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Red zone efficiency could be a difference-maker for the Big 12 Championship

There may be fireworks, but a few changes inside the 20 could mean the difference between a win and a loss.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

For a conference known for its high-flying offenses, the Big 12 Championship game could all come down to a span of 20 yards.

As the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners face off in Arlington, lost in all of the offensive hype is the red zone battle between two teams trending in opposite directions.

The Sooners, who easily boast the nation’s top offense, lag only slightly behind their top offensive rankings in the Red Zone, coming in at No. 19 when attempting from inside the 20. During the first meeting, Oklahoma not only scored on every red zone possession, they did not settle for a single field goal in their five trips inside the 20.

Texas has been just as good defensively when teams manage to make it inside their 20, coming in at No. 5 nationally. Texas has stopped opponents on 28.3 percent of their trips to the red zone, and has managed to trim that margin in conference play. Only one team other than Oklahoma has a 100-percent red zone conversion rate against the Texas defense, the Iowa State Cyclones, who only made one trip inside the 20 in their pivotal matchup a few weeks ago. Overall, Texas has stopped Big 12 opponents on 25.81 percent of their attempts in conference play, including a 30 percent performance throughout the last three games.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Texas offense and the Oklahoma defense have both struggled when team’s manage to make it inside their 20.

Oklahoma has been downright abysmal on red zone snaps, stopping opponents on just 4.7 percent of attempts, good enough for No. 128 out of 129 FBS schools. They’ve managed just two red zone stops all season, one against the TCU Horned Frogs — who only had one attempt — and the West Virginia Mountaineers, who scored touchdowns on their other five attempts from inside the 20.

The Longhorns surprisingly have struggled to punch the ball in from short distances as well, despite the powerful running of quarterback Sam Ehlinger and the somewhat successful wildcat package featuring Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Texas sits at No. 89 in the country and No. 6 in the conference with an 81 percent conversion rate. Unsurprisingly, one of the five times Texas managed to convert on all of its red zone attempts was the October meeting against the Oklahoma Sooners.

It also happened to be their highest number of attempts for the whole season, with five red zone tries.

So as both teams try to figure out a way to slow the other down, it may come down to which team can turn one or two red zone touchdowns into field goals. In a shootout, that field goal could prove to be just as good as a punt or turnover.