NORMAN — Feels the same, Bob Stoops says. This OU-Texas game feels just like all the others.
That first Stoops/Mack Brown meeting in 1999, back before either school knew what it had in the coach's office. Those top-five showdowns in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008. All those early October games that seemed more national quarterfinal than early conference tilt.
“Doesn't have any different feel,” Stoops said Monday. “Not in my eyes.”
That makes one of us.
OU-Texas 2012 is right where it usually is — ABC national television, 11 a.m. kickoff — but the Schooner and Bevo are loping in unfamiliar terrain. Side by side, chasing others in the Big 12.
For the first time since 2004, neither OU nor Texas is the defending Big 12 champ. OSU crashed the party last December, and now two others threaten to do the same. OU lost at home to Kansas State, Texas lost at home to West Virginia, and those two squads are in the Big 12 driver's seat.
Suddenly, Big 12 football is much more than just a Stoops/Mack duel. Time was, OU-Texas was a coronation. A title to be won when the weather still was warm. Now, OU-Texas is a virtual elimination game. The Sooners and the ‘Horns are planning knockout Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.
Strange times for the coaches who have dominated this conference.
Back in '99, Stoops and Mack were the upstarts. Nebraska and Kansas State ruled the conference, and OU and Texas were just trying to climb over Texas A&M in the South Division.
Since then, the Sooners and Longhorns have run roughshod over the conference. Starting with the 2000 season, OU is 80-19 in Big 12 play, Texas is 75-24 and no other league member is within 20 wins of either.
Stoops and Mack have ruled the Big 12 like few duos in college football history.
“I could care less about that,” Stoops said. “I'm just fortunate that I've been at a great place that long. This is about the players and the team, not Mack and I.”
Maybe so. But the Stoops-Mack rivalry is making college football history. This is the kind of two-coach domination we saw in the 19 years Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles dueled in the Southwest Conference, and in the 16 years Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne ruled the Big Eight, and in the 10 years Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes battled in the Big Ten.
But all of those stretches were ended by job changes. Broyles and Royal resigned. Hayes slugged a Clemson player and lost his job. Switzer was forced out after The Troubles.
Stoops and Mack are still going, strongly to some degree, they just now have to share the stage with OSU and West Virginia and K-State.
“It's great for the fans,” Mack said Monday down in Austin. “It's great for college football. This league has gotten hard. I mean, you'd better play good every week … it's a fun time for the fans, and coaches are having to coach hard.”
Put Stoops and Mack at the top of that list. Stoops is in danger of going two straight seasons without a Big 12 title. That would be a first. Since playing in the 2009 national title game, Mack is 7-12 in conference play.
Their status as kingpins of this conference in peril. Their game in the Cotton Bowl is not for Big 12 supremacy. It's for Big 12 survival.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.