Poor recruiting, coaching instability (there have been seven head-coaching changes in the conference in the last three years) and the hangover from NCAA police work (since 1985 every Texas team in the Southwest Conference except Baylor and Rice has been investigated, and four have been put on probation) have all taken their toll. Texas is on a two-year probation for 51 violations and has been docked five scholarships by the NCAA. Just how sorry the fortunes of this once-mighty conference have become was obvious on Sept. 26 when Arkansas, a preseason favorite for the championship, lost 51-7 to Miami in Little Rock. Then the other putative SWC power, Texas A & M, lost to Texas Tech, which had already lost to Baylor, which had been humbled by that noted juggernaut, Missouri.
And Oklahoma isn't the only one rustling Texas talent. Schools from California to Indiana have moved in like crows at a road kill. Tim Brown goes to Notre Dame, Charles Arbuckle and Brian Jones go to UCLA, Harvey Williams goes to LSU, Thurman Thomas goes to Oklahoma State, and Texas schools take what is left over.
In years past, the Oklahoma-Texas game has carried some weight. On 35 occasions, at least one of the schools has come in undefeated. But this time—with Texas at 2-2, having beaten lowly Oregon State and Rice at home after losing its first two to Auburn and BYU—the betting line had the Sooners winning by 31, the biggest point spread ever.
"Oklahoma-Texas used to be a border war," said Sooner senior defensive end Darrell Reed in midweek. "Now it's lost some electricity. It's not the same."
Still, Oklahoma-Texas is an event as much as a game; it's held on the second Saturday of every October at the Cotton Bowl—equidistant from Norman and Austin—smack-dab in the middle of the State Fair of Texas. The occasion is so colorful, emotion-packed and hyperbolic that it pretty much gives form to all that is both sublime and ridiculous about the college game. Indeed, it's hard not to get chills the first time one hears the Longhorn band play The Eyes of Texas —if one can forget for the moment that it is the same tune as I've Been Working on the Railroad.
Last week there was the usual drunken posturing on Commerce Avenue, with Texas fans wearing a shade of orange more appropriate to industrial furniture, and Oklahoma fans wearing red and white, and screaming "Boomer Sooner!" as though they knew what it meant. A tug-of-war between rival fans that took place across the tiny Trinity River was won by the Texans, mainly because they were about twice as numerous as the Oklahomans.
And there were the inevitable accusations of mischief directed at the Sooner football program by Texas newspapers. The Dallas Morning News reported during the week that Oklahoma players had sold tickets to Sooner games in recent seasons with the help of an athletic department employee and that players had been aided in obtaining car loans from a Norman bank without the usual credit checks. The NCAA confirmed that an investigation was under way. Switzer denied any wrongdoing. " Oklahoma doesn't buy players!" he roared at an Oct. 6 media luncheon. Two days later, in private, he shrugged and said, "That stuff was predictable. You just go on." Jack E. Black, until earlier this year the president of the now-liquidated American Exchange Bank of Norman, which was accused of making the favorable loans, added that during his tenure the bank didn't favor athletes over anyone else, but that it did make a number of bad loans to students in general.
Switzer has let it be known that he would like the annual game moved from the Cotton Bowl and turned into a home-and-home on-campus event. "I don't think we ought to mess with it," responded Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds. Point, counterpoint.
The Longhorns certainly shouldn't have messed with the Sooners on the field. The only problems Oklahoma had were unique to a team that had rolled over its first four opponents by the combined score of 218-17. The Sooners' ultra-cool, Los Angeles-bred quarterback, Jammin' Jamelle Holieway, the 5'9", 180-pound wishbone magician, was worried about getting enough playing time. "All those Heisman candidates playing four quarters," he said wistfully. "Well, I'm a team-oriented guy. Would I like to pass more? If we had to throw 30 times a game, dude, I could do it."
All-America tight end Keith Jackson, noted cellist and big-play receiver, was concerned that his injured left elbow might interfere with his ability to finger his instrument's strings. But he was not dismissing Texas. "We prepare the same, week after week," he said. "We don't say, 'Ha-ha! It's North Texas State this week!' We have pride. That's why we score so much. We hate close games." (For the record, North Texas State went down on opening day 69-14.)