<
>

Chasing Oklahoma: How can Oklahoma State take down the conference champ?

Mike Gundy's Cowboys will host Bob Stoops and the Sooners this season in Bedlam. Brett Deering/Getty Images

This week we're running a series on the teams capable of dethroning two-time defending Big 12 champ Oklahoma next season. We continue the series with the Oklahoma State Cowboys:

How the Cowboys can beat OU: First of all, by not changing who they are in Bedlam. Usually otherwise bold offensively, Oklahoma State has gone conservative against the Sooners, notably in 2013 and 2016, when Big 12 titles have been on the line.

The weather played a part in both, including wet conditions last season. But the rain also didn't change Oklahoma's game plan much, as Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield still shredded the Cowboys for 288 yards passing and three touchdowns. In the same game, Oklahoma State abandoned its bread andmbutter -- the downfield passing game -- against the Sooners, attempting only two throws downfield (both of which were caught). As a result, Oklahoma went on to a comfortable 38-20 victory to win a second straight Big 12 championship.

Even in years when the Cowboys are loaded -- like they will be 2017 -- they will rarely have the collective talent level of the Sooners, who recruit at a higher level perennially. But even without star-studded recruiting classes, Oklahoma State has become a force nationally under Mike Gundy, in part by being aggressive. The only way the Pokes can beat Oklahoma in a game with Big 12 championship implications is by transferring that aggressive identity into Bedlam.

What’s holding them back: Other than the change of mentality, the Cowboys have gotten steamrolled by the Sooners on the ground the last two years. Oklahoma rolled up 341 yards on the Pokes last season, then 344 the year before.

With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon gone, the Sooners won't be as dynamic out of the backfield. But led by left tackle Orlando Brown, Oklahoma will be formidable along the offensive line.

The Cowboys have been OK against the run for the last several years. But they've got to be better against Oklahoma. That will be a challenge for an Oklahoma State team that has several pieces to replace in the front seven.

X factor: As the regular-season finale for both teams, Bedlam has enjoyed a major stage in recent years. But with the addition of the Big 12 championship game, Bedlam has been moved up to Nov. 4 for this season.

That could lend to better -- or dryer -- weather conditions for Bedlam, which, in theory, should assist Oklahoma State's biggest strength: Mason Rudolph throwing the ball downfield to an embarrassingly deep array of big-time receivers.

On top of that, playing the game in Stillwater should be a huge advantage for Oklahoma State, as well. But keep in mind: defeating the Sooners once next season might not be enough. To win the Big 12 this time around, the Cowboys might have to beat them twice.