Oklahoma and Texas limped into the Red River Rivalry last season, each coming off a loss in its conference opener that derailed hopes of a national championship.
One year later, the Big 12 South rivals enter their annual matchup looking as strong as they have in years.
With both teams ranked in the top 5 for their head-to-head meeting for the first time since 2004, the top-ranked Sooners and No. 5 Longhorns look to remain undefeated and improve their standing in the loaded conference as they meet at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Oklahoma and Texas were ranked 10th and 19th, respectively, as they headed into their yearly meeting in 2007, but the showdown proved to be anticlimactic. The Sooners were coming off a 27-24 loss to Colorado, while the Longhorns had dropped their conference opener 41-21 to Kansas State.
Oklahoma bounced back to defeat Texas 28-21 behind three touchdown passes from Sam Bradford, and finished 11-3 after a Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia.
After opening 0-2 in conference for the first time since 1956, Texas won six of its last seven games, beating Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl to finish 10-3.
Both teams have their sights set higher this season. The Sooners (5-0, 1-0) have outscored opponents 248-69 - including 103-3 in the first quarter - during their first 5-0 start since 2004. They’re ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2003 as they go into their biggest game of the regular season.
“Everybody in the locker room is fired up about it and that week is here,” coach Bob Stoops said minutes after the Sooners’ 49-17 victory at Baylor last Saturday. “You want an opportunity to win the (Big 12) South and continue to compete for a national championship. … We’ve handled our business up to this point.”
So have the Longhorns (5-0, 1-0), who beat Colorado 38-14 last Saturday to go undefeated through five games for the first time since their 13-0 national championship season of 2005.
“It’s what these two teams should have at midseason. It’s two top-5 teams that are both playing really well,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “We’ll have everybody in America talking about the game next week, and that’s what we want.
“This is a better motivation. Both teams slipped last year.”
Brown won his first two games against Oklahoma in 1998 and ‘99 before losing five straight in the series. He led the Longhorns to victories over the Sooners in 2005 and ‘06 before last year’s defeat.
Texas is 57-40-5 against Oklahoma as the teams head into their 103rd meeting. The Sooners, though, have won the last three games when both teams were ranked in the top 5, most recently a 12-0 victory in 2004.
Oklahoma will look to extend that winning streak behind Bradford, who’s second in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 205.0 rating. He’s completed 72.6 percent of his passes for 1,665 yards and 18 touchdowns - all in the top 10 in the FBS.
“Obviously there’s going to be a lot more emotion and energy going into this game,” Bradford said. “You have to settle down and just treat it like any other game, you can’t get out of what you’re used to doing.
“We’ll stay with the things that we’ve done this year. They’ve been good to us, there’s no reason to change it now.”
Oklahoma, however, will be facing a stingy Texas defense that’s given up only five touchdowns in its first season under new coordinator Will Muschamp.
“Watching them play, you can tell that the effort’s there, you can tell they’re disciplined in what their responsibilities are and they mix things up well,” Stoops said. “Will has definitely had an impact there. It’s obvious.”
Thanks in part to Muschamp, Texas’ fifth defensive coordinator in six years, the Longhorns are tied for fourth in the FBS in scoring defense, surrendering 11.4 points per game. Muschamp, however, is far more impressed with Texas’ 5-0 record.
“Stats are for losers,” Muschamp said after last week’s victory. “I like winning games.”
So does Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who’s 25-6 since succeeding Vince Young as the starter in 2006. McCoy is five wins shy of Young’s school record.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge,” McCoy said. “It’s going to be a tough test. They are deserving of being No. 1. … We know the challenge in front of us, and we are looking forward to it.”