There wasn’t one player or coach representing Oklahoma or Texas at the Big 12 Media Days with an acting background. So when all downplayed the ever-escalating bitterness in the Red River Rivalry, it was hard to believe it wasn’t genuine.
Even after airplane banners flew over stadiums, fans engaged in a bitter debate over which team deserved to represent the Big 12 South in the conference title game and asterisks started appearing in locker rooms, no one was willing to say college football’s most intense rivalry was burning any hotter.
“You explain to me how it could be,” OU coach Bob Stoops replied when asked if the intensity between the programs had grown.
There’s no doubt the intensity between the fans, however, has hit a growth spurt. When it became obvious last November that BCS standings were going to decide the three-way tie among OU, Texas and Texas Tech in Big 12 South, things got ugly.
They reached an apex when an airplane towing banners touting the Longhorns’ victory over the Sooners in Dallas circled at both OU’s game at Oklahoma State and the Big 12 title game in Kansas City, Mo.
If it bothered the Sooners, they didn’t let it show. They responded with a pair of dominant performances to solidify their berth in the BCS title game and exile the Longhorns to the Fiesta Bowl.
But the bad blood grew even worse when Texas topped Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz., a few days before OU lost to Florida in Miami.
Texas fans felt that proved it would have been a more worthy adversary for the BCS title game.
“I’m sure there are people out there that are still upset,” Texas linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said. “It was out of our control. We could have controlled it if we would have beaten Texas Tech. But we put ourselves in a situation where others could make the decision.”
Players and coaches are conditioned to move forward faster than others. They know they have 11 other regular-season games they’re expected to win. Putting all the focus on one doesn’t make sense.
But they don’t live in a bubble either. They’ve all seen the bitterness growing among those beyond the field and the sidelines.
OU quarterback Sam Bradford grew up in Oklahoma City, but the 21-year-old said he’s never seen things get this bitter when it comes to OU-Texas.
“We were fortunate in the tiebreaker, and some of our fans are still bitter about some of the things that were done in that rivalry,” he said. “So I’m sure this year, when we meet in the Cotton Bowl, there’s going to be a little extra added.”
Perhaps it will all boil over Oct. 17 in Dallas. Both teams will start the season as consensus top five teams. As far as national implications go, their won’t be a regular-season game in college football than the Red River Rivalry.
Hardly anything new in college football landscape. Either the Sooners or the Longhorns have won the Big 12 South every year since 1999. That string is nothing to a rivalry that goes back over 100 years and hostile streak that goes back almost as long.
“Twenty years ago it was a big deal. Sixty years ago it was a big deal,” Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley said. “It’s a fun game to be part of.”
So don’t expect the Sooners and Longhorns to go out of their way to hype their annual meeting. Despite what happened last season, they live in the present. They’ll let the fans live in the past.
“OU-Texas is a huge game, and you always want to beat your rival. But I don’t think you put too much emphasis or focus on who’s won how many games,” OU defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “Because it’s that season, and you want to win it that season regardless if they won it last year. It’s in the past. You can’t change it. So you want to win it this year coming up.”