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CFN: Top 5 battles of 2002 - Texas vs. Oklahoma

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foxsports admin

 
   
 
It's the off-season, which means it's time for rankings and listings (for recruiting, season previews, player assessments, and just about anything else under the sun) as the bread and butter. There are deeper questions waiting to be explored, bigger battles that need to be dissected. If you're the kind of fan who asks, "Hey! What's it really gonna come down to in 2002? Who will be the championship contenders and where the big boys will rise or fall!", then this is for you. Over the next several weekends, the CollegeFootballNews.com will take a look at the five battles that REALLY matter, the confrontations that will decide the championships of major conferences and very likely the national title.


Battle No. 1: Texas vs. Oklahoma in the Big 12 South

This debate for supremacy on the Central Plains can also be characterized in a number of other ways. If you think offensive coordinators are crucial, you'd be weighing Oklahoma's loss of Mark Mangino (and the subsequent emergence of Chuck Long, who struggled in his play calling in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas) against Texas's retention of Greg Davis. To put the coordinator confrontation in a different light, one could say the real issue is a question of how each coordinator -- Long and Davis -- responds to the different outcomes in their bowl games. Long, a newcomer as a coordinator, must learn from his bowl game failure against the Hogs, while Davis, much maligned for timid play calling in 2001 -- and especially against the Sooners -- will need to learn from his Holiday Bowl successes against Washington by maintaining a more aggressive play-calling approach. If you gravitate toward quarterbacks, you'd say that the Sooners and Longhorns will go as far as the maturity levels of Nate Hybl or Jason White and Chris Simms. If you view football through the defensive side of the ball, you'd wonder if Oklahoma can fill in the gaping holes left by hard-hitting, high-flying Supermen named Rocky and Roy. As for Texas, you'll try to figure out how Texas can withstand the losses of Quentin Jammer and D.D. Lewis. Add all these debates to the classic debate involving Texas' talent versus Oklahoma's superb coaching staff. Add in a double-revenge factor for the Longhorns against Oklahoma's rock-solid confidence and, oh, let's pile on a ton of pressure, given the fact that the game means everything for Texas and that Oklahoma will feel a sense of urgency because the Sooners couldn't parlay last year's Texas win into division and conference titles. Oklahoma or Texas? The debate that shaped much of the 2001 season -- before Colorado entered the plains landscape with Buffalo-like force -- will be a core question in 2002. The team that wins in early October at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas should be able to avoid gagging away the Big 12 South at the end of the season. Can you imagine the Sooners losing to Okie State in back-to-back seasons? Just as much, can you imagine Texas, with all its firepower, losing to the three-tenths-of-a-yard-and-a-cloud-of-dust Texas A&M offense ... in Austin? This year, whoever wins the Big 12 South should be the favorite in the Big 12 title game. Nebraska loses Eric Crouch... 'nuf said there. Colorado loses two key linemen and must rely on a good but less-than-fully-proven Craig Ochs to win a league where the Buffaloes will be fiercely hunted. Kansas State has the talent and will be a more-than-formidable foe for anyone, but the Wildcats are 0-2 in Big 12 title games. Texas or Oklahoma, once in the Big 12 title game, will be favored over their Northern opponent. When the Big 12 title is indeed decided on the first Saturday of December, the victor might be headed for the ultimate championship game. Precisely because the Big 12 is the most top-heavy conference in college football (with the SEC having the most top-to-bottom balance), the winner of the Big 12 stands a good chance of reaching the Fiesta Bowl, this year's BCS title game unless teams start to pick each other off like they did last year. Whether it's the Big 12 South, the Big 12 itself, or even the national championship, it's very possible -- maybe even probable -- that a Red River will run through it in 2002.
Tagged: Stanford, Washington, Washington State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Eric Crouch, Quentin Jammer

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