Big change with Oklahoma now chasing Baylor for Big 12 title
The shift at the top of the Big 12 Conference really started four years ago, when Robert Griffin III led a winning drive that pretty much clinched him a Heisman Trophy.
Baylor had never before beaten Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma, losing all 20 previous meetings until Griffin's touchdown pass to Terrance Williams with 8 seconds left that November Saturday night in Waco.
''It was gigantic. You're talking about a team that had not only dominated Baylor, but certainly had dominated the Big 12 the previous decade … They were the standard at that time,'' coach Art Briles said this week. ''I'm trying to think of a way for it to be bigger, but I can't think of one. And since that time, it's allowed us to equalize not only on the football field but in the national perception and recruiting world.''
When those teams play another prime-time game at Baylor on Saturday, the fourth-ranked Bears (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) are the two-time defending Big 12 champions who have won three of the last four meetings with Oklahoma – the last two in lopsided fashion.
The No. 12 Sooners (8-1, 5-1) have gone consecutive seasons without a conference title for the first time under coach Bob Stoops.
''It's always been hard. At different times through my 17 years, different programs are stronger or not quite as strong at different times,'' Stoops said. ''To say it's ever been easy is really wrong, especially before when there was 12 teams and the championship game along with it.''
Even so, the Sooners have won eight Big 12 titles, by far more than any other team. That includes four of five championships from 2006-10, the last years the league had 12 teams and a championship game. Their only title since was sharing one with Kansas State in 2012.
The only current Big 12 teams other than Oklahoma and Baylor with multiple league titles are Texas (three) and Kansas State (two). Both those teams are struggling now.
K-State is 0-5 in the conference for the first time, and Texas – even with a victory over Oklahoma – is 4-5 after also have a losing record last season in coach Charlie Strong's debut.
Texas was the last Big 12 team to play for a national championship and the last to win one. With Vince Young at quarterback, the Longhorns beat Southern California to win the title at the end of the 2005 season, but lost to Alabama in the BCS national championship game four years later when Colt McCoy got hurt on the opening drive.
Oklahoma's string of Big 12 titles began in 2000, when the Sooners also won the national title in Stoops' second season.
That was also when Baylor was in the midst of a 29-game conference losing streak that is still the Big 12's longest. The Bears then were hoping to win a conference game, not a conference title.
Things have changed since Briles arrived with a big-play offense and feisty attitude after the 2007 season, Baylor's 12th in a row with a losing record since the Big 12's inception.
With RG3, the Bears broke through in 2010 with a winning record and their first bowl game in 16 seasons. A year later, the same year they finally beat Oklahoma, they had a Heisman Trophy, a bowl victory and their first 10-win season since Mike Singletary was playing for Baylor in 1980.
Now Baylor is trying to become the only team other than Oklahoma to win three consecutive Big 12 titles, and first in the league to beat a Stoops-coached team three times in a row.
''Looking back over the entire record of Baylor and OU, I'm sure we owe them more than one,'' said Baylor All-America left tackle Spencer Drango, who redshirting his first season on campus and was on the sideline for the 2011 game.
The Bears beat Oklahoma 41-12 two years ago on way to their first Big 12 title. It was 48-14 last year, the worst home loss ever for the Sooners, who certainly have been looking forward to chance for payback.
''That's probably the understatement of the day right there,'' Oklahoma senior center Ty Darlington said. ''We know exactly what we're up against. … If you don't got a knot in your stomach about it and if you haven't had it there the entire offseason, I don't think you really buy into what we're doing as a team, because I think it's been everywhere.''
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