DALLAS (AP) — Before Maryland, or San Jose State, or Southern California, or Iowa State, or Kansas State, the Texas Longhorns had a countdown clock in their locker room.
For the Oklahoma game.
Tom Herman might be new to the rivalry as a head coach, but the former Texas assistant is acting like a veteran of the half-burnt orange, half-crimson Cotton Bowl spectacle that takes center stage at the Texas State Fair in Dallas again Saturday.
“I remember it being like 108 days a long time ago,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “Time flies, and you look at the hallway coming in to build up to this moment.”
The 12th-ranked Sooners might have been peeking ahead to the Longhorns before their stunning home loss to Iowa State , so now they’re thinking about more than bragging rights. Oklahoma (4-1, 1-1 Big 12), which was No. 3 with a nation-leading 14-game winning streak a week ago, needs a win to maintain realistic hopes for the College Football Playoff.
“It’s a big-picture mindset,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “The biggest thing for us is realizing we still have it all out in front of us. It doesn’t matter what anybody else does. If we win out and take care of our business, I have all the confidence in the world that we could end up in the playoff, and we should.”
The Longhorns (3-2, 2-0) aren’t thinking playoff after losses to Maryland and USC, but they’re tied for first in the Big 12 with No. 6 TCU following a double-overtime win against Kansas State.
Texas hasn’t been in this position since 2013, when the Longhorns went into the final game of the regular season with a shot at the league championship in former coach Mack Brown’s last season.
And while Herman thinks enough of the rivalry to display preseason references for the sixth game on the schedule, he also has a big-picture mindset.
“They don’t give you extra points in the Big 12 standings for beating Oklahoma and they don’t get any extra for beating Texas,” Herman said. “Our main goal is to compete for and win the conference title in the months of November and December. This is the next step along that way.”
Four years ago, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley was coaching quarterbacks at East Carolina, a year before his first crack at offensive coordinator. He filled that role the past two years under Bob Stoops, and now is the youngest head coach in the Bowl Subdivision at 34.
Riley, also familiar with the Longhorns as a Texas native and former walk-on at Texas Tech, and the 42-year-old Herman have already made some history. The last time both coaches were leading their teams into the Texas-OU game for the first time, it was 1947.
“It’ll be an emotional game because it’s OU-Texas, not because of anything else for me,” Riley said. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of the game the last couple of years, learned a lot about it and how it’s different.”
Story lines for the 112th meeting in the Red River rivalry, and 89th straight in Dallas:
Mayfield’s Heisman Trophy hopes might have taken a hit in the 38-31 loss to the Cyclones, just the second for Oklahoma against Iowa State in 56 years. He had two touchdown passes in the first nine minutes, but didn’t throw another. The Sooners produced just one touchdown after his 13-yard scoring run late in the second quarter. But another big game a year after engineering a 45-40 win over Texas could get him back on track.
EHLINGER ON THE RUN
Texas freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger can be a bruising runner when he puts his head down or rips through arm tackles. It’s a critical element to the Texas offense behind a patchwork offensive line. The Sooners will want to limit Ehlinger’s ability to move the chains with his legs.
“Toughest guy on your team has got to be your quarterback because that’s the nature of your football team,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.
TEXAS FORCING TURNOVERS
Mayfield hasn’t thrown an interception but will lock up with a secondary that is picking them off in droves. Safety DeShon Elliott has a nation-leading five in the last three games. Holton Hill has two. Those two have combined to return three of those picks for touchdowns.
ABOUT THAT OU CLOCK
Elliott said he noticed that the OU helmet on the countdown clock is frequently upside down. “I don’t know who does it, but for some reason it happens,” Elliott said. “You can’t wait for that game, because every game is a big game, but that game …”