NORMAN, Okla. -- This week, the Baylor Bears have visions of a conference championship dancing in their heads. And why not? Baylor has completely thrashed the opposition so far.
But to win their first Big 12 title, the Bears will have to deal with the league’s old bully Thursday night, the one who, year after year, is waiting to tussle with the league’s next up-and-comer.
Since Bob Stoops’ arrival, the Sooners have captured eight Big 12 championships in the past 14 seasons. Over the same span, Texas and Kansas State have two titles. No one else has more than one, and no one has dominated a league like OU has in that time.
Almost as impressive, in the six years Oklahoma didn’t win the title, the Sooners were in the mix well into November in three of them.
Once more, Oklahoma has maneuvered its way into the Big 12 title picture this season past the end of daylight saving time. The Sooners could take command of the conference race -- yet again -- by taking out the budding Bears.
“It’s always been hard -- evidenced that there’s not a whole bunch of people that got a whole bunch of 'em,” Stoops said Monday, referring to Big 12 championships. “You just count up how many everybody has, and not everybody has a whole bunch.
“It’s never been easy.”
But Stoops and his Sooners have seemingly made it look so.
While they haven’t played for a national title in five years, their sustained model of consistent dominance remains the envy of college football.
Since 2000, nobody from a power conference has as many league titles as Oklahoma. The only schools that come close are Ohio State and USC, which both claim seven. The Trojans, however, had two of their conference titles vacated; the Buckeyes lost one.
No else has more than five.
How have the Sooners accomplished what no other program has managed to match?
“First, it’s about consistently having good players and schemes and good [assistant] coaches that put it all together,” Stoops said. “Two, it’s the methodical way in how we approach the spring, the summer and go through the season, how we try and build our team, how we prepare and work to make ourselves better as we go through the year.”
In the face of adversity, the resilient Sooners have almost always found a way to persevere and get better.
Last year, Oklahoma opened the Big 12 with a home loss to Kansas State. But the Sooners bounced back by running rest of the table in the league, including a pair of come-from-behind, fourth-quarter victories over West Virginia and Oklahoma State, to share the league title with K-State.
In 2010, Oklahoma debuted at No. 1 in the BCS standings but lost twice over the following three weeks, making them long shots to win the Big 12. Instead, the Sooners rallied and upset Oklahoma State 47-41 on the road in the regular-season finale to win the Big 12 South. Then they recovered from a 17-0 deficit to knock off Nebraska in the final Big 12 championship game.
Two years before that, Oklahoma and its record-setting offense came up short in a wild shootout with the Longhorns. But the Sooners rebounded by annihilating second-ranked Texas Tech a month later to ascend back up the BCS standings to edge out Texas in a three-way tiebreaker for the Big 12 South.
Oklahoma’s most improbable conference run came in 2006. On the day before the first preseason practice, Stoops booted starting quarterback Rhett Bomar from the team for receiving improper benefits from a local car dealership. With no other viable alternative, Oklahoma had to move wide receiver Paul Thompson back to quarterback. The Sooners struggled initially, losing two games early in the season, including a 28-10 defeat to Texas. But they rebounded, grinding out eight straight wins to secure another Big 12 crown.
Not everything has gone Oklahoma’s way this season either.
Last month, the Sooners fell apart as heavy favorites in a shocking defeat to Texas. They’ve also lost three of their best players -- fullback Trey Millard, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson -- to season-ending injuries.
This week, they head to Baylor, which features the nation’s highest-scoring offense and a pair of Heisman hopefuls in quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk. Dating back to last year, the Bears have reeled off 11 victories in a row, coming by an average margin of more than five touchdowns.
As a result, the Sooners are better than two-touchdown underdogs -- just the third time they’ve been a double-digit 'dog under Stoops.
“It'll be a big challenge for us,” Stoops said.
Then again, history has proved it’s never wise to count Oklahoma out.
Especially in a Big 12 race.