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October 11, 2013

Beyond the Field: Red River Rivalry

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After consecutive 40-point blowouts of Texas by Oklahoma, perhaps the Red River shootout would be better named the Red River Regatta.

Playing with the Texas State Fair in the backdrop, there are several signs that the Longhorns could be in store for a similar fate in this year's matchup of the annual battle. And the lasting impact on recruiting will likely come not from the final score, but the fallout that could ensue.

Embattled coach Mack Brown has faced rumors of his dismissal -- as well as calls for it from famed alumni like Earl Campbell. Brown has a laundry list of things that he believes need to be corrected in order for the Longhorns to win, if not save his job.

"We've got to play better," Brown said. "It's really more about us right now and getting things fixed than it is about Oklahoma's team for us this weekend. We've got to play better. They've proven they're going to play well in this ballgame, and we've got a lot of things we've got to get fixed.

"We've got to stop the quarterback scrambles; we've got to play the run better. We have been forcing turnovers well and have been taking good care of the ball. Those are two things we've done. Our kicking game needs to get better. The punter and the kicker we said, and our return game needs to get better. We're not scoring points with our return game and we're not changing field position. Our linebackers need to play better. We didn't play well at linebacker the other night, and that's a key for this weekend because they're going to try to run the ball, and the last two years we haven't stopped the run against OU and unless we can slow the running game down the rest of it is unimportant. We've got to do a better job against the run this weekend."

Sooner quarterback Blake Bell has been stellar since taking over the starting job and he will be the focus for Texas' defense.

Bell has completed 69 percent of his passes on the season and has not thrown an interception in his last 120 attempts. He is also third on the team in rushing -- gaining 175 yards in three games as a starter.

Week Seven essentially marks the halfway point in college football season, as from here on out the marquee games become fewer but more important.

Official visits are on the rise and regional battles can provide separation points for many recruits. The Red River Rivalry is the biggest of the weekend but it is not alone. The ACC has two battles brewing with Pittsburgh playing No. 25 Virginia Tech and Virginia playing Maryland. No. 18 Michigan will travel to Penn State in the Big Ten's marquee game of the weekend. The focus for Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell will be split when No. 7 Florida travels to No. 10 LSU and No. 2 Oregon takes on No. 16 Washington in midday contests.

One of the founding fathers of the recruiting industry Farrell weighs in on both games and says that all four teams have something different to prove on the field that can be carried over into recruiting.

"Both LSU and Florida have to protect their backyards and each spot-recruit the other's home turf and other areas in the southeast so they overlap quite a bit," Farrell said. "It isn't LSU/Alabama nor Florida/Georgia in proximity or division relevance but it is big.

"Neither team can afford the loss because two-loss teams are dead in the water for BCS games. Florida has to show it can do something on offense and somehow find a way to score points to sell to recruits. LSU on the other hand has to answer the bell defensively. There are a lot of questions that were raised after that Georgia game that people keep bringing up."

The two campuses are closer in distance but both Oregon and Washington are much further removed from the deep end of the talent pool. The Ducks and Huskies are looking at this contest as a showcase game for its efforts in California and abroad.

"There are just fewer top-end kids in that region so both teams overlap for them but to build programs they both have to leave the Pacific Northwest," Farrell said. "With all due respect to Tennessee, Oregon is facing its first real test this weekend and would like to show it can put 60 on anyone while Washington has to get over a tough loss to Stanford and prove it is a real threat in the conference.

"I think it is probably bigger for Washington because Oregon has a lot of other things working in its favor so it needs to win. Washington cannot go and get embarrassed or that will be a major setback."

The last two games between the teams Oklahoma has outscored Texas by a margin of 118-38 and has controlled the ball on the ground -- outgaining the Longhorns, 429-110.

An abysmal run defense has been the story for Texas this year. It allowed 550 yards against BYU -- which cost Manny Diaz his job as defensive coordinator -- as well as 272 to Ole Miss and 201 against Iowa State.

The Sooners are a 14-point favorite in the contest and head coach Bob Stoops said he has addressed overconfidence with his players.

"We constantly talk about, 'How are we going to be at our best?' TCU, Texas, Kansas next week," he said. "How do we put ourselves on Saturday to be at our absolute best? That's what we're always working for."

If Oklahoma is at its best and Texas' struggles persist, the drumbeat for Brown's dismissal will undoubtedly escalate.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that in all likelihood Brown is going to be relieved of his duties at season's end, but a poor showing may immediately impact recruiting.

"I think that Brown will be gone regardless but I don't think anything that happens on the field would force Texas to do something drastic -- like fire him on Monday," Farrell said. "Texas needs to stay close to keep respectability because if they get blown out again it could impact a great start to the Class of 2015 and may have some of the guys from this class looking around.

"The 'Texas-kid' thing is still there -- I mean kids still grow up wanting to play at Texas -- but it is fading. Texas A&M is on the rise and Oklahoma is the best team in the Big 12."

Stoops said that getting into Texas has been important but added that in his opinion the outcome of one game isn't a difference maker in recruiting.

"I think for some players, some recruits, it may be (important) and for others it isn't," Stoops said. "In the end, this game is never the end-all for either program. We've won this game before and haven't won the rest of them and that isn't good enough. That's how it is and that's okay. That's how it should be. We want to win them all. I think what means more to recruits though is your overall big body of work through one year or several years. Those kinds of things I think stand out more than one game does."

The current class has seen the pair go head-to-head for several prospects.

Four-star receiver Armanti Foreman was once an Oklahoma commit but the No. 37 prospect at his position from Texas City (Texas) High flipped in late June to the Longhorns.

Longview (Texas) High receiver Dorian Leonard was believed to be down to the two programs, ultimately choosing Texas as well.

Two other Longhorn commits were both heavily considering Oklahoma as Houston (Texas) Lamar safety John Bonney and Grand Prairie (Texas) South Grand Prairie prospect Jason Hall each nearly elected to leave the state.

Current battles that may be decided in this class involve Rivals100 members Solomon Thomas of Coppell (Texas) High and Steven Parker from Jenks (Okla.) High who are each considering both schools. Lamar cornerback John Plattenburg -- who moved from Corona (Calif.) Centennial this offseason -- as well as Longview defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson are said to be have both teams in the current listings.

Future impressions may also be made on class of 2015 Damarkus Lodge of Cedar Hill (Texas) High. Lodge was identified early as a Rivals250 member for the next class and has offers from both programs.

Plano (Texas) West running back Soso Jamabo, Rockwall (Texas) High running back Chris Warren, Ennis (Texas) High defensive end James Lockhart, Missouri City (Texas) Ridge Point linebacker Cameron Townsend and Whitehouse (Texas) High defensive back Justin Dunning are all uncommitted players in the Rivals250 for next season that both teams will recruit extremely hard.

Farrell said that the game has lost some of its luster and that is evident by the prospects that are not going to the game.

""You just don't hear kids clamoring to get to this game and there are a lot of guys going elsewhere on officials this weekend," Farrell said. "I think the national excitement has faded some because there isn't national title implications and the Big 12 just isn't what it used to be so what used to be a game that everyone wanted to watch has taken a step back.

You would never see kids going somewhere else this weekend, never. And so it is a bit unusual but that is telling, too."

Senior quarterback Case McCoy will get the start for the injured David Ash. He said that the opportunity to shine on this stage is part of the sales pitch used on him and the results have not been up to his standards.

"I don't know if you can really put into words how frustrating it's been because I think you get recruited and you get sold on this game, and this is why a lot of us came here, to play in this game," he said. "So I think we felt like we have not only let ourselves down but we've let our University down, we've let our coaches down."

Farrell said that he expects Oklahoma to extend its streak to four straight in the series but doesn't know if that is good or bad.

"Oklahoma just needs to keep winning and prove to be the best team in the conference because right now the Big 12 is behind the SEC, ACC or Pac 12 whichever you put second and third, as well as the Big Ten," he said. "Kids want to play for championships and so Oklahoma just needs to keep moving in that direction.

"The downside is that if it keeps beating Texas and Mack Brown is fired then it will have to deal with a new coach -- which will likely be a big name hire that has a better handle on recruiting -- and then all bets are off between the two programs."

Dallas Jackson is the national columnist for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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