Oklahoma football: Circling the Sooners’ most important game of 2022

Oct 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Kennedy Brooks (26) runs for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Texas Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Kennedy Brooks (26) runs for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Texas Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Every head coach will tell you that the most important game is the next one on the schedule. While that is true as a motivational tool, not every game on the schedule is created equal, and that’s true whether you are the Oklahoma football team or anyone else.

In the coming days, we will examine all 12 games on the Sooners’ 2022 football schedule, but there is one game that is more important than any other. The game we are speaking of will not determine the ultimate Big 12 champion nor will it be a make-or-break game in defining a successful season or not.

Nevertheless, the annual matchup this coming season between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns will serve as more this season than just another game in the longtime classic rivalry series.

When OU and Texas get together on the second Saturday in October this season for the 118th renewal of one of college football’s classic rivalries, both teams should be ranked in the county’s top 25 and sitting at 2-0 in the Big 12 standings. Both teams have come into the Red River rivalry game ranked in the top 25 16 times out of the past 22 seasons (or since 2000).

Four different times since the 2000 season both teams have been ranked in the top 10, and there is a good chance that will be the case this season.

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian will be coaching in his second Red River Showdown game against Oklahoma and undoubtedly hungry to avenge a bitter 55-48 loss to the Sooners in his debut to the OU-Texas rivalry. More on that a little later, because that is a prime factor why this year’s game is of high importance for the Sooners and why it could be a troublesome matchup for the Crimson and Cream.

Brent Venables is in his first season as head coach of Oklahoma football, but this will not be his first OU-Texas rodeo. You see, Venables was a defensive coordinator for 13 seasons under Bob Stoops. During that time, the Sooners were 8-5 against the Longhorns.

In the opening decade of the 2000s, during which time it was Stoops going against Texas head coach Mack Brown, the winner of this game was considered the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 12. It didn’t always work that way, but that is how big a game it was.

Since 2000, Oklahoma has won 15 of the 22 regular-season games in this rivalry series and 10 of the last 13. That includes a remarkable 55-48 come-from-behind win last season in a game in which the Sooners fell behind 28-7 in the opening quarter. You know the way that game ended up left a very bitter taste in the mouth of Sarkisian and all the Texas players. For that reason alone, the Oct. 8 date with Texas this season will have been circled on the calendar for an entire year by the time the 2022 matchup kicks off in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Texas is picked to come in fourth in the 2022 Big 12 standings based on the annual Big 12 Preseason Media Poll, while Oklahoma was forecast to finish second behind favorite and reigning conference champions Baylor. Sooner fans should not be fooled by that, however. The Longhorns are more than good enough to contend for the conference crown.

Sarkisian brought in a top-10 recruiting class earlier this year, and the Horns are well on their way to replicating that in the 2023 cycle. In addition to a talented 2022 class, though, Texas also has been very active in the transfer portal, including landing former five-star quarterback recruit Quinn Evers, who transferred to Austin this offseason from Ohio State.

Talent has never been the issue for Texas. The Longhorns regularly bring in some of the best talent in the country. The problem is that same talent has fallen way short of expectations when it comes to winning football games and contending for a conference championship, let alone a national title.

It appears, however, things are really starting to come together for Sarkisian and the Longhorns. This could be a breakthrough year for Texas. The Horns haven’t had consistency at the quarterback position since Colt McCoy left after the 2009 season. Sam Ehlinger was a good but not great quarterback, as evidenced by the fact Texas was 1-4 in games with OU while he was the Longhorn starting quarterback.

Ewers, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2021 class, according to 247Sports, has yet to take his first college snap, and this will be his first start in the Red River rivalry game. The same can be said for Sooner quarterback Dillon Gabriel, although Gabriel played in 26 games (starting in 25) at UCF, and in his second college season in 2020 ranked second in the country in total offense.

Both teams have explosive offensive capability with a plethora of weapons that can light up the scoreboard on the ground or through the air. On the Texas side is Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year in junior running back Bijan Robinson, who was second in the conference a year ago, averaging 114.9 yards per game. In last season’s Red River game against Oklahoma, Robinson rumbled for 137 yards and averaged nearly 7,0 yards per carry.

Suffice it to say, Texas, as per usual, is going to be a really tough out for Oklahoma, but particularly so this season. Expect the 2022 edition of the Red River Showdown to be another high-scoring affair. The team that makes the most defensive stops is going to be in the best position to pull out the win.

The Oklahoma defense, which everyone knows has been the Achilles heel for the Sooners for the better part of the past decade, will certainly get better under Venables and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, but will it be good enough this season to hold down what is expected to be a high-potency Longhorn offense? That is a serious concern and a valid reason why no one should be surprised if OU goes into this year’s Red River game as the underdog

Are the Sooners good enough to beat the Longhorns for a fifth straight time? You bet. Will a loss to Texas knock OU out of Big 12 title contention? No, not with just one loss and six more games remaining after this one.

There is a good chance, that these two teams will meet again in the 2022 season in the Big 12 Championship game on Dec. 3, regardless of who wins the game on Oct. 8. That same scenario took place in the 2018 season, when Texas defeated Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy-winner Kyler Murray in the regular-season game. OU returned the favor in the conference championship, which earned the Sooners a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Baylor and Oklahoma State will also have a big say in the outcome of the 2022 Big 12 race, just as they did a year ago. The big difference this season from last, at least as far as Oklahoma is concerned, is the Sooners play both of those teams in Norman this season, where OU has lost just 11 times in 140 games over the past 23 seasons.

Both of those games will be important — with Baylor on Nov. 5 and Oklahoma State on Nov. 19 — don’t get me wrong. Just not as important or pivotal as the one and potentially two showdowns on neutral turf against the hated Longhorns.