game,” Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We’ve had many years where it has been we’ve both been undefeated and it’s always a big game. And years when maybe we’re down or maybe they’ve been down, it’s still every bit as big and you want to win every bit as much.”
Each team comes in off of a dominating performance fueled by takeaways. Oklahoma turned four turnovers, including three second-quarter interceptions by Tony Jefferson, into 28 points and throttled Ball State 62-6. Texas forced three first-quarter turnovers on its way to a 34-0 halftime lead, then cruised to a 37-14 win at previously undefeated Iowa State.
While Oklahoma, which won last year’s game 28-20, was the preseason No. 1, the Longhorns started the season unranked for the first time since Mack Brown’s first season as coach in 1998. Another win, and Texas would likely find itself ranked higher than the Sooners.
“It’s really big to be 4-0. I’m not sure a lot of people would’ve thought five weeks ago we would’ve been 4-0 right now,” Brown said. “Guys are playing with a lot of confidence.
“We know a lot more about us now than we did when we started the season.”
The Longhorns have already avenged two of their losses from last season and are halfway through a stretch of four straight games against teams that beat them in 2010.
“We need to get over this one pretty quick,” safety Blake Gideon said. “It’s another notch on our belt, it’s a win.
“We came up here as a business trip, we got the job accomplished, so now we’re playing a pretty good team next week.”
At first glance, the Sooners fixed some of the flaws from a 38-28 victory against Missouri two weeks ago in which they trailed at home for the first time in 21 games. Venables had been disappointed with how his defense lined up incorrectly and provided leverage points for the Tigers’ offense to gain more than 500 yards of offense.
“We know they’re a different team from last year, and I know they’re going to give us their all on Saturday,” Jefferson said. “They got better, but we got better also. It’ll be a great game.”
“I always think Texas is good,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops added. “It’s always hard to gauge where we’re at, where they’re at. You go into the game, and you’ve got to play it. You get each other’s best shot, so it’s always a little bit different than maybe how you might play against somebody else.
“They’re having an excellent year here so far, and fortunately we’ve played pretty decent, too.”
Ball State managed just over 200 yards on Saturday night.
“I think our players recognized we didn’t play to the level we’re capable of, and that it doesn’t take much to be off your game,” Venables said.
Venables said he was pleased with the chemistry, focus and resolve that returned to his team through a stressful week of practice.
“It couldn’t come at a better time. Going down to play Texas will be a great challenge for us and one that we’re really excited about. I know Texas will be looking forward to the stage. It’s a fabulous stage to play a college football game.”
The unique setup splits the Cotton Bowl half and half between Oklahoma and Texas fans, with a dividing line up the stands at midfield. Even walking down the tunnel to the field has overwhelmed some players.
“I know the intensity’s going to be a lot higher,” said Oklahoma running back Dominique Whaley, who will get his first Red River Rivalry experience this year. “It’s a big rivalry game. It gets under everybody’s skin, and they’re all getting ready and focused.
“But we all need to just treat it like it’s another game and execute.”
That’s the message being preached by quarterback Landry Jones, who’ll play in the rivalry for the third time.
“It’s Texas week, it’s a rivalry game and it’s always just the hype around this game is a lot bigger than a lot of other games, so there’s a lot of emotion going into it,” Jones said. “I think subconsciously you put a little more into this week than any others.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)