From 2004 through 2010, the Big 12 Championship belt was relayed back and forth between Norman and Austin.
Oklahoma won it five times. Texas won it twice. And there was little resistance, with the Red River rivals combining to win those seven conference title games 269-83 over their Big 12 North opponents.
But realignment struck the college football world in 2011, eliminating two teams from the Big 12, nullifying the title game and ushering in a wide-open new era.
Oklahoma State won the conference in 2011, with its best season in program history. Kansas State followed suit last year. And now, with the Red River monopoly officially axed, we enter 2013 with six legitimate contenders and extraordinary parity.
“I do think that we have the most balanced league in the country right now, top to bottom,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Everybody else can beat anybody else in the league on a given day, and that's not happening across the country.”
But of the challengers, TCU may be the most intriguing.
After a somewhat disappointing inaugural season in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs are hoping to establish traction in the league. What better way than becoming the fifth champion in five seasons?
And they can certainly make a case, with what is widely considered the conference's most talented defense, stout up front and loaded on the back line.
The headliner is defensive end Devonte Fields, who, as a freshman, burst onto the scene, racking up 10 sacks on his way to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
He's suspended for the first two games, including the monumental opener at AT&T Stadium against 11th-ranked LSU, for an unspecified violation of team rules, but is expected to return for conference play.
Beyond Fields, defensive-minded coach Gary Patterson has compiled athletes all around, particularly in the secondary.
All-Big 12 corner Jason Verrett led the conference in interceptions a season ago. He's joined by Sam Carter, a ball-hawking safety who had four picks of his own in 2012, helping TCU easily lead the league in that category.
“The secondary is about as loaded as I've ever seen,” Horned Frog Blitz reporter Jeremy Clark said. “And I've been covering the team for eight years.”
But TCU's realistic title aspirations, like most top teams in the country, will come down to quarterback play.
Casey Pachall emerged as a solid starter in 2011, throwing for 2,921 yards, 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions for an 11-2 TCU team.
But off-the-field sobriety issues and a final straw arrest for DWI sent him to rehab early last season.
He's back with the team this fall and, barring unforeseen developments, will likely be named the starter soon.
“Casey is a very talented young man,” Patterson said. “How he handles everything and does will be an indication of how well we do in the Big 12 Conference. If you want to play well in the Big 12, you've got to play well at quarterback.”
Can he stay clean and return to form? Can the talented defense shine in a league known for its explosive offenses? Can TCU win the league in only its second year?
Valid questions, with answers soon to be on the way.