Actually, it’s Oklahoma that’s back.
Of course, the Sooners haven’t been gone for long.
The final Red River Rivalry in the Big 12 before it moves to the Southeastern Conference felt like a chance for No. 3 Texas to lay claim to being the best team in the country.
Instead, at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, second-year Oklahoma coach Brent Venables got his first signature win and the 12th-ranked Sooners stamped themselves as College Football Playoff contenders.
The Longhorns looked pretty good, too. No need to panic, Texas fans. The way the rest of the Big 12 is playing out, the Longhorns and Sooners could be heading for a rematch down the road at Jerry World on Dec. 2 in the Big 12 championship game.
Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark will have to be in attendance for that one. Right?
He understandably skipped Red River, but SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was at the Texas State Fair to have a funnel cake and check out one of the most storied rivalries in college football at the Cotton Bowl, 22 miles east from that fancy stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play.
Long ago, Sankey was the Commissioner of the Southland Conference and lived not far from the fairgrounds in Allen, Texas, but he had never been to Red River.
“I would drive by with great admiration and wonder what’s going on in there. So it’s a fun chance to see it today,” Sankey said.
Texas and Oklahoma were both undefeated coming into the game for the first time since 2008. But it was the Longhorns, in Year 3 under coach Steve Sarkisian, who garnered more attention in the first month of the season, winning at Alabama and romping over three straight opponents since.
Oklahoma had been dominant, too, leading the nation in margin of victory at 36 points per game, but had not yet played another ranked team. So how good are these Sooners, many wondered? They ain’t played nobody!
It was a good lesson: It’s not who you play as much as how you play. The Sooners were a top-10 team hiding in plan sight.
Venables has quicky eased OU fans fears after the former Clemson defensive coordinator fielded a team that couldn’t tackle last year.
Venables aggressively flipped the roster left behind by Lincoln Riley this offseason, bringing in a top-10 recruiting class and 17 transfers to rebuild around quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
“He’s the calmest guy I’ve ever been around at the quarterback position,” Venables said of Gabriel. Quite a compliment coming from a guy who coached teams with Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.
The UCF transfer who arrived last season and missed Red River with an injury, made what will likely be his only appearance in the Cotton Bowl a memorable one, throwing for 285 yards and running for 113. He is the first player in Red River history to throw for at least 250 yards and run for at least 100.
Forgive Texas if it comes away thinking it let one get away. Three turnovers and a first-and-goal at the 1 that produced no points will do that.
“We didn’t play our best football today,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “The promising thing is we know we can play better than we did today. And we will.”
The ceiling is still high for the Longhorns, who have never made a playoff and have been searching for a return to the nation’s elite programs for more than a decade.
Most of that time, Oklahoma has been stacking Big 12 titles and playoff appearances.
Just when it looked as if the Longhorns were in position to be the Big 12’s best one last time and the SEC’s shiniest new toy, the Sooners showed they weren’t about to stay down for long.
While the future of the SEC was on display in Dallas, it’s the same old song with the current members of the conference.
No. 11 Alabama (5-1, 3-0) sits atop the West Division standings, the only team in the division without a loss, after the Tide got another encouraging game from Jalen Milroe and beat Texas A&M.
No one is trying to sell this Crimson Tide team as anything other than flawed; limited on offense, solid on defense and mistake-prone. Alabama had 14 penalties against A&M, including one that wiped out a touchdown on a blocked field goal return.
“This game might be a record for me, for mess-ups, and still winning,” Tide coach Nick Saban told reporters.
But the more you watch the rest of the SEC West the better Bama looks.
Alabama has already beaten A&M and Mississippi.
No. 23 LSU’s defense is a debacle, though Jayden Daniels leads one of the best offenses in the country and that was enough to beat No. 21 Missouri.
Arkansas, Mississippi State and Auburn look like teams that will be happy to get six or seven wins.
Over in the East, Georgia was less than its best in September, but if the two-time defending champions can take care of No. 20 Kentucky on Saturday night they will be the only unbeaten team left in the conference.
Another Alabama-Georgia SEC championship game is not yet inevitable, but it is the most likely scenario.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: No. 4 Ohio State smashed the Marvin Harrison Jr. button to get out of a funk against Maryland. The Buckeyes trailed by 17-10 early in the third quarter and scored the final 27 points, with Harrison providing most of the offense with eight catches for 163 yards. … The schedule doesn’t set up for many spotlight games, but don’t forget about North Carolina QB Drake Maye in the Heisman race. Maybe passed 442 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse and will get a bigger stage next week against No. 17 Miami. … UTSA welcomed back quarterback Frank Harris, who missed the last three games with a foot injury, and the sixth-year senior threw for 338 and three scores against Temple. Still time for the Roadrunners (2-3, 1-0) to contend in the American Athletic Conference. … UCLA has quietly put together one of the best defenses in the country. Edge rusher Laiatu Latu and the Bruins handed No. 13 Washington State its first loss of the season, allowing only 216 total yards and one offensive touchdown.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll