(Eds: Adds details, comments. With AP Photos.)By JEFF LATZKEAP College Football Writer
It’s a college football experience unlike any other.
It starts with a bus ride into the State Fair of Texas, with fans thumping on the sides and cheering or directing insults and unfriendly gestures toward the riders. Then there’s the walk down the Cotton Bowl field, the chance to stare down your bitter rival face to face before the game begins.
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And no matter what’s on the line beyond the Golden Hat trophy at the annual Red River Rivalry, it’s always something special – even if the stakes are a little lower than usual.
No. 13 Oklahoma (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) and No. 15 Texas (4-1, 1-1) will arrive in Dallas on Saturday playing catch-up in the conference standings for a change. Instead of a showdown to get in the driver’s seat in the Big 12, the rivalry is a crucial win both teams need to keep up with No. 5 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas State.
For the first time since 2007, and the second time since 1997, both teams already have a conference loss behind their names.
”It doesn’t have any different feel,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Monday. ”Not in my eyes.”
It’ll be the 14th straight time Stoops has gone up against Texas’ Mack Brown, with the two teams combining to win nine of the last 13 conference titles. The loser this time could end up two games back in the league standings.
So, could this be an early October elimination game?
”I wouldn’t ever say that,” Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin said. ”We don’t want to get too high. We don’t want to get too low.
”You never know what’s going to happen in the Big 12 or in college football, period. We’re definitely going to try to go out there and get this win, try and give it our all but we don’t really think of the negatives yet.”
The potential is certainly there, though. Oklahoma lost on its home field last month against Kansas State, and Texas was beaten at home just last week by West Virginia. Don’t forget that the Sooners must travel to face the Mountaineers, and the Longhorns finish the regular season at K-State.
”We can’t afford to take any more losses and we can’t afford to take any steps backward. We’re trying to move forward in everything that we do,” Oklahoma defensive end R.J. Washington said.
”But it’s Texas. It’s going to be high-energy. There’s going to be an unruly crowd. Things aren’t going to go your way, but you’ve just got to keep pushing. I think the first couple games we’ve had have helped us get through that. We’ve gone through some adversity. We’ve battled back from that.”
The Sooners are coming off of a 41-20 win at previously unbeaten Texas Tech, ending a three-game losing streak in Lubbock. Before that, they had off weeks bracketing the 24-19 loss to Kansas State, and Stoops thought all the down time stunted the team’s development.
”Now, hopefully we can get in a rhythm. … You really make your improvement, I think, when you’re on the field playing in game situations, and hopefully we can take some strides and keep improving,” Stoops said.
The only setback Monday was the news that backup offensive lineman Nila Kasitati was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
The Sooners have won the last two games in the series, including a 55-17 decision last season, after losing four of the previous five. After a weekend when three of the nation’s top five teams lost, they’re still harboring the grandest of hopes.
”We’re trying to get to the national championship,” Colvin said. ”We’re trying to win big games. We definitely want to beat those guys just because it’s such a big rivalry, but at the end of the day, we need this win for us.”
”You really never know with college football. … We’ve still got a chance,” he added. ”You never know what’ll happen. If odds work out in our favor, then we’ll be blessed to have that situation and we’ll definitely go out there and play hard.”
For now, though, it’s all about beating the Longhorns. Any chances at the Big 12 and national championships depend on it.
”It’s anybody’s game right now,” Washington said. ”It could come down to the wire, so every game is as important as every other game. This just happens to be a rivalry game. There’s always a little added incentive for that.”