The importance of beating Texas is fading

NORMAN, Okla. -- The marching orders were pretty clear for Bob Stoops when he initially arrived at the University of Oklahoma in 1999.

Beat Texas.

A win in the Red River Rivalry was the No. 1 priority for Sooner Nation. And Stoops has held up his end of the bargain, going 9-5 against the Longhorns during his tenure.

Yet, it’s not enough.

When Stoops was asked this week what he was told about Texas when he arrived in Norman, his response was telling.

“That all anyone cared about was just winning that game,” Stoops said. “They were lying; you’ve got to win them all.”

Forgive Stoops if he seems disinterested in making the Red River Rivalry the most important matchup of the Sooners’ season. OU defeated Texas 63-12 in 2012 and 55-17 in 2011, yet, after the Sooners stumbled in the home stretch of both seasons, the offseason was filled with talk of what was wrong at OU.

“That doesn’t seem to be a factor anymore does it?” Stoops said. “We won last year and I didn’t see anyone patting us on the back at the end of the year, right?”

But let’s not pretend the Longhorns-Sooners rivalry is nothing special. UT remains at the top of the list, circled on OU’s schedule for players, coaches and fans alike.

Nonetheless the importance of beating Texas has diminished. OU dominated Texas during the past two seasons yet Stoops made drastic changes on the coaching staff during the past offseason, hiring offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to help make the Sooners more physical up front.

“In the end, this game is never the end-all for either program,” Stoops said. “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.”

And on the recruiting trail, Texas is no longer the Sooners' lone in-conference competitor for elite recruits. ESPN 300 receiver prospect K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant) was offered by OU and UT, yet committed to Baylor. Cannon is just one example of the Sooners losing out to up-and-coming Big 12 programs such as the Bears, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech in recent recruiting battles. Thus winning the Red River Rivalry doesn’t necessarily set the Sooners apart or give them a leg up on the recruiting trail.

“I think for some players, some recruits, it may be [important] and for others it isn’t,” Stoops said. “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.”

But much like it still remains important to win the game to define the success of each season, the Red River Rivalry still remains an important recruiting tool, even with other Big 12 schools picking off some of the cream of the crop in the state of Texas.

“This is always a big game, it is the University of Texas, and we are the University of Oklahoma so this game is always big and this year will be no different,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “Regardless of the records, this will be a hard-fought game. There’s still recruits that are considering Oklahoma and Texas, and it always helps when you win.”

More importantly the Red River Rivalry brings national attention that is unmatched, making representing the Oklahoma brand well on Saturday as important as it has always been.

“Everybody will be watching this game around the country and it’s important that we play well,” Norvell said. “How we play is important and how we respond to challenges is important because that’s how people recognize you in the country as far as recruiting.”