I am convinced that the Texas/OU game is one of our program's greatest assets. Unfortunately, I am also convinced it is one of the OU program's greatest assets (exceeded only by booster cash and the lack of an institutional moral compass) too. Here's why.
The two distinguishing characteristics of the Red River Shootout (RRS- I prefer the politically incorrect term) are the neutral site location, and the position in the early part of the season's calendar. The neutral site is key for a program that has national aspirations because it means that we never have to play our chief rival (almost always an elite team) in a hostile stadium. Of course, the flip side is that we never get the home field advantage either. Why would this be an advantage?
It's an advantage because sometimes we do actually have the best team in the nation. Sometimes OU has the best team in the nation. In those years, our programs get to make title runs and play a huge matchup game on a neutral field, where the better team should win. I know there are periods when one program is regularly stronger than the other. The coach of the weaker team might prefer a home game to break a RRS losing streak. Too bad. The current setup is the best for MNC runs.
The schedule date for the game is significant in that it vaults the winner into the national consciousness. It's usually a terrific game, often nationally televised. Most big rivalry games are late in the season, as teams' fortunes have mostly played out. Sure, Michigan/OSU or ND/USC gives us a significant matchups sometimes. They don't match up top 5 undefeated teams as often as the RRS does. They can't.
Well, I've made some claims. Can I back them up? Sure. Here goes.
Since 1950, Texas has come into the RRS undefeated and untied, and left the same way 15 times ('51, '58, '59, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '69, '70, '77, '80, '81, '83, and '05). Texas left every one of those victories rated in the Top 4 except for 1958 (the game SRR discusses, where UT came into Dallas #11 and left #7). Actually, Texas has been ranked #1 or #2 in every year it came out of Dallas undefeated since 1962. Texas won four MNCs in those years ('63, '69, '70, and '05), and played for a MNC on the season's last day twice more ('77 and '83).
Since 1950, OU has come into the RRS undefeated and untied, and left the same way 19 times ('50, '54, '55, '56, '57, '66, '71, '72, '74, '70, '75, '78, '85, '87, '93, '00, '01, '02, '03, '04, and '05). I don't know OU's rank after those wins (perhaps one of you Sooners can make yourself useful by finding out). OU won seven MNCs in those years ('50, '55, '56, '74, '75, '85, and '00), and played for a MNC on the season's last day three more times ('87, '03 and '04).
Is that enough proof for you that there is something special about this game? In the last 58 years, it has produced 11 MNCs (19%), and teams playing for a MNC the final game 16 times (27.6%). In the 34 times that one of the teams has come in undefeated and untied, and won, they have played for a MNC 16 times. In other words, in this game, where both teams are unbeaten, the winner has almost even odds that they will be playing in the BCS title game, arguably.
Are you seeing that this is a big game, structured to launch the winner on a title run?
There are other nice aspects to the RRS arrangement. It's the biggest college game in DFW every year (especially since the Cotton Bowl New Year's Game dropped in status), and really the only college game that can compete with the Dallas Cowboys. This has given Texas and OU a big recruiting advantage in the North Texas area. It's no coincidence that TCU's and SMU's glory days are all before 1950. The RRS sucks all of the air out of the room, so to speak.
There is always talk of changing the format. Some change is inevitable. The RRS switch to a conference game seems to not matter, except that the loser has a harder time salvaging a season than before. I think switching to a home-and-away is a really bad idea. I don't see any neutral site games that have made that switch being better off. Either it becomes just another conference game (Alabama/Auburn), or they forget why they even need to play (Ol' Miss/Arkansas).
I think the State Fair makes for a special atmosphere. I don't know that the game has to be played there to keep its stature. I, personally, am open to a move to the Cowboys' Stadium (disclosure- I live 2.5 miles due west).
The Ags and Hogs are planning to grab some of our goodness next year, with a series in the new Cowboys' Stadium. They seem to think that the format is special. I don't think it will work the way they want it to. One of the downsides to the RRS is that if your program is not humming along at peak efficiency, you run a real threat of a series of high-profile drillings. At the RRS, our hatred carries us through that. I don't know if that will be sufficient for TAMU and Arkansas if one sees an ugly losing streak form.
The sad truth is that it is easier to destroy a program asset like the RRS than create one.