Red River Rivalry is… Back?
Mack Brown. Bob Stoops. Superman. All-Day. Jason White. Vince Young. Colt versus Sam. DD to the house. Dimitri with the hurdle.
Three words that compel those memories since 2000: Red. River. Rivalry.
Since 2009, something has just been… missing. Despite close games the last 5-6 years, the intensity and national notoriety of the Red River Rivalry (Showdown, but who really calls it that anyway?) has been missing since Colt McCoy ran out of eligibility in Austin. This lack of intensity hit an all-time low as Oklahoma and Texas moved away from ABC or ESPN last year and moved to Fox Sports… One. The channel that some had to look up or even subscribe to in order to watch one of the greatest rivalries in sports. However, the second Saturday of October has begun to rise back into that national conversation without a football game even being played for the 2017 season.
It has only been five months since Tom Herman was hired at the University of Texas. Yet, the former Ohio State play-caller and Houston head-ball coach is already throwing punches at Oklahoma. None of this resonated between the lines, either. Herman tried to flip Oklahoma signees Charleston Rambo and Cedarian Lamb out of the 2017 recruiting class, and even offered one of Oklahoma’s own in Tre Brown late in the process. To put it politely, Herman was awful with closing in on prospects his first two months as a head coach at Texas. Texas high school players were leaving the state like a disease was spreading. Oklahoma, LSU, Florida State, and Ohio State were the main beneficiaries of that. After that first Wednesday in February, things began to change for Herman. That lack of momentum has changed into a formidable force on the recruiting trail, with most of it coming at the hand of Bob Stoops and Oklahoma.
The last three weeks have been poor to Oklahoma’s chances of reigning in back-to-back Top 10 recruiting classes. They saw in-sate prospects, Josh Proctor (Ohio State) and Bryce Bray (Oklahoma State), make their choices to play football elsewhere. Then, it was seeing another one of their own in Casey Thompson choose to go to Texas despite having Cameron Rising in the fold. Last Saturday was when the first gut punch took place when Herman and company flipped Rising, who was committed to Oklahoma since last August. Rising recruited for Oklahoma and told people that Norman was home. That one stung for many, but people saw he might have had no chance of seeing the field until, potentially, 2020 with the emergence of Kyler Murray this spring. However, the real gut punch came yesterday as another one of their own, and top defensive line prospect, Ron Tatum chose to go across the border and picked Texas over home-state Oklahoma. Not only is Herman landing recruits, but he is also doing it in defiance of Bob Stoops.
Stoops and company have essentially let their play on the field the last two years speak for themselves. Back-to-back conference championships, one College Football Playoff appearance, and two Heisman finalists did enough for Oklahoma on the recruiting trail. They even preached a family atmosphere and their academic integrity, which hit home with many of the 2017 recruiting class, resulting in one of the more talented classes in some time. For the 2017 class, this was all sunshine and daisies. After the 2017 National Signing Day, that idea quickly went away. Winning, tradition, academics, and a family atmosphere just has not been enough for Bob Stoops early with the 2018 recruiting class. New coaches at Texas and LSU can be to blame, but they can also blame the new generation of recruiting for that as well.
Social media has changed college football forever, and Tom Herman knows that. He and his staff have made it clear that they want the world to know if they rise or fall. Although it is a risky plan because people will immediately hit send on Twitter if it is time to abandon ship, it is working right now. You do not see Oklahoma’s coaches frequently use social media for recruiting or attention. Tim Kish, Mike Stoops, and even Bob Stoops (if they even run their accounts) do not use Twitter to recruit to the world. Is this an issue? Yes and no, depending on who you talk to. Some recruits let results speak for themselves, some want to see the hype. That is not a shot at any recruit, it is a shot at how our generations have changed. This is fact. Kids like to see if a school is working hard or if they are not. Some of them do not care and just let play on the field make their mind up for them. Tim Kish turned two high school safeties in Dom Alexander and Jordan Evans to NFL linebackers. Mike Stoops was able to bring Oklahoma’s defense back in 2015, and even had them rolling at the end of the 2016 season. Do I need to mention Lincoln Riley and Bill Bedenbaugh’s success? So why are they struggling? What exactly is going on?
Josh Proctor to Ohio State. Bryce Bray to Oklahoma State. Cameron Rising to Texas. And yesterday, Ron Tatum to Texas. Results are just not enough right now. Oklahoma is simply getting beat on the recruiting trail right now, no matter what anyone says. Unfortunately, the last two weeks have come at the expense of Tom Herman’s meticulous plan to get the best players in the country, whether they are in Texas or not.
With Herman, you have an up and coming ball of energy ready to explode in Austin. In Norman, you have the traditional kings still standing tall in the Big 12. However, Texas is rising, and at a faster rate than most believed. Herman and his staff are continuing to take shots at Oklahoma on the recruiting trail, which is already garnering more national attention to one of the greatest rivalry in sports than it has had since 2009. We thought Bob Stoops revitalized himself after the embarrassment that was the 2014 football season with his bounce back in 2015 and 2016, but Herman will either make Stoops continue to rise back to the top, or bury him forever. That’s fact. That’s what is bringing back the Red River Rivalry and everything that goes with it.
It’s simple– The Red River Rivalry is starting to get that “must-watch” feel back to it before summer workouts have even started for the 2017 season, and Tom Herman’s philosophy of the world against him is to blame, or thank, for that.