While Auburn-Texas A&M and Notre Dame-Georgia are compelling, and while Michigan-Wisconsin is important but might be dreadfully boring, the best game on this weekend’s college football schedule is Oklahoma State-Texas.
Bill Connelly is an analytics guru for ESPN. When he crunched the numbers on OSU-Texas, Connelly’s calculation had the Longhorns favored by four-tenths of a point.
When the unranked Cowboys visit 12th-ranked Texas in a 6 p.m. Saturday (on ABC) showdown witnessed by a Royal-Memorial Stadium sellout crowd of more than 100,000, OSU attempts to record its fifth consecutive win over Texas overall and its sixth in a row in Austin.
OSU takes a dynamic offense and a question-mark defense to Texas. I won’t be too surprised if coach Mike Gundy’s team prevails again in Austin because he does have the nation’s leading rusher (Chuba Hubbard) and leading receiver (Tylan Wallace), but I don’t expect it. Not this time.
This time, the University of Texas and its $200 million athletics budget overcome OSU and its $85 million budget.
It feels like the Cowboys have Texas’ attention.
For the first time, it feels like the Texas program and its fans have actually circled the Oklahoma State game on the schedule. In Austin, there appears to be an “enough is enough” approach to the OSU game.
Consider the pressure on Tom Herman and the Longhorns. If Herman’s team loses on Saturday, he would be 0-3 against Gundy.
In a national sense, this is an elimination challenge for Texas. On their home turf two weeks ago, the Longhorns were beaten by LSU. A loss to Oklahoma State would finish Texas as a contender for College Football Playoff participation.
If OSU fans are curious about the tone of Austin conversation this week, here’s an example from an Austin American-Statesman podcast involving columnists Cedric Golden and Kirk Bohls.
Golden: “The Mullet has it going. He always has a good quarterback, and this Spencer Sanders is no joke.”
Bohls: “(Gundy) always has great skill-position talent. … Who’s to say (OSU) doesn’t have a better running game than LSU?”
By Herman and the Austin media, Texas fans have been reminded — or warned — that OSU has elite weapons.
Within the Big 12, Hubbard is the league’s rushing leader — by 49 yards per game. Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts is in second place. In receiving, Wallace is the conference leader by 40 yards per game.
Before 2010, OSU’s lifetime record against the Longhorns was 2-22. During this decade, the Cowboys are 7-2 against Texas.
On Saturday, Gundy and Herman are reunited for the first time since their heated exchange during the final minute of last year’s 38-35 OSU triumph in Stillwater.
None of Oklahoma State’s five consecutive road victories over Texas should be remembered as having been an upset.
In 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, Gundy had the better team. The Cowboys didn’t always perform like the better team (particularly in 2015 and 2017), but they found a way to steal success in Austin.
The OSU ascent to its best football decade coincided exactly with Texas’ descent to mediocrity. Reason No. 1 for OSU’s recent ownership of Texas: a pronounced advantage at the quarterback position.
Brandon Weeden was Gundy’s starter in 2010 and 2011.
In 2013, when OSU hammered Mack Brown’s final Texas team 38-13 in Austin, Clint Chelf was playing the best football of his life. He passed for two touchdowns and ran for two that day.
In 2015 and 2017, the OSU starter was Mason Rudolph.
Texas countered with quarterbacks Garrett Gilbert (2010), David Ash (2011), Case McCoy (2013), Jerrod Heard (2015) and Sam Ehlinger (2017).
Ehlinger today is a celebrated junior who on Saturday makes his 24th career start. OSU redshirt freshman QB Spencer Sanders makes his fourth start.
In 2017, however, Ehlinger was a freshman who made a mistake in overtime — lobbing a pass into the end zone, and watching OSU’s Ramon Richards intercept it and ice a 13-10 victory over the Cowboys.
Somehow, some way, there’s got to be video of the ceremony that preceded the start of the 2006 Oklahoma State-Texas football game. To commemorate his first game in Austin as a head coach, Gundy was given a black cowboy hat by UT officials.
Gundy placed the hat on his head and waved to the Royal-Memorial Stadium crowd of 89,036. He wore it while strolling back to the visitors’ locker room.
At that time, the Cowboys coach kept his hair cut short. Imagine the combination now of the Gundy mullet and a black cowboy hat. Twitter would go crazy.
Gundy’s memory of the 2006 ceremony: “It’s like they are throwing you to the wolves: ‘Here’s a hat. We’re getting ready to kick your (bleep).’”
Texas defeated OSU 36-10 in 2006, 38-35 in Stillwater in 2007 (as the Cowboys blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead), 28-24 in 2008 (as Texas was ranked No. 1 and previously unbeaten OSU was seventh) and 41-14 in 2009.
By the end of the 2009 game, Gundy was 0-5 against Texas. He might wondered whether he would ever beat Texas.
This week, he and the Cowboys have a chance to get a fifth consecutive victory over the Longhorns. Even with Texas having been in a depressed football state during most of this decade, OSU’s recent dominance over the Longhorns should be listed among the greatest achievements in program history.
On Saturday night, you’ll see big plays, big mistakes and huge momentum swings. As football entertainment goes, OSU-Texas should deliver.
The expectation is that the Longhorns are really ready for OSU this time, and that they respond favorably to this pressure assignment. Texas gets a three-point win in what could be a classic.