DALLAS (AP) — Consider it a sign of how much Bob Stoops and Mack Brown have raised the bar in the Red River Rivalry when Oklahoma and Texas are playing each other without any real national title implications.
For the first time since 1999, when Stoops was in his first season coaching the Sooners and Brown was in Year 2 at Texas, neither team will be ranked in the top 10 for Saturday's clash at the Cotton Bowl. It's just the second time in 15 years that both teams will arrive already with a conference loss — both at home, no less.
Yet there's still plenty on the line when the No. 13 Sooners (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) and No. 15 Longhorns (4-1, 1-1) square off for the 107th time in one of college football's most colorful rivalries.
First of all, it's a struggle for Big 12 survival with No. 5 West Virginia (which beat Texas) and No. 6 Kansas State (which beat Oklahoma) already leading the pack. And maybe, just maybe, the winner keeps the glimmer of hope alive that enough teams lose to make a national championship a possibility.
Even if all players had to look forward to was the incomparable feeling of putting the Golden Hat trophy on their heads, that would be enough.
"All the games are fun for me, but this one hits me deep," Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "This is a good rivalry. It's rich. I think just the tradition throughout the many years, the battles back and forth."
Since Stoops and Brown have been around, the rivalry has reached a new level — such that a game pitting two top-15 teams is a tiny bit of a letdown. But before 2000, it had been 16 years since both teams came in ranked in the top 15. Since then, eight out of 11 games have featured at least one team in the top 5, with both teams ranked that high four times.
"It's one of the biggest games of the season. We all look forward to this game," Sooners defensive end David King said. "The atmosphere, there's nothing like it."
Let King tell you a little about it.
For participants, the experience starts with a bus ride to the stadium, inside the State Fair of Texas. Fans from both teams will surround the buses, hardly holding back their opinions.
"You get so many middle fingers it's ridiculous," King said.
The atmosphere inside the Cotton Bowl is as colorful as outside of it, with the fair's traditional corny dogs and funnel cakes. The stands are split along the 50-yard line with all of Texas' burnt orange on one side and Oklahoma's crimson on the other.
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