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Posted: Sunday November 23, 2008 2:44AM; Updated: Sunday November 23, 2008 12:39PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Oklahoma turns Big 12 South race into a riddle

Story Highlights

Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all now stand 10-1 overall

All of this will be moot if the Sooners lose next week at Oklahoma State

It's assumed the winner of the Big 12 South will get a crack at a title

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Sam Bradford threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns against Texas Tech.
AP

NORMAN, Okla. -- It was the kind of night that merited its share of victory laps.

Shortly after his team beat the living daylights out of the No. 2 team in the country here Saturday night, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford dashed about two-thirds of the way around the brick fence surrounding Owen Field, high-fiving Sooners fans. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- who earlier in the week challenged the fans to be louder than usual -- took turns giving the "We're Not Worthy" gesture to various pockets of the crowd.

And on a chilly November night, nearly the entire stadium stayed until the final gun to salute their conquering heroes even though they'd put away 10-0 Texas Tech by halftime of an eventual 65-21 laugher. For all that celebrating, you'd never know the 10-1 Sooners are not yet a lock to even win their division.

You thought the season of political campaigning was over? Ha. It's only beginning.

With their demolition of the previously torrid Red Raiders, the Sooners officially turned the Big 12 South title race into a headache-inducing riddle. Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all now stand 10-1 overall, 6-1 in their conference and 1-1 against each other. If they each win their regular-season finales next week, the winner will be determined by the BCS standings. As of last week, the Red Raiders were second, the Longhorns third and the Sooners fifth.

The third quarter had not yet ended Saturday night when numerous writers in the press box started received text messages from the Lone Star State reminding them of the Longhorns' 45-35 win over the Sooners on Oct. 11 as well as their Oct. 18 rout of Big 12 North champion Missouri. A couple of hours later, Stoops stood behind a podium and presented his team's counterargument.

"If you can't move us in front of Texas because they beat us, then you have to keep Texas Tech in front of Texas," said Stoops. He then made a veiled reference to 10-1 Florida, which itself has steadily risen up the rankings since a Sept. 27 loss to Ole Miss due to a string of dominant performances. "If you're going to forgive other teams with one loss because they're playing well now, well -- we're playing pretty well now, too. If it's logical for someone else, it's logical for us."

Mind you, all of this will be moot if the Sooners lose next week at No. 12 Oklahoma State (9-2), in which case the Red Raiders (which host 4-7 Baylor), despite this 44-point defeat, will earn the trip to Kansas City due to their 39-33 win over Texas (which hosts 4-7 Texas A&M.)

How about we just draw straws instead?

Stoops is right about one thing: The Sooners have been as dominant as any team in the country of late, scoring at least 58 points in each of their past four games. Saturday night, they produced their most lopsided victory since the first week of the season -- and they did it against the purported No. 2 team in the country.

Oklahoma's offense -- so dependant on Bradford's arm for most of the season -- sent a message early that they planned to run the ball on the Raiders. On the Sooners' first drive, sophomore tailback DeMarco Murray burst for gains of 18 and 25 yards, then punched it in from the goal line.

Meanwhile, Tech QB Graham Harrell, having spent the previous 10 games picking apart defenses with ease, found himself under constant duress and with little time to throw. The Red Raiders punted on their first three series and then failed to convert fourth downs on their next two.

Halfway through the second quarter, Oklahoma had built a 28-0 lead with an ultra-balanced attack: 163 yards passing, 158 yards rushing. When Tech had the audacity to score its first touchdown on a 25-yard Harrell pass with 6:28 left in the second quarter, OU responded with a 12-play, 80-yard drive, of which all but 13 yards were gained on the ground.

"Tonight proved that when we're balanced, we are a really hard team to stop," said Bradford. "We knew if we cane out and played the way we could that 65 [points] was possible."

By halftime, the Sooners had posted more than 400 yards of offense and upped their lead to 42-7 shortly after linebacker Travis Lewis picked off Harrell and returned it 47 yards to the Texas Tech 2. It would prove a humbling night for Harrell (just 231 yards through three quarters before tacking on 140 in garbage time) and, even more so, star receiver Michael Crabtree, who had six catches for just 62 yards, 1 yard shy of his career low.

For all they've accomplished this season, the Red Raiders tandem likely eliminated themselves from Heisman contention.

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