Oklahoma-Oklahoma St. Preview
Want to get an Oklahoma football player riled up? Suggest the Sooners are playing spoilers this Saturday against Oklahoma State.
The No. 18 Sooners (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) own a lopsided 82-18-7 advantage in the Bedlam series and have beaten the sixth-ranked Cowboys (10-1, 7-1) in nine of the last 10 years - even as Oklahoma State's program has risen considerably in stature during that time.
This season, however, Oklahoma lost to Texas and Baylor, while Oklahoma State beat both those teams. A Cowboys win in Stillwater would clinch a share of the conference title (along with the Baylor-Texas winner) and send them to a Bowl Championship Series game for the second time in three years.
"Every week for us has been a big game, and it's all led up to the biggest game," Cowboys senior defensive tackle Calvin Barnett said. "It feels really good knowing that all the work we've put into it so far is coming out and that the chance is actually here."
Last weekend's Big 12 results - Baylor beating TCU and Texas beating Texas Tech - mean the best Oklahoma can hope for Saturday is to spoil the Cowboys' chances and finish in a three-way tie for second in the league race.
Don't tell that to Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, who initially took offense when asked the spoiler question this week.
"The fact that you call us the spoiler against Oklahoma State, I'm not even going to answer that," Ikard said, rolling his eyes.
"It's one of those things, it's one of the great rivalries in college football. We all know traditionally the numbers and how it's been lopsided, but they played better football than us this year, there's no doubt, and (they're) a team that should be undefeated. I don't think that's a stretch in reality at all.
"They should be undefeated, maybe in the top two or three, so we're just happy for the opportunity to go to Stillwater and be able to play a great game and a great atmosphere. But we don't see ourselves as an underdog in this game. Obviously we realize they're ranked higher than us and they're favored when it comes to Vegas and all that stuff, but we're still Oklahoma and we've done a lot of special things around here for a long time."
Oklahoma safety Gabe Lynn also took issue with the "spoiler" terminology.
"We're OU and they're OSU, so I wouldn't call it a spoiler role," Lynn said. "They're a good team and they're having a great season. We always want to win that game. They're just another good team we have to beat."
The Sooners obviously are not accustomed to being in such a spot late in the season, one where they can't win a conference title but can prevent another team from doing so. Oklahoma hasn't played the Cowboys without a Big 12 title at stake since 2009.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops acknowledged that reality when asked if he'd rather be where Oklahoma State is or simply enjoy the Sooners' traditional dominance of the series.
"Well, over the last many years, I'd rather have the big picture, but this week, I'd rather be where they're at," Stoops said. "There's no denying that. So in the end, sure, we've done our deal, but today is today and that's all I can think about is what we want to do this week."
The chance to potentially end Oklahoma State's Big 12 championship hopes provided little additional incentive for the Sooners, Stoops said.
"That may be the lowest form of motivation that a competitor can have," he said. "So no, that has nothing to do with how we approach the game whatsoever. That is a very, very low form of motivation."
The good news for the Sooners is that when placed in the role of spoiler against Oklahoma State, they have succeeded.
In 2009, Oklahoma routed the Cowboys 27-0, ending Oklahoma State's legitimate hopes of earning an at-large BCS bid. Of course, the Cowboys also rolled past the Sooners 44-10 in 2011 in a showdown for the Big 12 title.
Last season, Oklahoma won a 51-48 thriller. Oklahoma State never trailed until Oklahoma tailback Brennan Clay scored the winning touchdown in overtime.
Clay said a win over the Cowboys on Saturday would be a salve of sorts for his team.
"I believe so," Clay said. "I don't believe we're hurting or anything. We've played some hard, tough games. We had some miscues. But it's football. You're going to have your ups and downs. We're going to go into this game treating it like any other. It's Bedlam. It's a big rivalry game. But it's football."
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, whose younger brother Cale has served as Oklahoma's running backs coach since 1999, seems to be downplaying the identity of the opponent while concentrating on preparing his players for a talented adversary.
"It's the same as it has been for a long time, for me," said Gundy, who is 1-7 against the Sooners as a head coach, with the victory sewing up the program's sole Big 12 championship in 2011. "The difference in this game and some other rivalries across the country is that we don't have professional football in this state, but just about every game we play now is a big game if we want to get to the next one."
Stoops also is far less interested in who his Sooners are playing Saturday than the fact that it is a big game against a very good team.
"I don't look at the other team," Stoops said. "You guys do. That has nothing to do with us. All I look at is our season and our team and what improves us, end of story. I have no thought on the other team, whether it's Oklahoma State or anyone else."
After a disappointing 30-21 loss at West Virginia back on Sept. 28, the Cowboys have pretty much rolled, capped by a 49-17 triumph over then-No. 3 Baylor on Nov. 23.
Oklahoma State's players, especially those who are natives of the state and some with former high school teammates on the Sooners' roster, don't want to get too caught up in the Bedlam excitement. They know what is at stake.
"I know that it's right in our grasp, but I know that without preparation and without being focused and having everybody on the same page, it could easily slip away," senior safety Daytawion Lowe said. "I know both teams are going to bring their `A' game."