NORMAN, Okla. – The way Bob Stoops sees it, there is no Sooners slump in the Red River Rivalry.
Forget that in a series he once dominated, Stoops has headed home from Dallas in defeat four of the last five years while Mack Brown and Texas celebrated with the Golden Hat.
It's the kind of performance that might have landed another Oklahoma coach in hot water, but the Sooners have continued to win Big 12 titles and play for national championships despite the recent losses to the Longhorns.
Once again, Saturday's game between the eighth-ranked Sooners (4-0) and No. 21 Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) figures to play a role in determining a champion.
"The atmosphere and just playing on a big stage, these are the kind of games you dream about and watch on TV when you're little. And just the thought of playing in it, it sends chills through your body," Texas receiver James Kirkendoll said. "I think everybody dreams about playing this kind of game."
Surrounded by the pageantry of the State Fair of Texas and a crowd split evenly — along the 50-yard line — with fans in Oklahoma crimson and Texas burnt orange, a rivalry that's more than a century old takes up a larger place in the college football landscape.
One of the two teams involved has played for the national title five of the last seven years, even if it's not as simple as the winner being on track for a trip to Arizona this January. Oklahoma lost two years ago but still won a tiebreaker against the Longhorns to play for the Big 12 and BCS championships. Last year, Texas won again and played for the BCS title.
The last two losses combined with others in 2005 and 2006 don't add up to a reason to panic for Stoops, who put together five straight wins in the series starting in 2000.
"You can look at it however you want. It's two out of three or four out of five or us six out of 10," Stoops said. "You can just keep going, however you want. But in the end, it doesn't matter. It's each game. In my eyes, even when we had the five in a row, all that matters is what you do this year."
His Sooners have been just scraping by so far this season, earning three of their four wins by a touchdown or less. But while Texas is riding high in this series, the Longhorns will be trying to right what went wrong in a stunning 34-12 loss at home to UCLA last week.
"It doesn't matter if they've lost all of their games, lost just one or won all of them," Sooners running back Mossis Madu said. "They're going to come in and play as hard as they can."
This year marks a new chapter in the rivalry with the first meeting between quarterbacks Landry Jones and Garrett Gilbert.
Jones replaced 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford in Oklahoma's 16-13 loss last year, as Texas' Colt McCoy moved to 3-1 in the rivalry. Gilbert replaces McCoy this year and will try to become the latest newcomer to win his Red River debut.
Bradford and McCoy each pulled off the feat on their way to spectacular college careers. And like Bradford in 2007, Gilbert is coming off an upset loss a week earlier.
Jones, at least, won't be dealing with the first-time jitters after committing three of Oklahoma's five turnovers last year.
"It's more difficult when you first walk out there because you know it's just a huge, huge rivalry game that's been going on for a long time ... and just the tradition of that game," Jones said. "At first, it's a little nerve-racking but then you just have to settle down and just do what you do out there."
Neither team has been able to establish a consistent running game this season and both have been unhappy with their defensive performances lately. Texas expects to get the speedy D.J. Monroe more involved, either in the backfield or as a receiver, and both teams are hoping for improved tackling.
"We haven't been playing our greatest football this season, we have a lot of doubters and a lot of people skeptical about what we can do," Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter. "So, we have a lot to prove."
A win would bolster the Sooners' case as a true national title contender, while Texas wants to halt its skid at one loss. And, of course, there's the matter of bragging rights.
"You can work yourself into a frenzy but in the end that doesn't cut it," Stoops said. "It's being prepared and it's executing when you get the opportunity."