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.
On a day when No. 1 Georgia re-asserted itself, No. 11 Alabama overcame itself, No. 10 Notre Dame ran out of gas at No. 25 Louisville and seven teams lost for the first time — including No. 17 Miami in the most unfathomable and inexcusable way — the Sooners made the loudest statement.
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 quickly 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 the Texas game with an injury, threw for 285 yards and ran for 113 to become 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. The Tide has already beaten No. 16 Mississippi and A&M.
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.
Over in the East, Georgia was less than its best in September, but started October by hitting No. 20 Kentucky with 60 minutes of near-perfect football. Carson Beck threw or 389 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs are the only unbeaten team left in the SEC after Kentucky and Missouri went down.
Another Alabama-Georgia SEC championship game is not yet inevitable, but it is the most likely scenario.
All Miami needed to do was take a knee to wrap up a 20-17 sloppy victory against Georgia Tech.
Instead, with 36 seconds left, the Hurricanes called a running play on third-and-10 at the Tech 30. Don Chaney fumbled. The Yellow Jackets recovered and three plays scored the winning touchdown with 2 seconds left.
Chaney was distraught on the bench, but lay all the blame of Miami coach Mario Cristobal for calling a play that was entirely unnecessary.
“We should have taken a knee,” Cristobal said.
And kudos to ACC Network announcer Tim Hasselbeck for not holding back on his criticism of Miami’s coaches failing football 101.
“That’s one of the biggest coaching mistakes at this level that I have ever seen in my lifetime,” Hasselbeck said.
Miami lured Cristobal home from Oregon after the 2021 season with a monster contract and hopes to return to The U. to glory. Cristobal is tireless recruiter who has put together some talented teams, including this one, but his game-management has often come into question.
He made a similar end-of-game, clock-management mistake in 2018 against Stanford that cost Oregon a game.
This was far worse and will stick to Cristobal until he delivers the championships he has promised his alma mater.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: Three weeks of tough games, and two straight in a frenzied road atmospheres, turned out to be too much for Notre Dame. The Irish get No. 9 USC at home next week, which was facing Arizona at home Saturday night. … No. 4 Ohio State smashed the Marvin Harrison Jr. button to get out of a funk against previously unbeaten 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. Maye passed 442 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse. A big stage awaited Maye and the Tar Heels against Miami next week, but the Hurricanes took the luster off that one. … 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. … No. 24 Fresno State’s undefeated season ended at Wyoming as the Cowboys improved to 5-1. That sets up another huge Mountain West game next week with Wyoming visiting unbeaten Air Force.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll