The Red River Shootout is the defining college football rivalry game where anything can truly happen and the underdog beats the favorite with surprising frequency. Improbable upsets and shocking results define the series. Either team is capable of playing way over its head (or conversely, folding) in October when they smell fried Snickers and hear Okies waddling through the fair, excusing their latest star player’s arrest record and various depredations against society. I witnessed a lot of improbable Texas wins in person while in high school and college, so the idea that anything can happen in this game has always been hardwired into my memory.
For a more recent memory to prove the improbabilities of this contest, look to 2015, where a terrible 1-4 Charlie Strong coached Texas team whipped Top 5 Oklahoma 24-17. OU went 11-2, won the Big 12, and advanced to the college football playoff. Texas went 5-7, was shut out 24-0 by 3-9 Iowa State two weeks later and lost by 43 points to TCU.
Unfortunately, the upset shoe has been on the other foot. And if it’s an Okie shoe, you know it’s a Croc. Texas hasn’t suffered as many dramatic betting line upsets as the Sooners, but I don’t think anyone needs reminding of what happened too many times in the 2000s when the teams met as seeming equals and Texas staggered out with a 40+ point loss. Many of us know what that silent post-Cotton Bowl walk outside the stadium feels like.
Everyone tries to pretend all rivalries are like this, but they’re almost all chalk. If you don’t buy my anecdotal evidence of Texas-OU weirdness, the statistical evidence is irrefutable. Only Florida-Georgia can compare for upsets and while that’s a fun little cocktail party and all, no one with an opinion worth listening to ranks that contest as comparable in passion, intensity, or history.
The unpredictability of the game isn’t easily explained. Some credit the neutral site. Others the unique half-50/50 fan configuration. Perhaps it’s the unforgiving stakes of Texas recruiting, bragging rights, and coaches knowing that too many losses in this rivalry will mean a pink slip. I’ve seen both Texas and Oklahoma coaches steer right into a loss and succumb to the pressure before their team even takes the field (Mack Brown and Gary Gibbs had a particular gift for this) and I’ve watched ordinary players elevate for just one Saturday into demigods.
The Texas defense is going to need a bit of that to deal with the Sooner offense.