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OU-Texas even more critical

DALLAS — The old stadium will still be half orange and half crimson, with Bevo on one side and the Sooner Schooner on the other.

The State Fair of Texas will still be roaring all outside, and the winning team will still get to take home the Golden Hat trophy.

Yet something is different about this year's Texas-Oklahoma game. Make that a lot of things, a lot of important things — and they all trace to last Saturday, when both teams were upset.

With Oklahoma stumbling against Colorado and Texas getting stomped at home by Kansas State, the stakes for today's matchup of Red River rivals have been adjusted. No longer a probable top-10 matchup between teams jockeying for a spot in the national championship chase, it's now a battle between clubs trying to avoid being buried in the conference race.

"Everybody sees the big picture and everybody has the same goal in mind," OU receiver Malcolm Kelly said. "Both teams."

The Sooners (4-1, 0-1 Big 12) are ranked No. 10 and the Longhorns (4-1, 0-1) are No. 19. It's the first time since 2000 that neither has come in ranked seventh or better.

The last time both teams were coming off a loss was 1999, so long ago that Bob Stoops was in his first year at OU, Mack Brown in his second at Texas. For the last time both teams came in with a conference loss, you have to go back to 1997, when John Mackovic was still coaching the Longhorns and John Blake was the Sooners' boss.

Records and rankings are only a part of what makes the Red River Rivalry one of the jewels of college football. The colors, the setting — at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where it's been held every year since 1929 — and the hatred between fans makes this game worth watching regardless of how the teams are doing.

"It is almost like a bowl game within itself," Texas center Dallas Griffin said. "There are so many little things that make it special. The way the fans are seated, you drive into the opponent's territory and there aren't many louder places on the face of the Earth."

Adds Stoops, a man not prone to hyperbole: "This game will always be big. How you make it bigger, I don't know."

Actually, last week's losses make this game even more pivotal to the Longhorns and Sooners.

Now, the loser will have a 3 1/2-hour bus ride back to campus under the dark cloud of a two-game losing streak, two conference losses and being on the wrong end of a tiebreaker in the Big 12 South with the winner.