By John Shinn

Transcript Sports Writer

HOUSTON — Oklahoma has been walking in rarefied air the last five seasons.

Beginning with coach Bob Stoops’ second season, the Sooners have won three Big 12 Conference championships and represented the Big 12 South in four of the last five conference championship games. Along with a national title and three BCS national-championship game appearances, it’s been a remarkable run.

This time around, however, some believe OU’s reign as conference king to be over; that this season the Sooners will be nipping at Texas’ heels, rather than the other way around.

In fact, the Longhorns are the overwhelming media pick to win the Big 12’s South Division.

Stoops, though, isn’t one to lower expectations.

“You know, we have been in both situations,” Stoops said Wednesday during OU’s turn at Big 12 Media Days. “We found our way in other years to championships and others where we have been picked favorites and not been (champions). You have to earn your way.”

This season the Sooners will try earning their way after saying goodbye to a deep pool of starters that took its final bow last season. In addition to heavy losses on the offensive line, in the secondary and among the receiving corps, Paul Thompson, Rhett Bomar and Tommy Grady will soon begin the second half of their battle to replace Heisman Trophy winner Jason White behind center.

A question mark at quarterback might be considered a problem. Stoops doesn’t see it that way.

“It would be a problem if we had three guys and you didn’t feel they were talented enough,” he said. “That would be a problem.

“These guys are all very talented, very skilled in that position and they are hard workers. They have the respect of their teammates. They are reliable guys.”

Stoops said all three are neck-and-neck-and-neck headed into two-a-days and doesn’t expect a starter to be named until season’s eve.

That doesn’t seem to bother the Sooners, at least not offensive tackle Davin Joseph, wide receiver Travis Wilson and linebacker Clint Ingram, who joined Stoops Wednesday.

Wilson was asked if that meant the quarterback role would carry less responsibility. He didn’t see how.

“The quarterbacks, they are great leaders,” he said. “They know the role that they are taking over. They know what needs to be done.”

Whoever wins the job will be expected to keep the Sooners atop the Big 12 and contend for a national championship.

“We want the championship every year and that’s all we work for,” Wilson said. “That’s all we imagine in our minds and that’s what we’re training for. Regardless of what position we (begin the) year, bottom line is that we want to be on top at the end of the season.”

The Sooners report to campus Aug. 3 and begin practice Aug. 4.

They’re eager to begin a new chase.

“The way we work around Oklahoma … the way we go about doing things, it doesn’t matter where we start, if we’re at the top or bottom,” Ingram said. “It’s always where you finish.”

And OU isn’t expecting that to be any lower than Big 12 champion.

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