Stillwater, Okla. In more than a century’s worth of Bedlam games, the stakes have never been higher for Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) are No. 3, matching their highest ranking ever heading into the rivalry game against No. 13 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2), and they still have an outside chance at going to the national championship game with an impressive win tonight.
At the least, the in-state showdown is a substitute for the Big 12 championship game, which went away when the league shrank to 10 teams this year.
The Sooners will be attempting to win their eighth Big 12 crown, by far the most in the league’s 16-year history. Oklahoma State is after its first outright conference title since 1948.
To earn a shot at its first national championship, Oklahoma State will have to put together a strong case against a Sooners team that has won eight straight Bedlam games and is 81-17-7 in the series — with one of the losses coming by forfeit.
The Cowboys are third in the BCS standings but must make up the most ground on top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama in the human polls. They’re ranked fifth in the coaches and Harris polls and — unlike the idle Crimson Tide — have one last chance to make an impression before ballots are due.
“The way I look at it is that if we go out and play well enough and win the football game, then somebody’s going to have to make a decision based on it,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “And if it’s actually going to happen the way it should, that decision’s going to be made after we play Oklahoma. So, it really doesn’t matter what I say.”
It does matter what the Cowboys do.
They bring in the nation’s second-rated passing offense, averaging 401.6 yards per game behind quarterback Brandon Weeden and All-American receiver Justin Blackmon. That strength will go up against what has been Oklahoma’s weakness, a pass defense that allowed 452 yards through the air in a loss to Texas Tech and 485 yards passing in a loss at Baylor.
The Sooners are determined to prevent that from happening again — particularly with their own chances to win a conference title and play in a BCS bowl hanging in the balance.
It will be the third straight year that Oklahoma State carries the higher ranking into Bedlam, but the Sooners still won the last two years — costing the Cowboys a chance at an at-large BCS bowl two years ago and the Big 12 South title last year. OSU is trying to prove it’s even better this season, carrying its highest Bedlam ranking since the No. 3 ’Pokes lost to the No. 2 Sooners back in 1984.
There’s no guarantee that the Cowboys can leapfrog either of the two teams in front of them in the BCS standings, and Gundy may not have helped their case by saying this week that even he considers LSU and Alabama the best teams in the country, at least for now.
With a win, he may change his tune and offer reminders that the Cowboys would then have five wins against the Top 25 teams in the BCS — compared with two for Alabama — and they would be conference champions, unlike the Tide.