The Red River Rivalry is here again and, though it has lost some luster with Texas' recent struggles and blowouts in the last two seasons (by Oklahoma over Texas), it is still one of the best and more anticipated games of this week as it kicks off Week 7 action at noon ET Saturday.
Before the season we reviewed the Texas roster that had 18 returning starters, a wealth of experience dating back before 2012 and an incredible amount of talent, with a defense that looked like it could be what we saw from the squad in 2011 and an offense that should be able to match if not improve upon an explosive 2012. This Longhorns team looked like it should win the Big 12 and rank among the top ten in the country. Before the season, we would have had Texas favored to win this neutral field game outright. Somewhere along the line, Manny Diaz, health issues and unrest got in the way. Blowout losses at BYU and to Ole Miss and narrow victories against Kansas State and at Iowa State ("allegedly") and now we are put in a position simply to defend Texas as being able to keep the score within two touchdowns against Oklahoma.
Texas is 3-2 against the 31st ranked schedule thus far in 2013. Texas is an undefeated 2-0 in the Big 12, giving this game significant importance. By our updated metrics that account for on-field play and strength-of-schedule adjustments, Texas ranks 42nd overall. Though the run defense looked porous (to put it mildly) against BYU, this entire team is really neither elite nor terrible. Offensively, we have the Longhorns as the 40th best team in the country. Defensively, they are 41st. An injury to starting quarterback David Ash - a big key to the team's disappointing start - has forced this team to focus on its ground game even more than in recent years. Fortunately, former top ranked recruit Johnathan Gray has responded as the feature back this team has been lacking for several years (Jamaal Charles in 2007 was the last Longhorn to rush for over 750 yards in a season - Gray is on pace for 1,141 after four straight games of 85+ rushing yards). Defensively, the team has certainly lacked consistency, but performance recently is promising, especially against the run where the last two opponents have failed to top 4.0 yards-per-rush. Plus, there may be three future first round draft choices on the defense (one at each level) which suggests both that the talent is there to succeed and that former NFL assistant and current defensive coordinator (as of September 8th) Greg Robinson should be able to help.
Oklahoma is 5-0 against the 75th ranked FBS schedule to-date. Oklahoma ranks 13th overall and has a top 15 offense and defense in the country. Junior quarterback Blake Bell leads an offense that has picked up over eight yards per pass while he has been under center. Bell has not thrown an interception in 104 attempts this year (not likely to last forever). However, something glaring related to this matchup is obvious in our evaluation of the Sooners. Oklahoma struggles mightily against the run, ranking just 71st in the country in run efficiency. The Sooners gave up 7.0 yards-per-rush to West Virginia and 7.6 yards-per-rush to Notre Dame. Neither of those teams won, but both kept the game within two touchdowns. Texas will likely need to hit a big pass play in this game if it wants to win, but an advantage in the running game should still help the Longhorns stay close.
There is not much to suggest, especially after convincing wins by the Oklahoma Sooners, that Texas should win this game, but signs are certainly pointing to a more competitive matchup than the last two seasons. Look for Johnathan Gray and the Longhorns ground game to pile up yards and big plays en route to scoring enough points to hit on the spread (+14) and go over the total (56.5).
According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Oklahoma wins over Texas in the Red River Rivalry game 67.1% of the time and by an average score of 35.2-24.3. As more than two touchdown underdogs that lose by barely double-digit points on average, Texas covers the spread 54.0% of the time. This is just shy of qualifying as a "half-bet" pick, yet a normal $50 player can still feel confident enough about this play to wager $17 on Texas +14. Though low scoring relative to the conference in our projections, the simulation does find some value with the OVER (56.5), which covers 53.8% and would warrant a $15 play from a normal $50 player.