In six days, the smell of corn dogs and beer will seep through the cracks of the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to the 92,100 fans in attendance — 41,050 in crimson, 41,050 in burnt orange — for the 113th Red River Showdown.
And this year, the game could be a defining moment in the Sooners' season.
Saturday will mark the biggest OU-Texas game since 2011, the last time both teams were ranked in the top 15 heading into the game. It has the feel of games of old like 2001 and 2008 that became marquee matchups. The winner of this year’s game will likely be the favorite to win the Big 12, along with West Virginia, and make a run at the playoff.
That stakes are high for both teams — the No. 19 Longhorns can put themselves back on the map and the No. 7 Sooners can solidify themselves as a national title contender.
“I’d like to come and tell y’all that it’s just another week, but it’s not,” redshirt senior linebacker Curtis Bolton said. “Everybody knows the deal about Texas. No matter how good or bad their team has looked since I’ve been here, even years before that I’ve seen, they’re going to come out and play their best ball that they have all year.”
Oklahoma has been playing some of the best football in the country this year and have arguably the best player in the country in Kyler Murray. Their defense has struggled at times, showing flashes of past mistakes, but have also shown potential to improve as the season progresses.
Texas has looked the best it’s looked in years, earning wins over USC and TCU. Despite dropping their season opener to a below average Maryland team, the Longhorns have responded well, winning four straight. Sam Ehlinger is starting to settle in at quarterback, and the defense, led by freshman defensive back Caden Stern, looks to be the toughest test Oklahoma will have faced so far this season.
But this is OU-Texas — so you can throw everything out of the book.
“From what I’ve seen, they’re playing good ball,” sophomore wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said. “It’s going to be a fight … We just have to play our game, play Oklahoma football.”
The term “Oklahoma football” has changed extensively over the years. A program that once prided itself on being the most physical team on the field has at times just been in a race to 50. It’s works about 95 percent of the time for the Sooners, who boast one of the most electric offenses college football has seen in the last decade and that has led them to two College Football Playoff appearances.
It’s also seen its weaknesses — fielding the No. 76 total defense doesn’t typically work in your favor.
Oklahoma has a chance to change the narrative this Saturday. That physicality they talked about all spring and summer has shown in glimpses, but if the Sooners can top Texas — which will take a physical performance — on the national stage in a game that will looks to be restored to its former glory, it could propel them to not only another CFP appearance, but maybe an eighth national title.
“We’ve got to come out hungry at the end of the day because we know they are,” Bolton said. “It’s the best rivalry in college football. They’re going to come out swinging and we need to be prepared for that … To be honest, I’m so ready it’s not even funny.”
Saturday will be Oklahoma’s first true test. Florida Atlantic and UCLA showed little fight, Iowa State and Army gave it their best shot, and Baylor is still Baylor. But Texas presents a new challenge: an old rival on the verge of returning to national prominence in a game played in front of the entire country.
“It’s what you come to Oklahoma for,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “They’re obviously playing a lot better, so it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Coach Lincoln Riley didn’t have much to say about Texas after Oklahoma’s 66-33 win over Baylor Saturday. He reiterated that games are “damn hard” to win and that he and his team were going to celebrate that.
But everyone knows what’s in the back of Riley’s, his players' and Sooner Nation’s minds.
“Are the guys excited for next week?” Riley said. “No question.”