New dynamics for Saturday's blood feud
It was the kind of question Texas players habitually got tired of hearing every week before the Oklahoma game the last few years.
Texas guard Kasey Studdard guessed that it was posed in some form or another hundreds of times during his college career before this season.
"It's great not to have to answer the question of, 'Is this going to be the year?'" Studdard said.
The Longhorns removed a King Kong-sized monkey from their backs with a 45-12 whipping last season, snapping a five-game Oklahoma winning streak that was the longest for either team since OU won five straight games during 1971-75.
Streaks end and Mack Brown isn't hearing as much as Bob Stoops this season, bringing to mind a comment he heard repeated by veteran former Texas coach Darrell Royal a couple of years earlier.
"It was funny," Brown said. "I heard Coach Royal say when somebody asked him when streaks end. His comment was 'When the players and coaches get tired enough of hearing it and they are good enough to do something about it.'"
That was the case last season for the Longhorns, who toyed with the Sooners in their largest margin of victory in the series since 1941. They used momentum from that game to cruise to their first undisputed national championship since 1969.
Brown said the breakthrough victory over the Sooners changes things for his team, although he said it was only a part of the process of winning the national championship.
"I'm glad the game is back about two really good teams in the Big 12 South instead of what I've screwed up," Brown told reporters. "I did think it put more pressure on the kids that no one was talking about what they won. Everybody was asking about what they lost."
The dynamics have changed greatly for Saturday's blood feud at the Cotton Bowl. Vince Young is gone and starting in the NFL. He has been replaced by redshirt freshman Colt McCoy, who will be making his sixth career start.
And Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson is healthy this season after trying to play last season against the Longhorns with a badly sprained ankle that limited him to three carries.
Several Longhorns say they are approaching Saturday's game a little differently after finally beating the Sooners.
"Maybe a little bit, but we're always going to be confident before every game," Texas tackle Justin Blalock said. "The funny thing about the streak is that there are a lot of players who have never played in the game for us and them. I don't think past games will have any effect on this one."
But Oklahoma defensive end Larry Birdine, who missed most of last season with a bicep injury, has several distinct memories of watching the game from the sidelines.
"Towards the end of the game, you watched them and the body language of the guys and I think they were trying to prove that could mash us and pound us and were more physical and the better team," Birdine said. "Everybody wants to kick a wounded dog when he's down and we were down last year. This year, we're stronger and better. 45-12 was a beatdown and we have to go out there and make up for that."
Peterson remembers the game, too. He tried to play early in the game and couldn't because of the injury.
"It was very disappointing to me, but I couldn't do anything," Peterson said. "It was hard to stand back there on their sidelines and see them rushing nine or 10 guys and teeing off on [quarterback] Rhett [Bomar]. I guess I can say I'm a little bitter on that, but I'm healthy this year and ready to go down and get rolling."
Oklahoma safety Darien Williams said last season's loss has been a repeated point of emphasis during the Sooners' work over the last two weeks.
"Coach [Stoops] said that we owe Texas a better game this year, and I feel like it's real important for us to come out there and play like we're caring for a win," Williams said. "I feel like we didn't do that last year."
Saturday's game will be critical for Peterson's hopes for the Heisman. His campaign was kick-started as a freshman when he gashed the Longhorns for 225 yards in a 12-0 victory.
He will be matched against a tough Texas front that ranks sixth nationally in rush defense. Brown has called it the best run defense he has had since arriving in Texas nine years ago.
Texas defensive end Brian Robison still remembers how Peterson bullied them two years ago. It's raised the stakes as the Longhorns attempt to extend their record 16-game conference winning streak.
"Looking back on it now, it's really frustrating because really and truly, there's no sweet way to put it; he just ran all over us," Robison told reporters earlier this week. "We're just going to make sure not to let it happen again."
Peterson has become more valuable to the Sooners as an every-down back, taking the pressure off new quarterback Paul Thompson.
After Bomar was kicked off the team before fall camp, some predicted the Sooners would crater. But Thompson has developed into an effective passing threat whose numbers are better than Bomar's were last season.
McCoy also has had surprising early success, despite the loss to Ohio State. Through five games, he has completed 71.1 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. His passing rating of 174.3 is higher than any of Texas' five career passing leaders.
McCoy and Thompson both dreamed of playing in the Texas-OU game during their youth. Both were devoted Texas fans.
Thompson was offered a chance to play for the Longhorns after playing quarterback in high school. But the Longhorns were recruiting Vince Young that season as their major quarterback target and told Thompson he would play wide receiver if he came to Texas. He decided to instead go to Oklahoma, where he would have a chance at quarterback.
"When I talked with my family and gathered more information, what I wanted to do with myself, what I felt I could do well," Thompson said. "And one of those was that I felt I could be a successful quarterback in the Big 12."
He'll get his chance to prove it Saturday in his first start in a Big 12 Conference game. It's a little akin to a NASCAR rookie making his first drive in the Daytona 500.
The two new quarterbacks won't diminish excitement for fans at both schools in what is the most-anticipated conference game for both schools each season.
"Like the Ohio State game, this game is fun because it gets so much national attention," Brown said. "It's not just about the two states or the Big 12. It's a game that people talk about each year across the country and it always means so much."
That hasn't diminished, even with both teams coming into the game with a loss for the first time since 1999.
But it still will go a long way to determining the Big 12 South Division title. The winner will keep its faint national title hopes alive. And the loser assuredly will be thinking of a bowl game outside the BCS firmament.
"If we could win this game, it would catapult us to the top of the Big 12," Birdine said. "Our dominance in the Big 12 South in the last five or six years speaks for itself. This game has emphasis for the season where we could go up or down. It's motivated me to come back."
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.
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