NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- - It's a college football experience unlike any other.
It starts with a bus ride into the State Fair of Texas, with fans thumping on the sides and cheering or directing insults and unfriendly gestures toward the riders. Then there's the walk down the Cotton Bowl field, the chance to stare down your bitter rival face to face before the game begins.
And no matter what's on the line beyond the Golden Hat trophy at the annual Red River Rivalry, it's always something special - even if the stakes are a little lower than usual.
No. 13 Oklahoma (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) and No. 15 Texas (4-1, 1-1) will arrive in Dallas on Saturday playing catch-up in the conference standings for a change. Instead of a showdown to get in the driver's seat in the Big 12, the rivalry is a crucial win both teams need to keep up with No. 5 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas State.
For the first time since 2007, and the second time since 1997, both teams already have a conference loss behind their names.
"It doesn't have any different feel,'' Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Monday. "Not in my eyes."
It'll be the 14th straight time Stoops has gone up against Texas' Mack Brown, with the two teams combining to win nine of the last 13 conference titles. The loser this time could end up two games back in the league standings.
So, could this be an early October elimination game?
"I wouldn't ever say that,'' Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "We don't want to get too high. We don't want to get too low.
"You never know what's going to happen in the Big 12 or in college football, period. We're definitely going to try to go out there and get this win, try and give it our all but we don't really think of the negatives yet.''
Brown seems to agree.
"I think in my estimation we could see a conference champion with one or maybe two losses this year the way this league is, because there's so much parity in the league," he said.
Oklahoma fell on its home field against Kansas State last month, and Texas lost a wild back-and-forth game against West Virginia 48-45 in Austin last Saturday. With the Mountaineers still on the Sooners' schedule and a season-ending trip to Kansas State looming for the Longhorns, however, there are still plenty of opportunities to get back in the conference race.
"We aren't where we want to be, (but) we're much better than we were last year," Brown said. "I don't think last year's team could have even hung with West Virginia because we couldn't have scored enough points.
"But we're making a lot of progress, and at some point this football team is going to be really good, and we are getting better each game."
Texas is 13-13 in its last 26 regular-season games. However, the Longhorns rank sixth in the nation with 46.8 points per game and David Ash is third in passer efficiency at 180.1 with 11 touchdowns and one interception.
Splitting time with Case McCoy in a 55-17 loss to the Sooners on Oct. 8, 2011, Ash went 11 of 20 for 107 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions while being sacked four times. Landry Jones threw for 367 yards and three TDs, and one of Jones' teammates wouldn't be surprised to see Ash perform much better with no one looking over his shoulder.
"I think Texas letting him start and just letting him play his game, it's given him nothing but confidence," Oklahoma defensive end R.J. Washington said. "When you have more confidence in yourself and you know your coaches are behind you, you're going to play better, you're not going to worry about making mistakes, you're going to loosen up and go play."
The Sooners are coming off of a 41-20 win at previously unbeaten Texas Tech, ending a three-game losing streak in Lubbock. Before that, they had off weeks bracketing the 24-19 loss to Kansas State, and Stoops thought all the down time stunted the team's development.
"Now, hopefully we can get in a rhythm. ... You really make your improvement, I think, when you're on the field playing in game situations, and hopefully we can take some strides and keep improving,'' Stoops said.
The Sooners have won the last two games in the series after losing four of the previous five, and turnovers have been key. Texas gave it away seven times in the past two matchups, while Oklahoma coughed it up once.
"When we've lost and when we've lost badly, it's been because we've turned the ball over, and last year was no different," Brown said.
With the often extreme momentum swings of a rivalry game, there's been a winner in turnover margin in each of the last seven meetings. Each time, that team went on to win the game.
"It's anybody's game right now,'' Washington said. "It could come down to the wire, so every game is as important as every other game. This just happens to be a rivalry game. There's always a little added incentive for that.''