UT to find out if they are contenders or pretenders against defending national champions this weekend

This is the way it used to be way back when the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma were fighting for national supremacy on a yearly basis 25 years or so ago.

This Saturday, the two Big 12 rivals will meet in their annual battle at the Cotton Bowl and there will be more at stake than which side of the Red River holds bragging rights for the next year, namely control of the Big 12’s North Division and along with that, the winner will remain firmly in the hunt for the national championship.

Before we look at that game, let’s review last week’s record and what the record looks like for the season. An 8-4 mark brought the season record to 16-8 (66 percent). Not too shabby.

Now let’s see what this week’s schedule has to offer.

Stratford vs. Aldine: The Mustangs ended non-district play with a 1-2 record after their 13-12 loss to Spring two weeks ago. Something tells me Aldine head coach Bill Smith will have his team ready for District 21-5A play and you can be sure he won’t let his troops look past Stratford, which was the surprise team of the league a year ago. Playing at Thorne Stadium will be a big advantage for the Mustangs as they begin righting the ship in league play. My pick, Aldine 23, Stratford 10

MacArthur vs. Spring Woods: The Generals also finished non-district play with a 1-2 record and injuries had a lot to do with that. MacArthur needs a confidence booster and they should get one this week. The Generals’ offense has been stymied for two weeks now, and head coach Terry Forga knows his team cannot afford to continue playing as it has the last two weeks if it hopes to contend for a playoff spot in one of the toughest districts in the state. My pick, MacArthur 26, Spring Woods 3

Eisenhower vs. Northbrook: The Eagles saw their chance for a second straight undefeated season come to an end two weeks ago when Lufkin won a 10-9 slugfest at Thorne Stadium, so they’ll be in a nasty mood when they visit undermanned Northbrook this weekend. Look for the Eagles to run at will in this one, while the defense shuts down the Raider offense. My pick, Eisenhower 41, Northbrook 7

Memorial vs. Nimitz: The best game in 21-5A this weekend. Both teams are playoff contenders, and the winner of this one will gain a lot of confidence and momentum. Nimitz rebounded nicely two weeks ago after a 41-0 loss to Westfield with a 28-20 victory over Washington. Memorial was the only 21-5A team to finish 3-0 in non-district play and head coach Gary Koch has another experienced senior-laden team. Nimitz will need to control the clock with its running game to keep Memorial’s Matt Young off the field. My pick, Nimitz 16, Memorial 14

Now let’s take a look at the college scene, where a number of key games are on tap outside of Dallas.

Florida at LSU: This is a huge game for Florida and its national title hopes. The Gators will get their first real test and it comes against a talented LSU team that is tough to beat at home. The LSU fans will be revved up for this one against a team they don’t (along with the rest of the SEC) have a lot of love for, but Florida has played in hostile surroundings before and it knows how to handle itself in big games. LSU will try and rattle sophomore quarterback Rex Grossman into mistakes and if they are successful, it will be crucial for the LSU offense to take advantage of its defense work. Florida head coach Steve Spurner knows he needs this game to remain in the BCS hunt, but something tells me those plans will get sidetracked this Saturday night in Death Valley. My pick, LSU 26, Florida 24

Northwestern at Ohio State: A key Big 10 game as the high-scoring Wildcats visit the defensive-minded Buckeyes this Saturday. Northwestern and super back Ladian Anderson can score from anywhere on the field, but they will be facing a stern defense in Ohio State. The Buckeyes proved that to a high-scoring UCLA team two weeks ago before falling 13-6. Still, the Achilles heel on the Buckeyes is at quarterback and if OSU can’t score, they can’t keep up with the Wildcats. My pick, Northwestern 27, Ohio State 18

Oregon at Arizona: This is a game Oregon had better not look past if it hopes to win the Pack 10 and remain in the hunt for a BCS bid. Arizona has played well under first-year head coach John Macovich and a win over the sixth-ranked Ducks would do much for the team’s confidence. Oregon quarterback Joey Herrington proved his mettle two weeks ago by leading his team on a late drive to pull out a 24-22 victory over USC. He’d better hope he has the magic touch again this weekend in the desert. My pick, Oregon 32, Arizona 30

Oklahoma vs. Texas: The eyes of the nation will be on this game as the defending national champions have their second straight test in as many weeks (OU hosted Kansas State on Sept. 29) in their quest to defend their national crown. Texas wants to make people forget about last year’s 63-14 loss they suffered to the Sooners and to prove to the country that they are indeed on pace to replace OU as national champs this year. This should be a classic meeting. Texas appears to have an offense that can score from any point on the field, while the OU defense looks better than the unit that won it all a year ago. The State Fair grounds and the Cotton Bowl will be rocking before this one, but the real action will take place on the field when these two talent-laden squads hit the field. OU won’t be intimidated by the Horns talent because they have plenty of their own and a head coach who knows how to prepare his team for a big game. While UT head coach Mac Brown has proven he can recruit as well as anybody in the lands, the jury is still out on whether he can coach that talent in a key game. This would be a good week to prove his critics wrong. My pick, Texas 34, OU 33

Now let’s take a look at what the NFL has to offer this weekend.

Tennessee at Baltimore: Who would have thought that the two teams that dominated the AFC a year ago come limping into this early-season showdown. This game is crucial for the Titans, who will enter with a 0-2 record, while the Ravens were shocked two weeks ago at Cincinnati. Both of these teams have offenses that are sputtering, but the return of Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair would be a huge boost for his team. This will be a tight game controlled by the defenses, and the Ravens have the best one going. My pick, Baltimore 13, Tennessee 10

Dallas at Oakland: This game was supposed to be played on Oct. 21, but due to a scheduling conflict with the baseball playoffs, the two teams were asked to move the game up by two weeks. It really doesn’t matter when this game is played, the Raiders will dominate a punch-less Dallas team that has no true quarterback. Look for the Raiders to attack, and attack some more as they look to get their offense untracked. My pick, Oakland 31, Dallas 10

Minnesota at New Orleans: The Vikings are another team that could be out of the playoff picture before it plays a quarter of its schedule. In their first two losses, the once potent Minnesota offense has looked weak and lethargic. Maybe this team misses All-Pro running back Robert Smith more than it thinks. The Saints, on the other hand, have only played twice in four weeks, so they should be rested and ready for their home opener. New Orleans will be jumping to see its Saints play, especially considering that this team is a viable Super Bowl contender. My pick, New Orleans 24, Minnesota 20

St. Louis at Detroit: Why was this game picked for Monday Night Football? I guess ABC wanted the country to see what a “real” offense looks like as opposed to what Detroit believes passes for an NFL offense. The Rams look like they did two years ago when they won the Super Bowl. Quarterback Kurt Warner is using all his weapons at his disposal, which has to keep defensive coordinators up late at night figuring out a way to stop him. When the Rams get through with the Lions, the Detroit coaching staff is going to be in store for one restless night. My pick, St. Louis 38, Detroit 14.