Lincoln Riley, Tom Herman at center of Red River Showdown

Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns shakes hands with Lincoln Riley of the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns shakes hands with Lincoln Riley of the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

For the first time since 2012, Texas and Oklahoma are both ranked entering the Red River Showdown.

Step into my DeLorean as I floor it to hit 88 miles per hour for a trip back in time. No, we aren’t going back to 1955 like Back to the Future, but we’re going to a simpler time in 2012, specifically, the last time Oklahoma and Texas met in their annual rivalry game during the Texas State Fair, known as the Red River Showdown.

The significance of 2012 represents the last meeting when these two teams played as ranked opponents, but with Tom Herman showing signs of turning the Longhorns around, the 2018 version of the Red River Showdown could be the first of a string of games featuring such squads.

It’s been an ongoing joke among college football fans to question if Texas is back since Joe Tessitore infamously claimed “Texas is back, folks” after beating Notre Dame in the season opener. Hindsight being 20/20, they were not back and Charlie Strong was fired at the end of the season.

The hire of Herman, who was coming off a successful short stint at Houston after serving as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Ohio State, brought a renewed sense of optimism to Texas fans, but it wasn’t an overnight success story. Texas went 7-6 in Herman’s first year in Austin, but entering his second Red River Showdown, his team is 4-1 and riding a four-game win streak into Dallas after losing to Maryland in the opener. Texas is ranked No. 19 and has an upset on the mind as it takes on leading Heisman candidate Kyler Murray and No. 7 Oklahoma.

An upset of the rival Sooners will certainly lead to more proclamations that Texas is back. While the Longhorns are certainly a real player these days they are not to the point of contending for national championships. Still,they are back to being a Top 25 team with staying power and a team capable of pulling an upset of this magnitude.

It’s tough to put much stock into a rivalry when it’s so one-sided, which the Red River Showdown has been with Oklahoma winning six of the last eight and 12 of the last 18. It’s like saying the hammer and nail is a rivalry; one always wins. It’s not quite to that extent for Texas, but it’s felt like a Grand Canyon-sized divide between the two teams since Bob Stoops and Mack Brown left the sidelines.

Ushering in a new era of the Red River Showdown

My favorite era of the rivalry was at the turn of the century when it was a matchup of top-five teams most years and carried national championship implications.

Stoops delivered the first few knockout punches with five straight wins from 2000-05, including a pair of 60-plus point outbursts. Texas fought off the ropes during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy era to win four of the next five. Since then, it’s been Oklahoma on the winning side six of eight that led to Brown and Strong’s firings. The firing squad is ready to take aim at Herman if Texas can’t counter like Brown’s teams did more than a decade ago.

Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley might be the best coach in college football not named Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. He’s going to win a national championship soon and he’s already being coveted by the NFL. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon, though, and neither is Herman. These two could be at the onset of a 10-year war a la Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler from 1969-78, or for a more modern example, like Stoops and Brown.

Next. 50 greatest college football players this century. dark

Expect the Red River Showdown to decide the winner of the Big 12 for the next several years. No disrespect to West Virginia, TCU or Oklahoma State, but they’re mostly pretenders in the grand scope. Texas and Oklahoma are the blue bloods. They are football royalty. And this game is going to provide a series of new everlasting images like Roy Williams’ Superman play on Chris Simms that fans will be telling their kids about in 20 years.

It’s a loaded week of college football with other rivalry games, Florida State at Miami and LSU at Florida, but there’s one game that really matters and it’s the Red River Showdown where Texas looks to reaffirm it is back and Oklahoma looks to maintain the edge on the team it’s held down for years.