46 wins. Three College Football Playoff appearances. Four Big 12 Championships.
The Oklahoma Sooners have served as the premium program in the Big 12 throughout the recent years, and it hasn’t been relatively close.
That isn’t expected to change in 2019.
Though the Longhorns, still fairly fresh off of the program’s first 10-win season since 2009, did secure nine first-place picks in the Big 12 Preseason Media Poll, Oklahoma is still far-and-away the favorite, with 68 votes favoring the Sooners to once again secure the league’s top spot. And Oklahoma isn’t going to simply relent its throne atop the Big 12 — someone, whether it be Texas, Iowa State, TCU, or any other conference headliner, will have to take it from them, as Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy noted during Big 12 Media Days.
“They’ve got good players. The last couple of years they’ve had average quarterback play and they’ve overcome it,” Gundy said. “So they’ve been very successful and somebody’s got to take it from them. That question came up a few years ago about Alabama and the SEC and my response was, and somebody from another league needs to beat ‘em and take it from them and I think it’s the same in dealing with Oklahoma.”
To that end, if a team is to take the title from Oklahoma in the coming months, Texas is the likely favorite to do so. Virtually every prominent publication has the Horns entering the 2019 slate ranked among the top 15 nationally, and most have Texas positioned within the top 10. Maybe more notably, Texas, at long last, enters the year featuring a proven passer in junior Sam Ehlinger, who was dubbed as the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and he’ll be surrounded by a unique blend of experience and still-untapped upside at the skill positions. Texas’ defense, of course, has questions to answer after losing all but two starters — Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns, who may prove to be the best safety duo in college football — but as recent seasons in Norman have revealed, one can find ways to win in the Big 12 with a sub-par defensive unit, should it come to that in Austin.
And even beyond the rankings and returning talent, recent outings indicate that Texas can stand toe-to-toe with Oklahoma.
In 2017, Texas owned a 24-23 edge with under eight minutes remaining in the Red River Showdown before a late rally effort fell just shy, 29-24. Last season, the Longhorns avenged their Red River loss with a thrilling 48-45 win in a game that was entirely lopsided in Texas’ favor ahead of the fourth quarter. In any case, that win paved the way for the two bitter rivals’ first rematch in a single season in more than an entire century — this time around, with the 2018 Big 12 Championship at stake. Once again, Texas stood toe-to-toe with the back-to-back-to-back Big 12 champs, taking a 27-27 tie into the fourth quarter before being outscored 12-0 to cap a 39-27 Oklahoma win.
For better or worse, each instance could have quite easily went the other way, but, of course, close doesn’t equate to conference championships. For that title to change hands, someone will have to take it from Oklahoma, and if anyone is going to do so in 2019, it’s likely Texas.