The Red River Shootout is on Saturday. (Sorry, AT&T. You pay the schools to use that awful Red River Showdown moniker, you don't pay me.) And while this isn't a vintage version of the Red River rivalry -- with one coming in at 3-2 and the other rebounding from a home loss to Iowa State -- even at its worst, Texas-OU is like nothing else in college football and nothing else in sports. Two hated rivals traveling to a neutral site almost perfectly equidistant from each campus -- a neutral site that happens to be one of the sport's oldest cathedrals, surrounded by people riding a ferris wheel and eating deep fried Skittles.
And while each game is its own snowflake, they all tend to follow the same pattern. Coaches come and go, rosters turn over, styles evolve, fortunes rise and fall, but the path to winning at the Cotton Bowl remains largely the same.
I examined the last 10 box scores to find which stats correlate with winning and which ones don't. We'll break it down by category.
Leading at halftime is critically important
- Team that scores first: 6 wins, 4 losses
- Team that leads at halftime: 7-2
- Team that leads after the third quarter: 9-0
These two schools have been as good as anyone offensively this century, and neither has mounted a comeback of any consequence. Texas rallied from two halftime deficits in back-to-back games in 2008-09. The halftime scores in those games were 21-20 and 6-3, and the Longhorns had Colt McCoy at quarterback.
The team that leads after three quarters is 18-1 in this game since 1997.
One other note: Oklahoma scored first in six straight games from 2007-12, and Texas has scored first in the last four games.
Game-changing plays are, well, game-changing plays
- Team that forces more turnovers: 8-1
- Team that scores more non-offensive touchdowns: 4-1
- Team that records more sacks: 6-2
Winning the non-offensive touchdown battle is an almost guaranteed shortcut to winning the game. Proof comes in the 2014 game, Charlie Strong's first. Texas out-gained Oklahoma by 260 yards and more than doubled the Sooners' first downs output (24-11), but allowed an interception and a kickoff to be returned for a touchdown and lost the game, 31-26.
The exception to this came in 2012, when Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom returned an interception for a touchdown -- and cut the Longhorns' deficit to 36-8. Really. Oklahoma won the game, 63-21.
Short of that, the path to winning the game is keeping your offense on the field
- Team that runs for more yards: 9-1
- Team that runs for more yards per carry: 8-2
- Team that throws for more yards per attempt: 4-6
- Team that gains more total yards: 7-3
- Team that averages more yards per play: 5-5
- Team that amounts more time of possession: 8-2
- Team that wins on third down: 7-1
- Team that gains more first downs: 7-2
Between Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Baker Mayfield and, uh, Colt McCoy, perhaps no rivalry game has had better quarterbacks in the last decade than this one -- and those talented arms weren't what won those games. The team that has a more explosive, efficient passing game actually has a losing record this decade.
Efficiency doesn't matter in this game, accumulation does. Staying on the field for the sake of staying on the field. Teams that run for more yards per carry are actually slightly worse than teams that run for more yards, period, because simply being on the field and keeping the other guys' offense on the sideline is how you win the Red River Shootout.
Is there anything earth-shattering here? No. Examine past box scores of any series and you'll find the team that forces more turnovers, wins on third down and leads after three quarters is going to win more often than not. Maybe we'll do a similar exercise before Michigan-Ohio State or the Iron Bowl.
But it's interesting to lay it all out before hand so we can look back Saturday and see which team followed the path to victory and which team didn't. For instance, these numbers clearly state Sam Ehlinger should start at quarterback for Texas.
Or, maybe Baker Mayfield will throw for 600 yards with two pick-sixes and five touchdowns in an Oklahoma win and render all this history moot.
That's the beauty of sports. You never know what's going to happen until it happens. But sometimes you have a pretty good idea.