"Oklahoma serves a function. If there were no Oklahoma, there would be nothing on the north of Texas and it would be unthinkable for Texas to have a side on which it has nothing to be better than." -- Paul Crume, late columnist Dallas Morning News By Paul Taylor Washington Post Staff Writer

When it comes to finding something socially redeeming about an Okie, that's about the limit of any Texan's generosity.

The University of Texas and Oklahoma University are going to be playing a football game Saturday in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Because Texas is ranked No. 1 in the nation and Oklahoma is No. 3, you're probably going to be reading a lot about what a big game it is.

Bull feathers. There's only one reason this is a big game and it's the same one that's fueled college football's throatiest rivalry for the last 78 years.

The people in these two states can't stand each other.

Texans see OU about the way Ronald Reagan saw the Soviets, before he started running for reelection. Oklahomans lie, steal and cheat.

Austin columnist Mike Kelley once got it down on paper with characteristic Texas understatement. The Texas-OU showdown, he wrote, "is civilization come to tame the Visigoths."

Okies, any Texan will tell you, got stuck with a sorry little excuse for a state and a massive, richly earned inferiority complex.

Did John Wayne ever play a tough hombre from Oklahoma?

Do Okies have an Alamo? An Astrodome? The Dallas Cowboys?

Were they ever a republic?

The problem (yes, there is a problem) is that Okies were feeling so hangdog about themselves a couple of generations back that they decided, as a sort of official state morale boost, to start kicking the neighborhood bully, Texas, where it would hurt most -- on the football field.

Naturally, the only way they could pull it off would be by recruiting some Texas-bred talent.

From Jim Harris, who was quarterback on Bud Wilkinson's national championship teams at OU in 1955-56, to Greg Pruitt, Joe Washington and Billy Sims, who found Oklahoma more accommodating to black ballplayers in the 1970s than Texas (which didn't have a black letterman until 1970), Sooners success has been built on high school talent drawn from south of the Red River.

That's why this thing in Dallas every fall gets so nasty.

This year, 32 members of the Oklahoma team are from Texas. Texans accuse the Sooners of breaking every rule in the book to lure their young innocents north, citing as proof the three NCAA probations that have been slapped on OU, including one for tampering with the high school academic records of a Galveston recruit.

"We couldn't have a national program if it wasn't for Texas high school players," says Sooners Coach Barry Switzer. "Oklahoma has 200 high schools, Texas has 2,000 high schools and the best high school football in America."

Clearly, Switzer is not a popular person here. "Will Rogers never met Barry Switzer," go the bumper stickers in Austin. Former Texas coach Darrell Royal (himself an Okie, but long since granted an exemption) once accused Switzer of spying on Texas practices.

Texas' current coach, Fred Akers, played with Switzer at Arkansas in 1957-59, but will only say of their relationship, "He's not in my will."

For Akers, that's a pretty good line. He's been here eight years, compiled the winningest percentage in Southwest Conference history (67-17-1 for a .799) but in the minds of a lot of Texas eyes, he's never filled Royal's boots.

For one thing, the man is dull. "He's the proverbial figure on top of the wedding cake," says Robert Heard, a chronicler of Longhorn football. Royal, of course, had all those juicy dance-with-them-who-brung-me one-liners.

For another, he's never won the big one. He's 5-2 against Oklahoma, which is nice, but he's 0-7 for a national championship, which is the way they measure success around here.

Akers has had near misses, including one last year when his powerful defensive squad went undefeated in the regular season, only to fumble away the Cotton Bowl and a probable national title, 10-9, late in the fourth quarter against Georgia.

This year's Texas team is a who-are-these-guys? collection of redshirts and strangers. "We don't rebuild," Akers says; "we reload."

Texas lost 20 starters from last year to graduation, and its best runner, Edward Simmons, has had three arthroscopic knee operations since February and will probably miss the whole season.

But Texas football, as usual, is anchored on defense and the unit this year is led by consensus all-America free safety Jerry Gray, who Akers is touting as a Heisman candidate. Gray led the team in tackles last year and already has three interceptions this year.

The offense is led by senior quarterback Todd Dodge, who's small (5 feet 11, 170 pounds), throws wobbly passes and is recovering from a hyperextended knee he got when he was blindsided last week against Rice.

Dodge is a gamer who's given the offense unexpected life. The question of the week in Austin has been: Will his knee be ready? The answer seems to be yes. He started light workouts yesterday.

So all that's left, really, has been for Longhorns fans to work themselves into suitable hate-OU frenzy.

"Coach Akers," began a query from one of the local sportcasters on the news last night. "We have it on good authority from Oklahoma sources that their game plan is to take some cheap shots and go right at Dodge's knee. Care to comment?"

Yes he would. His words, chosen with the usual Akers care, said he'd never dream of the Sooners doing such a thing. But his smile said something else.