NORMAN, Okla. — The last time Oklahoma played at AT&T Stadium seems like a generation ago. So much has changed since Jan. 4, 2013. It’s hard to believe that was nearly five years ago.
The Sooners’ 2012 season burned under the fire of a 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. The teams looked like two programs heading opposite directions.
Again, five years is a long time in college football.
The Sooners return to what’s become one an iconic sports venue when they face TCU for the Big 12 title at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
It also seems like Oklahoma will arrive at the home of the Dallas Cowboys during some transformative moments. Saturday marks the Sooners’ fourth game in the gigantic stadium.
The first three all held historical importance:
Oklahoma vs. BYU, Sept. 5, 2009
It was the first collegiate game at Jerry World. The Sooners were expected to roll. They had 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford back and were gunning for a national title run.
That game started the ball rolling on what turned into an 8-5 season. Bradford suffered a shoulder injury in the first half that never healed — at least at Oklahoma.
Instead, the 14-13 loss became the debut for quarterback Landry Jones, who was a redshirt freshman. Jones eventually rewrote most of Oklahoma’s passing records, but the Sooners’ standing as annual national title contender from 2000-08 effectively ended that day. The Sooners wouldn’t reach November with a shot to win a national title again until 2015.
Oklahoma vs. Nebraska, Dec. 4, 2010
It was the end of an era for the Big 12 Conference. The 2010 Big 12 title game was the last with the league consisting of 12 members. More importantly, it was the last time Oklahoma and Nebraska met as conference rivals.
It was a historical game in that sense. The Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry dominated the Big 8 Conference and was one of the most important in college football. Their great Thanksgiving weekend meetings were the conduit of how the rest of the nation viewed the league.
Some of that changed when the Big 12 debuted in 1996. But it was still Oklahoma-Nebraska. For two generations of football aficionados, that meant something. To the 79,000 fans in AT&T Stadium that night, it was more validation that the Big Red of the North and the Big Red of the South had something special.
Nebraska grabbed a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, but the rest of the night belonged to the Sooners. They rallied for a 23-20 victory as former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops claimed his seventh conference title.
The Huskers announced earlier in the year that 2010 would be their last in the Big 12. They joined the Big Ten for the 2011 season. The 86-game rivalry remains on hold until they meet again in 2021.
Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M, Jan. 4, 2013
The Sooners shared the Big 12 title with Kansas State in 2012. The reward was facing the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl with Johnny Manziel mania at its apex.
It was competitive for a half. The Aggies’ lead was 14-13. The third quarter was a complete rout. Texas A&M scored three straight touchdowns while the Sooners failed to offer a rally. The 41-13 loss was the end of Jones’ collegiate career, which began in that BYU game in 2009.
The Sooners seemed like a team heading into a spiral after that game. But Stoops began remaking his coaching staff as the moves that led to Lincoln Riley joining Oklahoma’s staff seemed to begin after this loss.
Another trip to Jerry World comes at a pivotal time
Everything about Oklahoma feels different as it prepares for its fourth game at AT&T Stadium.
A win over the Horned Frogs would clinch a third straight Big 12 title. It also likely would mean a spot in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons. The Sooners’ fans have an undying obsession with their quarterback — Baker Mayfield. Riley has a chance to truly put his stamp on the program with a victory on Saturday.
Good or bad, the trips to Arlington seem to have historical significance. They either become the start of something or the end.
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