Is Texas really back? Well, that all depends on Steve Sarkisian's progress in Year 1.
A practice test on the year will come in Week 2 in a matchup against Arkansas. The next one? A midseason showdown in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma.
And yes, a loss here likely does hurt the chances of one team representing the Big 12 in the conference championship come December.
Lincoln Riley returns for his fifth season as head coach, this time trying to get over the hump and into the national title game. He'll have help with a stout defense returning under the direction of Alex Grinch. Best of all? Spencer Rattler is looking more like a true NFL quarterback each week.
A 2-0 reign over Texas? That'll give some votes towards the Heisman trophy come December. Is it too late for Texas to do anything this year against the red hot Sooners?
Longhorns Country sat down with Ryan Chapman, editor of SI's All Sooners.com for his thoughts on the game. Be sure to stick around with us all offseason as we preview every game for Texas during the 2021 season.
Longhorns Country: Spencer Rattler is viewed as perhaps the top QB in the country entering 2021. What have you seen in his game that makes him a name worthy of being Lincoln Riley's top quarterback prospect in the last four years?
Ryan Chapman: Spencer Rattler may have the best arm talent of any Lincoln Riley quarterback, which is saying something. While his first year as a starter was up-and-down, he proved he could make every throw on a football field, and was excellent outside of the pocket when plays broke down.
After getting benched against Texas, Rattler returned in the second half to lead the Sooners to the victory, and only threw two interceptions the rest of the season. If he can continue to take the mental steps forward in his first real offseason under Riley as the starter, there is no reason to think he couldn't leave Norman as Riley's most accomplished passer ever.
LC: Having Kennedy Brooks back is a huge win for the Sooners. When looking at the tape, what makes him such a dangerous threat in the open field?
Chapman: Brooks may not wow with elite top-end speed, but his vision is what sets him apart. Brooks always seems to burst through the hole and immediately know when to make his first cut upfield to dodge the next would-be tackler.
He also is a hard-nosed runner in the open field. More times than not, he's going to shed the first would-be tackler, which all comes together and is the reason why he led the country in caries of 10+ yards in 2018 and 2019.
LC: Of the receivers returning, who is going to step up and be the No. 2, opposite of Marvin Mims this fall?
Chapman: Jadon Haselwood should finally live up to his 5-star potential in 2021. In limited playing time behind CeeDee Lamb as a freshman, Haselwood flashed incredible potential, but he was sidelined in 2020 with an injury suffered in the offseason.
He attempted to battle his way back at the end of the season, even coming down with one of the toughest catches all season long in the Big 12 Championship Game, but he's back fully healthy and looks to assert himself as not just the No. 2 to Marvin Mims, but Rattler's go-to guy this season.
LC: Oklahoma added two Tennessee players in Eric Gray and Wayna Morris Jr. How do you see them incorporating in the offense this year?
Both Tennessee transfers should play major roles in Riley's offense in 2021. Wanya Morris will walk in and be the day one starter at left tackle, solving OU's problems at the position immediately.
Eric Gray's versatility will add depth to the running back room which lost Rhamondre Stevenson to the NFL Draft and Seth McGowan and Mikey Henderson to off-the-field issues this past offseason. The first play of OU's Spring Game saw Riley empty the backfield and slide Gray to the slot, a look Oklahoma hasn't rolled out too often since Joe Mixon's departure to the NFL.
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LC: LB Nik Bonitto is one of these hybrid defenders that is a linebacker, but mostly a blitzer, yet when looking at the film, he can play in coverage. Is he the top defender for Oklahoma this year?
Chapman: Bonitto enters the year with tons of deserved hype due to his pass-rushing ability, but the two names to watch on the Oklahoma defense are nose tackle Perroin Winfrey and versatile defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas.
Winfrey is a monster anchoring the center of the d-line, but he needs to add a bit more production in terms of finishing off sacks and tackles for loss to emphasize the impact he has on the team.
Grinch will let Thomas play on both the edge and the interior of the line, and his production was consistent at both positions a year ago. Perhaps Oklahoma's most versatile defender, it was Thomas, not Bonitto, who Grinch claimed should have been the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2020.
LC: Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch in two seasons has made the Sooners defense one of the Big 12's best. With another season like 2020 in a full year, is he a name to watch for as a head coaching candidate soon?
Chapman: Grinch is already a named entrenched in coaching searches. He's been linked to openings at Colorado and Arizona when they both opened up recently, but he seems to be a guy who is content to be the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma until the right job opens up.
If the Oklahoma defense continues to develop on the same trajectory, Grinch will be running his own program sooner rather than later.
LC: Who is one Texas player from your studies you think could be a difference-maker in this game and why?
Chapman: Running back Bijan Robinson will be one of the most dynamic players in not just the Big 12, but all the country.
While the Longhorns break in a new starting quarterback and try to continue to improve along the offensive line, Robinson can take the pressure off the offense with his abilities in the open field. The recipe for a Texas victory in the Cotton Bowl this season starts with a big performance from the talented running back.
Champman: I always hesitate to pick a victory of more than seven points either way in this rivalry, but BetMGM's early number of Oklahoma by 10 points feels right.
Steve Sarkisian is no doubt a gifted offensive mind, but the Longhorns don't have the personnel up front to hold off the OU defensive line for four quarters in October.
Grinch has built legitimate depth behind Winfrey and Thomas, with Jalen Redmond opting back in for 2021 as well as the continued development of guys like Joshua Ellison, Jordan Kelly and LaRon Stokes who all came on strong toward the end of last season.
Not to mention, quarterbacks in their first Red River Showdown have historically struggled, and Rattler could be the next Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback next season.
Final: OU 38, Texas 28
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