STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State has won a Big 12 title. And been to a BCS bowl.
The Cowboys have the Big 12’s best record over the last five seasons. And defeated Texas three straight times in Austin.
Since the turn of the century, the Big 12 has always been about the Big 2 -- Oklahoma and Texas.
But spurred by Boone Pickens’ dollars and Mike Gundy’s coaching, Oklahoma State is on the verge of turning that into a Big 3.
Only one obstacle remains for the Cowboys: consistently vanquishing their in-state rival.
This weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will stage the 108th meeting of the Bedlam rivalry. The Sooners have lost only 17 of those meetings, making Bedlam the most lopsided in-state rivalry in college football history.
“It’s a rivalry,” Cowboys guard Brandon Webb said. “But we haven’t won too many times in that rivalry.”
With opulent facilities, a substantial uptick in recruiting, assistant coaching salaries commensurate to the nation’s top programs, exciting schemes and a galvanized, expanding fan base, Oklahoma State’s rise has been rapid in Gundy’s nine years as head coach.
“Oklahoma State has come a long way in football,” Gundy said. “Our goal nine-and-a-half years ago was year-in, year-out, on a daily basis, when we went to play a football game, to have a chance to win. And not go to a stadium and the fans feel like we don’t have a chance to win. I think we’re at that point. … The program is at a different level nationally.”
Oklahoma State, however, won’t go any further nationally until it can overcome its local problem.
Under Gundy, the Cowboys are 1-7 against the Sooners, preserving the lopsidedness of the series, while also preventing Oklahoma State from climbing to the lofty perch where Oklahoma has comfortably resided since Bud Wilkinson agreed to coach the Sooners after the Second World War.
“They’re standing in our way,” said Webb, whose father Terry was an All-American guard for Oklahoma in the early 1970s and one of countless Sooners who finished their careers unblemished in Bedlam. “If they can beat us every time, it’s not good. We’ve got to beat them to get to where we want to be. It’s something we have to overcome.”
Saturday, the Cowboys have a prime opportunity to accomplish just that.
Oklahoma State is a double-digit favorite in Bedlam for the first time since odds makers began keeping track. And with a victory, the Cowboys can clinch their second Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl appearance in three years.
To the players, the stakes are still higher.
“It’s not just another game at all,” said Cowboys defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, who grew up in Tulsa, Okla. “This is not just for the Big 12 championship, not just to finish the season out winning, not just for a BCS game. It’s about people knowing there’s not just one dominant team in Oklahoma.”
For seven decades, there was just one dominant team. From 1946-2009, Oklahoma won Bedlam by double digits a stunning 43 of 63 times.
“We’ve made it a very competitive game,” said safety Daytawion Lowe, an Oklahoma City native who chose the Cowboys over Oklahoma coming out of high school. “Back when I watched the game growing up, it used to be blowouts. The last five years, it’s been very competitive.”
So competitive that two of the last three games have been decided on the final possession, with the Cowboys actually landing the lone blowout victory.
“That’s what’s changing,” Webb said. “People say we used to be afraid of OU. But we’re not afraid anymore.”
After losing a wild shootout in 2010, Oklahoma State came back to destroy the Sooners 44-10 in 2011 to seize the program’s first outright conference title in 63 years.
Last year in Norman, the underdog Cowboys showed no fear and thoroughly outplayed Oklahoma for three quarters, before the Sooners stormed back to win in overtime. It was the first time in 12 years the Cowboys played Oklahoma to within 27 points in Norman.
“It’s been a give and take where people that watch it, when you went to the stadium, you didn’t know who was going to win,” Gundy said. “There was a time … where I’m not sure that was (true).”
Gundy downplayed the significance of specifically beating Oklahoma, noting the goals at Oklahoma State are now bigger and broader.
“Our goal is to win our conference,” Gundy said. “Then (let) the chips fall based on how the country feels about us. … getting into the (College Football Playoff).”
But winning the conference requires beating Oklahoma more than once a decade. The Sooners, after all, have captured eight Big 12 titles in the last 13 years. Winning the conference also requires being more than just competitive with Oklahoma, which once constituted Bedlam success in Stillwater not long ago.
“Oklahoma has a ton of tradition and has been good for a long time,” Cowboys wide receiver Charlie Moore said. “Hopefully 50 from years now, people will say the same about Oklahoma State.”
To get there, the Cowboys must first beat Oklahoma.
Starting first with Saturday.
“You can only change it one year at a time,” Barnett said. “We’re going to try and help change that this year.”