NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Curtis Lofton's first season as a starting linebacker at Oklahoma has been the kind of year dreams are made of, quite literally.
The junior middle linebacker has come up with one game-changing play after another throughout Big 12 play to get the Sooners (10-2, 6-2) into Saturday's conference championship game against top-ranked Missouri (11-1, 7-1).
His penchant for causing pivotal turnovers earned him recognition from a panel of media as The Associated Press' Big 12 defensive player of the year.
"The night before the game I just go home and in
my bed, I'm sitting there dreaming and going over all
the formations in my head and I envision myself picking
off the ball or making somebody fumble, just causing
the big play," Lofton said.
"During the week I study film, and I put myself
in a position to make big plays. So far, I've been
The Big 12 title game will bring Lofton and the unanimous Big 12 offensive player of the year selection, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, back together again. When they first met, Lofton returned a botched handoff from Daniel to Jeremy Maclin for a touchdown that helped Oklahoma pull away for a 41-31 victory in mid-October. He also had 18 tackles in the game, which came in the midst of a remarkable run for the junior middle linebacker.
A week earlier, he forced a fumble as Texas' Jamaal Charles was inside the 5 and headed for a go-ahead touchdown. A week later, he tipped a late pass for an interception to seal a victory at Iowa State. Then he capped the regular season by causing a fumble to finish off a goal-line stand against Oklahoma State.
"The guy has just been amazing at causing turnovers and making plays. He's been the most productive linebacker we've ever had," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.
That's heady praise at a school that has had two Butkus Award winners in Stoops' nine seasons. After Lofton's recognition, the Sooners have had five of the last eight defensive players of the year in the conference.
"We've had great tradition. Long, long before we got here, it's a place that you always admired and respected and were jealous of because you know you can recruit the best that there is in the country," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "That's what we've been fortunate enough to do here. We've had a lot of great players.
"But as much as anything, a couple of the common traits that they have are the desire to be great, never being satisfied and obviously being talented and blessed. And Curtis obviously has those attributes."
Lofton is by far the Sooners' leading tackler with 132 stops, and he also has two interceptions, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
"I kind of look at it like it's something I should do," Lofton said. "It's not something that I shouldn't put myself in a position to do. I put myself in a position to make the play, so I've got to make the play to help my team out."
Prolific Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a freshman who leads the nation in receptions, is the offensive newcomer of the year. The defensive newcomer of the year is Kansas freshman defensive back Chris Harris, who helped the Jayhawks win their first 11 games and rise to No. 2.
That streak ended last week when Daniel came up with another brilliant performance: the junior was 40-for-49 for 361 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-28 victory that clinched the Big 12 North title.
"You saw it, America saw it," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "This guy is special, and America got to see how special he is."
Missouri is the only school in the country to score 30 points in every game and everything revolves around the unflappable Daniel. He's among the top five in the nation in touchdown passes (33), completion percentage (70.5), total offense (351) and passing yards (3,951), with a knack for coming up with big plays.
The last unanimous choice as conference offensive player of the year, Texas quarterback Vince Young in 2005, led the Longhorns to a national title that year.