The Associated Press poll Sunday brought a sense of accomplishment for the Big 12 along with a big bull's eye.
Oklahoma claimed the No. 1 ranking in the AP for a record 96th time - one more than Notre Dame - and the first time since 2003.
The Sooners have plenty of familiar company with Missouri (No. 4), Texas (5), Texas Tech (7), Kansas (16) and Oklahoma State (21). The last time the Big 12 had populated the poll so greatly was September 2002, when six teams were ranked. You have to go back to November 2001 to find three teams in the top five.
To each of those teams, congratulations and condolences, because the target on your back just got bigger for every remaining opponent.
Just ask previous No. 1 Southern California, hailed as the best team of the Pete Carroll era and now clinging to ninth. Or the Southeastern Conference, which had five schools in the Top 10 two weeks ago. That number dwindled to two Sunday, the result of cannibalization within the conference.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was asked how he will prepare his players for what they'll face, beginning this week against Baylor in Waco.
"Well, the message is that we've got to be as good as we can be," Stoops said. "When we show up, we have to have the hair standing up on the neck to meet the challenge and be our best. That's physically and emotionally, to be in a strong frame of mind."
Quarterback Sam Bradford said the Sooners discussed the importance of being wary as the upset theme began to unfold this past week.
"That's why you have to come out and play on edge every week," Bradford told reporters after OU's 35-10 win over TCU.
Both Oklahoma and Texas understand how quickly things can change.
The Sooners and Longhorns could be on the verge of another epic Red River Rivalry matchup, a game that would turn a nation's eyes to the State Fair. Or not.
A year ago in September, Oklahoma and Texas were both unbeaten and ranked in the Top 10 two weeks away from their annual showdown.
Then Kansas State stunned Texas in Austin and Colorado and high altitude brought Oklahoma down to earth.
So far, 2008 looks to be a repeat of 2007, when the No. 2 team lost five times to unranked opponents.
"Again, it's parity and the ability to shorten the game and the ability to make a few big plays," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "It's not very often where you can go out and out-man them."
That formula applies even to the most talented teams in college football, like Southern California. The Trojans saw their decorated defense burned by Oregon State's rushing game.
"If you get one or two guys not playing well, it doesn't matter what the other nine guys do," Venables said.
Eventually, the Big 12 will face the same fate as the SEC.
In two weeks, either Oklahoma or Texas is assured of loss. The same hold true for Missouri and Oklahoma State, which also play Oct. 11.
So enjoy the moment.
Sources: The Associated Press, ESPN.com
Rnk., Team, Prv.
1. Oklahoma, 1 (4-0, 0-0)
2. Missouri, 2 (4-0, 0-0)
3. Texas, 3 (4-0, 0-0)
4. Texas Tech, 4 (4-0, 0-0)
5. Oklahoma State, 6 (4-0, 0-0): The Cowboys cracked the Top 25 in The Associated Press (No. 21) and USA Today (No. 22) polls for the first time since 2004, the last time they were 4-0. Oklahoma State ranks among the top five nationally in total offense and scoring offense. Texas A&M provides a chance Saturday to exorcise a few demons. The Cowboys are 0-3 against the Aggies under Mike Gundy and have lost each of the last two meetings by one point.
6. Kansas, 7 (3-1, 0-0)
7. Colorado, 5 (3-1, 0-0)
8. Nebraska, 8 (3-1, 0-0)
9. Kansas State, 9 (3-1, 0-0): Kansas State will be an interesting study in its conference opener against Texas Tech. After allowing 38 points in a loss to Louisville, coach Ron Prince reportedly had his players run 38 50-yard sprints when the Wildcats returned home - at 3 a.m. The approach didn't seem to improve the defense in a 45-37 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
10. Baylor, 10 (2-2, 0-0)
11. Texas A&M, 12 (2-2, 0-0)
12. Iowa State, 11 (2-2, 0-0)