In the Red River Showdown, expect to be surprised

Is Oklahoma good enough to make playoff?

The College Football Daily crew debates whether Oklahoma has what it takes to make the College Football Playoff.

In the fifth edition of the Red River Showdown, the outcome was decided by the most unexpected of bystanders.

Four years before Oklahoma became a state, the Sooners clashed with Texas at Oklahoma City’s Colcord Park in 1903. Back then, even if a punt traveled through the end zone, it was still considered a live ball and could be recovered for a touchdown. This time, a Texas punt sailed through the playing field and settled under a horse hitched to a buggy. OU’s Byron McCreary sprinted to the other side of the horse to see if he could grab the pigskin; but Texas’ “Mogul” Robinson dove head first under the horse’s belly and recovered the ball the instead for the most dramatic of scores.

The Longhorns won 12-0, setting the tone for a rivalry in which the unexpected could always be expected.

“Few other schools have something like this,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who knows better than most how unpredictable this rivalry can be.

Heading into the 110th meeting of the Red River Showdown, the Sooners are 17-point favorites over Texas, which is 1-4 and coming off a 43-point loss at TCU. The Longhorns seem to be more focused on fighting with each other over Twitter than with beating OU. All signs point to a Sooners rout.

But in this game, the signs don’t seem to mean much.

Just two years ago, the Longhorns were in as much disarray then as they appear to be now. They had lost quarterback David Ash for the season. Mack Brown’s future as Texas’ coach was being debated daily. Oklahoma, meanwhile, was riding high off a victory at Notre Dame. Nobody seemed to give the two-touchdown-underdog Longhorns a chance.

Instead, backup quarterback Case McCoy channeled the accuracy of older brother Colt, who went 3-1 against the Sooners. Three hundred-pound DT Chris Whaley pulled off a pick-six and Daje Johnson delivered the exclamation point by taking a punt to the house.

The Longhorns not only won the game 36-20, they had OU fans scurrying for the exits before the fourth quarter had even begun.

“That’s only two years ago,” Stoops said. “[The players] are very aware. In fact, [center Ty Darlington] stopped by my office [Sunday] and was just reminiscing about how bad they beat us. We're all very aware of it."

Heavy underdogs have always been a dangerous bunch in this rivalry — on both sides.

During the last 25 years, the Red River Showdown has featured seven double-digit underdogs. Five of those teams covered the spread. Three won outright.

"The rankings mean nothing in this game," Peter Gardere once said. Gardere took down the Sooners in 1989 as a 17½-point underdog, and went on to become the only quarterback to go 4-0 as a starter in the game.

"It's played on so much adrenaline,” Gardere said. “Really strange things can happen."

No game was stranger than the 1996 one.

The Sooners opened that season in John Blake’s first season with losses to TCU, San Diego State, Tulsa and Kansas. OU seemed so unfocused during its final walkthrough before heading to Dallas, that the coaches made true freshman receiver Jarrail Jackson, after he jumped offside, run every step in Owen Field and threatened to leave him in Norman if he didn’t finish before the bus pulled out; he only barely made it.

But it was Jackson and James Allen, stuffed at the goal line in the ’94 loss to Texas, who propelled OU to the improbable overtime win as a 22-point underdog. Jackson returned a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and Allen ran put the team on his shoulders the rest of the way as the Sooners stunned Texas 30-27.

“This is a big game and we know what we’re up against,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “But we’re ready to get going. … We’re going to play with a lot of passion, a lot of intensity. We’re going to be a team that’s disciplined, a team that’s focused and a team that just really enjoys playing.”

Given how inconsistent the Longhorns have been, who knows what kind of team they'll bring to Dallas?

Then again, who knew the goat of the 1994 game would become the hero two years later? Or that Case McCoy, of all quarterbacks, would deliver one of the game's all-time great performances.

Or that a horse could determine who won and lost?

It's the Red River Showdown.

Expect to be surprised.