Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Mike Leach comes back to Norman tonight. It's a place where he's never had much success in four previous losses with Texas Tech.
The challenge of stopping Oklahoma has flummoxed the best of the Big 12 team over the years. Hence Bob Stoops' 59-2 record here. His only losses came to Les Miles and Oklahoma State in 2001 and Gary Patterson's TCU team in the season opener in 2005.
But Leach said earlier this week that he thought his team's performance in 2006 -- a game where they reeled off 17 straight points and made the Sooners work in an eventual 34-24 victory -- has given them confidence that they haven't had in previous games here.
"We came in and played them pretty well," Leach said. "It's a game that we could have won with a break or two."
That confidence seems to have been passed along to his team, which might have a chance to stun the Sooners and claim their first appearance in the Big 12 title game with a victory tonight.
But even more than confidence, here's another reason why the Red Raiders might be poised to make some history here tonight.
Namely, this Texas Tech team might be the best that has ever come to challenge the Sooners in the Stoops era.
Leach has his best quarterback in Graham Harrell. He has his best player in Michael Crabtree. His offensive line is a veteran group that has helped him balance his offense with a semblance of a running game.
Texas Tech is only the third top-10 team to play here during Stoops' era. The No. 3 Sooners stunned No. 1 Nebraska 31-14 in 2000. And No. 2 Oklahoma blew out No. 9 Iowa State, 49-3, here in 2002.
Texas Tech's team is the biggest challenge the Sooners have faced since then. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the Sooners' home field mystique.
Here are some other items that will be important tonight.
- How Oklahoma's injury-ravaged defense holds up. The Sooners are missing top pass rushers Auston English and Alan Davis. Six of their seven starters among the linebackers and defensive backs have never started against Texas Tech's defense before. Checking what is suddenly a balanced -- for Tech anyway -- offensive attack will be difficult for that inexperienced Sooners group. Oklahoma has yielded at least 28 points in each of the past five games -- something that they have never done in the history of the program.
- Heisman ramifications. Graham Harrell and Sam Bradford are both among the top candidates for what they've accomplished -- particularly in recent weeks. The winner of the game should have a huge leg up on the field a few days after Heisman ballots have started arriving at the homes and offices of balloters. Whoever wins tonight's nationally televised game will have a big advantage over the field. At least until the next round of games next week.
- The turnover margin. Oklahoma leads the nation with eight turnovers lost. Texas Tech has only 14 giveaways. I don't think either team will be prone for a big mistake. Whoever gets advantage -- particularly if it's early -- will have a huge advantage.
- Oklahoma's quick starts. In the past three games, the Sooners have charged from the opening kickoff, scoring 11 touchdowns on their first 14 possessions in the last three games. In their first six conference games, Oklahoma has outscored opponents 126-24 in the first quarter. And on average, they are already 17 points ahead by the start of the second quarter.
- Special teams. Both teams have liabilities here. Tech leads the nation with nine kicks that have been blocked (five field goals, three punts and an extra point) and must do a better job protecting their kickers. And Leach's lack of confidence in Donnie Carona resulted in the mid-season call-up of Matt Williams from the Tech student section as the Red Raiders' extra-point kicker. Carona likely will kick long field goals while Williams will be used from intermediate distances and close ones.