NORMAN, Okla. — Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman have played supporting roles in the long, bitter rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas.They will take center stage on Saturday.
Riley was Oklahoma's offensive coordinator the past two years before being promoted in June. Herman was a graduate assistant coach at Texas in 1999 and 2000 and took several detours before returning to Austin as head coach. It's the first time since 1947 that the game will feature two coaches in their first years leading their respective schools.
Because both have had a taste of the series, they understand what they are walking into.
"I think when you go into one of the most storied rivalries in college football history, if not the most, I think it is important that you recognize that this is a big game for a lot of people in both states," said Herman, who was born in Cincinnati and raised in California. "It's a big game because it's a conference game. It's a big game because of the uniqueness of the Texas State Fair and it being on a neutral site every year. Half the stadium is burnt orange and half the stadium is crimson. We do recognize that."
Beyond the rivalry, the game is meaningful for additional reasons. Texas has had three straight losing seasons, but the Longhorns might be on the verge of a breakthrough. Texas (3-2, 2-0 Big 12) is tied with TCU for first place in the conference, and a win over Oklahoma would be huge for the program.
No. 12 Oklahoma (4-1, 1-1) is coming off a stunning home loss to Iowa State, and a defeat Saturday would almost certainly eliminate the Sooners from College Football Playoff contention.
"We've got to bounce back, got to respond," said Riley, a native Texan. "That's part of college football these days. Obviously we've got a big one this week with Texas that's big, regardless of what's happened in the past. One of the great games in college football year in and year out, and one that we're very much looking forward to going down to Dallas and playing."
Riley had one of his worst games as offensive coordinator in a loss to the Longhorns in 2015. Texas entered that game with a 1-4 record but pulled off a 24-17 shocker against the 10th-ranked Sooners , showing once again that records don't matter in this series.
"It's a different game, it's a different atmosphere," Riley said. "It's closer to a bowl game to me than anything else. I think you've got to have the kids in the right mind frame for it. The right mindset. And you've got to be there as a coach and know regardless of what you've seen on tape from either team it's going to be probably the best and hardest that both those teams have played all year."
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Oklahoma has been a solid favorite the past four years and has come out of the annual showdown with two losses and two five-point wins. Oklahoma held on to win 45-40 last year .
"You start worrying about the outside opinions or what a team's done before that, it doesn't matter in that game," Riley said of playing Texas. "Both teams are damn good in that game. Every year, regardless is they're 0-5 coming in or 5-0. It doesn't matter. Any time you have a chance to win on that field and you do, you're played a good ball game."
Herman said the hardest part is not to lose focus on actually preparing to play a football game.
"I think it's also important to make sure your team knows the formula for success is not going to change, and it's not going to change depending on the opponent," he said. "So we won't change any of that way of thinking because it is our rival, but we do recognize its place in college football lore, if you will."