Cory Mccartney
Thursday October 9th, 2008

Breaking down a top five clash in the 103rd edition of the Red River Rivalry.

1. Let the Big 12 arms race begin. There's little debate that the conference has the best crop of quarterbacks with the likes of Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), Chase Daniel (Missouri) Graham Harrell (Texas Tech), Colt McCoy (Texas) and Todd Reesing (Kansas). Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, we'll see the start of a series of shootouts that will put the Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall to shame.

In one corner there's Bradford, the Sooners' redshirt sophomore who is second in the nation in pass efficiency (205.0), throwing for 1,665 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 72.6 percent of his passes. He's at the controls of a balanced attack that ranks fifth in total offense (540 yards per game) and fourth in scoring at 49.6 points per game.

In the other corner is McCoy, who despite a 25-6 record as a starter has somehow lost some cachet when stacked against his fellow Big 12 signal-callers. The redshirt junior leads the nation with a 79.2 completion percentage and ranks fourth in pass efficiency (197.9). He has passed for 1,280 yards, 16 TDs and three picks at the helm of a unit that is sixth in scoring at 47.2. Oh, and he's also putting together a Tebowian season so far in leading the Longhorns with 317 rushing yards and four scores on the ground. A lack of an effective running game outside of McCoy could pose a problem versus OU, but so far, so good with Texas averaging 198 yards on the ground.

Both of these QBs, like a lot of their Big 12 brethren, are legitimate Heisman candidates. After Saturday, either Bradford or McCoy is going to have a leg up on the rest of the conference's passers -- for at least a week.

2. Believe it or not, these defenses aren't half bad. With Big 12 teams averaging 39.4 points through six weeks, the offenses will rightfully be on the marquee, but it's a pair of vastly improved defenses that could be the biggest factor in the rivalry's latest installment.

New coordinator Will Muschamp has brought a new intensity to Texas' defense and transformed a unit that gave up 25.3 points per game in '07, dropping that number to 11.4 (fourth nationally) this season. The secret has been an ability to constantly harass QBs. The Longhorns lead the country with 3.8 sacks per game behind Big 12 leader Brian Orakpo (5 1/2). This ability to rattle passers has helped mask a young secondary that's 96th in pass D (244 yards per game). Muschamp was the man behind LSU's defensive game plan that beat OU in the 2003 national-title game, and if Texas is to slow down the Sooners' no-huddle attack, he'll have to cook up some way for the 'Horns to get to Bradford, who has been sacked just three times.

The Sooners are also making life difficult on opposing QBs -- totaling 17 sacks behind end Auston English (six tackles for loss, 2 1/2 sacks) -- but they had their issues with the running of Baylor QB Robert Griffin, who had 102 yards and two TDs on 21 carries. McCoy doesn't own a bronze medal from the NCAA 400-meter hurdles finals like Griffin, so don't read too much into that. While Texas has struggled versus the pass, Oklahoma's green secondary has been extremely stingy, yielding just 159 yards through the air (15th nationally). OU's starting cornerbacks, junior Brian Jackson and sophomore Dominique Franks, entered the season with one start between them, but so far each has a pick and they've combined for eight pass break-ups.

3. There's fire added to an already intense rivalry. How heated are things between Oklahoma and Texas fans? Remember the 'Horns backer who was nearly castrated for wearing a Texas shirt in Oklahoma City? Enough said. But things will be dialed up a notch, considering it's the matchup's first top five clash since 2004.

Recent history is in the Sooners' favor. Oklahoma is 7-5 in the 12 years since the inception of the Big 12 and has won six of the past eight, including last year's 28-21 victory. In the 15 times they've met as undefeateds since 1950, OU has won nine times.

Texas leads the all-time series 57-40-5 and last won in '06, when an unheralded 'Horns team led by McCoy, then a redshirt freshman, won 28-10.

As for current implications, neither team wants to lose a step in the Big 12 South race, where four teams are currently 5-0 (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech). To get to the Big 12 title game, which is the precursor for any of the league's teams with national-title implications, falling a game back in the standings could be killer.

What do Bradford and McCoy bring to the table? I spoke to Rob Rang, a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, for an evaluation of each QB. Here's what he had to say:

"They're both very impressive young quarterbacks. They're similar in a lot of ways: they're both accurate, poised in the pocket and neither of them have an absolute Howitzer. They have enough arm strength; Bradford might have a little bit more zip in his arm.

"What impresses me the most about them is their accuracy and their mobility. McCoy's a little bit better out of the pocket, running around and actually attacking the defense as a runner. But both of them are very accurate on the move, moving either left or right. And that's something that usually takes a long time to get a young quarterback to do, so I'm impressed that they're able to do that. Both of them are absolutely legitimate NFL draft prospects.

"I would be more comfortable in seeing Bradford, who at this point I think is the better NFL prospect, bulk up a little bit. He's got such a slight frame ... that's it and that's nitpicky, it really is.

"Colt, hell he can't even be called 'Colt' anymore. He's more like a quarter horse now. I think everybody remembers back when he was a freshman and he looked like a 16-year-old kid, but now he's a strong, physical man out there. I think that's the same thing I'd like to see with Bradford.

"Both offenses at times spread the ball out so much, both of them are protected by big, talented offensive lines, so I do worry about how they're going to hold up at the NFL level. And again, that ties into a lot of the things that Colt is a little bit more physically ready for because he is a bigger, stronger kid. But I think that Bradford is a better pro prospect, just because I don't know if there's a more accurate quarterback in the country."

Oklahoma 34, Texas 24. The Game Of The Year: Version 2.0, preceded by Ohio State-USC and sure to be followed by at least five more contenders, has all the pieces to live up to the billing -- a pair of Heisman contenders, viewer-friendly offenses, tons of next-level talent and two of the game's best coaches in Texas' Mack Brown and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. But it only features one defense capable of stopping the pass (Oklahoma). Texas gave up more than 300 passing yards to Rice, and while Jarett Dillard (158 yards) is just as good as any receiver on OU's roster, Owls QB Chase Clement is no Bradford. The Sooners QB should beef up his Heisman résumé in this one.

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