Time was, OU-Texas was the default answer to the Big 12's top football game. The automatic pick for the game most likely to decide the conference champion. But the Sooners and Longhorns haven't finished 1-2 or 2-1 in the Big 12 (or its old South Division) since 2008.
So in 2011, I stepped out by faith and went with Bedlam. Sure enough, the season-ending OSU-OU game was for the Fiesta Bowl berth. Empowered by such prescience, I went with OU-West Virginia in 2012. The Sooners' trip to Morgantown was historic and dramatic, with its video-game scoring and great finish, won 50-49 by the Sooners, but it had little impact on the conference crown. Turns out OU-Kansas State, a game played way back in September, was the Big 12's biggest game.
So what to do in 2013? What to do with a conference in which the flagship school, OU, is picked by most to drop to third or fourth? What to do with a conference that sports three other favorites — OSU, Texas, TCU — none of which finished closer than three games of the Sooners and K-State in the 2012 standings? What to do with a league that has produced four champs in the last four years (Texas '09, OU '10, OSU '11, KSU '12)? What to do with a conference in which the last three years, Baylor has a better conference record than does Texas and Iowa State has the same conference record as Texas Tech? A conference in which OSU over the last four years has the same league record as OU?
Big 12 football has become one giant scramble, which means the best way to predict the game of the year is just figure out which two teams will be atop the preseason polls. So go with the OSU at Texas game on Nov. 16.
Truth is, circle any matchup involving the Cowboys, Sooners, Longhorns and Horned Frogs. Any could emerge as the marquee game. Or a darkhorse could rise, like Kansas State did last season. Keep an eye on Baylor.
But OSU-Texas certainly has the trappings. The 'Horns, who haven't even contended for a Big 12 title since 2009, have everyone excited because of 19 returning starters. One of them is quarterback David Ash, who isn't a star but at least is experienced, which puts him ahead of most Big 12 QBs.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have proven they're here to stay as a Big 12 force. In 2011, OSU went 12-1, won the Fiesta Bowl and finished third in the national polls. Last year, the Cowboys went 8-5 despite losing two games in which they were a fourth-down stop away from winning and despite injuries which forced OSU to go down to its third-team quarterback. That curse became a blessing, because now OSU is fortified knowing its offense works in just about any circumstance.
The Cowboys join the Sooners as the only Big 12 team with winning conference records each of the last five years. Over those five years, OU is 32-10 in league play. OSU is 30-12, Texas is 26-16, KSU 24-18, Tech 21-21 and Baylor 17-25. Before bolting to the SEC, Missouri was 20-13 and Texas A&M 15-18.
Going to Austin would once have been a daunting task for the Cowboys. But OSU has won 13 of its last 18 Big 12 road games, including two victories at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Before Nov. 16, the Cowboys host TCU, while Texas plays OU in Dallas. After Nov. 16, OSU hosts OU, while the 'Horns go to TCU. So who knows what the league will look like the third Saturday in November.
But here in summer, trying to figure out a conference that once was easy to decipher but now is hard, we're left to conclude that the game most likely to decide the conference champion is OSU at Texas.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.