AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — For most of the past year, the Oklahoma State-Texas rivalry in the Big 12 has been less about playing football than arguing in a courtroom.
That changes Saturday— even if for just a few hours — when the winner will be decided by who makes the plays, rather than bickering over who calls them.
The No. 24 Cowboys (3-0) and Longhorns (1-2) meet in their league opener while a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma State in 2014 against Texas offensive line coach Joe Wickline plays out in court.
The case has been a curiosity around the Big 12 and college football because it has one rival program’s lawyers probing the inner workings and strategy sessions of another. It has dragged the head coaches into depositions and threatens to pull in players as well.
All of it over who at Texas was really calling the shots on third-and-long and first-and-goal.
Oklahoma State says Wickline owes his former employer nearly $600,000 for his move to Texas where he is primarily the line coach, instead of taking a job that required him to call plays, as specified in his previous contract.
The case forced Texas head coach Charlie Strong, assistant head Shawn Watson and Wickline, into long depositions, where each swore that Wickline had some play-calling duties. At one point, an Oklahoma State lawyer reminded Strong of his core value of “honesty.”
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy also testified, calling Wickline’s move to Texas a “lateral” one at best.
Although Texas isn’t named in the lawsuit, the entire dustup has unsettled fans who wanted the school to help Wickline settle and move on. But a new twist came two weeks ago when Strong demoted lead play-caller Watson (and Wickline) and turned the offense over to Jay Norvell.
Seizing the opportunity, Oklahoma State told Texas it wants new interviews with the Texas coaches may even depose former Longhorns starting quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who is now No. 2 behind Jerrod Heard. Texas officials have yet to formally respond.
Strong said this week doesn’t think the case has been a distraction but Longhorns fans wonder how it can’t be. Strong also has refused to say much. The case isn’t set for trial until March 2016.
Here are some things to watch for on the field when Oklahoma State meets Texas:
JERROD HEARD: The freshman quarterback has pumped some life into Texas with his dynamic play the last two weeks. His 527 total yards in a 45-44 loss to California set a school record and nearly rallied Texas from 21 points down in the fourth quarter.
TEXAS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kickoff and punt returner Daje Johnson already has one touchdown this season and California refused to kick to him last week. And if the game turns into a shootout, Longhorns place kicker Nick Rose had to be shaken by his missed extra point with 71 seconds last week that could have sent the game to overtime.
COWBOYS PASS RUSH: Junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah has the dual challenge of generating a pass rush against the elusive Heard and keeping him in the pocket. Heard has proven most dangerous to defenses when on the move. Ogbah has 3 ½ of the Cowboys’ nine sacks.
POSTGAME HANDSHAKE: There’s been lots of bickering between Big 12 coaches already this season. The ongoing lawsuit and previous depositions given by Strong and Gundy may not spark any new words but there has to be tension there.