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October 6, 2006
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Unlike the previous five years, no one is wondering whether Texas football coach Mack Brown can beat Oklahoma.
Instead, they're wondering if he can beat the Sooners without quarterback Vince Young, who directed a redeeming 45-12 victory over the Sooners a year ago.
Brown may be wondering if he can beat OU without VY, but at least he's not being grilled for explanations about the Longhorns' futility against their rival. The Sooners owned a five-game winning streak in the series from 2000 to 2004, which included a couple of monumental blowouts.
"I'm glad to hear this year it's about the kids and national implications instead of what I screwed up and the monkey on our back," Brown said.
Indeed, there are national implications - as is usually the case when these Big 12 South giants collide in the Cotton Bowl.
No. 7 Texas (4-1, 1-0 in the Big 12) stills harbors hopes of defending its conference and national championships, and the winner of this game has captured three of the last four Big 12 crowns.
No. 14 Oklahoma (3-1, 0-0), which would be undefeated if not for some officiating errors in a one-point loss at Oregon, also hopes to climb back into national championship contention. During the five-year win streak, the victory over Texas often vaulted them into national championship contention.
"What did happen (in the streak) was that Oklahoma was better than we were most of those games," Brown said. "They played for the national championship three of those times they beat us. It's just that we weren't losing many others. I did think it put more pressure on the kids because no one talked about what they won, the only talk was about what they lost."
There remains some discussion about what the Longhorns lost ? with Young departed to the NFL. Now, the No. 7 Longhorns are directed by redshirt freshman Colt McCoy, who is young but not Young. He has proved remarkably efficient during his first year as a starter, completing 71.1 percent of his passes. He has thrown 10 touchdowns passes and only two interceptions, but doesn't have the running skills of Young.
Yet, McCoy's performance may be of secondary importance to the Longhorns, who rank second nationally in run defense. The primary point of concern will be containing Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson, perhaps the most dangerous player in college football today.
A year ago Peterson, hobbled by a sprained ankle, managed just 10 yards on three carries. But as a freshman he blazed for 225 yards in a 12-0 victory over the Longhorns.
"Looking back on that now ? there's no sweet way to put it ? he just ran all over us," Texas defensive end Brian Robison said.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said that a healthy Peterson, who has rushed for 643 yards and averages 5.5 yards per carry, makes the Sooners a completely different team.
"There is no question that we are a much different football team coming in to this game than we were a year ago," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "I don't even know if you can compare the two.
"One of the biggest reasons is Adrian Peterson and his health. That changes everything in regards to our play-calling and to the passing game. Overall, our line is playing better, our receivers are much improved and our quarterback is better."
Quarterback was thought to be a position in crisis when returning starter Rhett Bomar was dismissed from the team in early August for accepting money for work not performed at an Oklahoma City car dealership. Bomar's absence led to senior Paul Thompson's move back to quarterback after playing receiver last season.
After a slow start, Thompson has made significant progress ? completing 62.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Quarterback is no longer an area of concern for OU.
"He has thrown the ball very well, very efficient," Stoops said. "Compare his overall rating, completion percentage, touchdowns, interceptions, yardage to some of the other guys that are out there being mentioned as the great ones and he is right there with them."
Thompson said he has become more comfortable and confident as the season has progressed.
"I think I've done well," said Thompson. "We definitely have a lot of great receivers that are going to make plays. I feel we've done real well, but obviously (Texas) is going to try and stop us running with the running backs that we have."
Texas might have stopped Thompson from helping Oklahoma five years ago when he was rated the nation's 10th best athlete by Rivals.com out of Leander, Texas ? just a few miles north of Austin. But Texas recruited him as a receiver, and Oklahoma offered the chance to play quarterback.
"We only took one quarterback that year and that was Vince," Brown said. "And Vince did pretty well."
Indeed, Young did well enough to help Texas end a losing streak against Oklahoma. This year's question is whether the Longhorns can start a winning streak without him.