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DALLAS (AP) - Before Oklahoma won its first Big 12 title in 2000, and went on to the win the national championship that season, coach Bob Stoops had no idea how good his second year there would be.
That was the first of seven conference titles over the last 11 seasons when there were still 12 teams in the league.
Now in the new-look Big 12, with 10 teams playing a round-robin schedule instead of in divisions, there would be little surprise if the Sooners quickly add another trophy. The defending champions are overwhelming favorite to win the league again _ and maybe more.
“Our offense is high powered, our defense brings a lot of playmakers back. It’s a good combination,” linebacker Travis Lewis said Tuesday as Big 12 media days wrapped up. “But right now all we are is potential. We’ve got to go out there and play.”
The Sooners, who closed last season with a five-game winning streak that included wins over now-departed Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game and a 48-20 victory over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl, got 41 of 43 first-place votes in a preseason poll from media members who cover the league.
“This team has had a good attitude and a good chemistry,” Stoops said. “They did a year ago, they carried it through the winter and the spring. We’ll see where it goes with us.”
Those feelings, bolstered by Lewis‘ sentiment, are good for a coach who in some seasons sensed that his teams felt entitled because of the long-term success at Oklahoma.
Stoops went from trying to convince his team that it was good enough to win in 2000, after the Sooners had some down seasons before he arrived, to a few years later reminding certain groups they hadn’t done anything to feel that way.
“Now going into this season, though, after so many years and with the number of guys back, we expect it,” Stoops said. “It’s really convincing them expect to work first. … And you have to have that attitude of something to prove to get it done, to finish it off.”
Landry Jones, the starting quarterback who followed Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford at Oklahoma, trumped his impressive freshman season by throwing for a Big 12-high 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns while setting school records with 405 completions and 617 attempts last year.
“He got a couple of years under his belt and I think this is finally his time,” Lewis said. “I definitely think he’s a national championship caliber-winning quarterback and this whole team has faith in him.”
When Jones was asked about the perception by many that he took significant steps in his leadership of the team during the closing stretch last season, the quarterback certainly didn’t disagree.
“Definitely in that Oklahoma State game, the Big 12 championship game and then the Fiesta Bowl, I was able to take some big strides for me as a player,” he said. “I’ve kind of learned from Sam, kind of learned from people before me, talking to coach Heupel, him dealing with those expectations what it takes to lead a team through that.”
Josh Heupel, the Sooners quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator, was the quarterback for Stoops‘ 2000 national championship team.
Jones threw for 468 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season finale against Oklahoma State. Then Oklahoma rallied from a 17-point deficit in the Big 12 title game, when he threw for 342 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score while Lewis had an interception in the end zone and recovered two fumbles.
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