Cowboys closing Bedlam gap

NORMAN, Okla. -- The YouTube video is well known, both in Norman and Stillwater.

"I'm gonna tell you something, it strikes fear in my heart for any Sooner to come see this," Barry Switzer said on a local TV show five years ago after touring the construction of Oklahoma State's new stadium and facilities.

"I'm gonna tell you something: it's coming."

Last season, as Switzer predicted, it arrived.

Buoyed by its state-of-the-art facilities and a subsequent uptick in recruiting, OSU rolled Oklahoma 44-10 to capture its first outright conference championship in school history. Had the Cowboys not slipped in overtime at Iowa State the game before, they would have played for their first national championship, too.

These are no longer the Cowboys of Jim Stanley, Bob Simmons or even Les Miles.

And Switzer was the first to see it coming.

"The facilities gave OSU an opportunity to attract the blue-chip prospects," said Switzer, who went 15-1 coaching against the Cowboys from 1973-88. "Their facilities are as good as anyone else's in the country.

"Now, with the scholarship limits, it's given them the opportunity to compete like they never have before."

Before, the Cowboys rarely competed. Especially against their Bedlam rivals. In the most lopsided in-state "rivalry" in college football, OU enters this weekend's showdown against the Cowboys with an 82-17-7 advantage. Yet the way OSU has been playing in the Boone Pickens Stadium era, such a gaudy Sooners winning percentage seems unsustainable.

Over the past five years, the Sooners have collected two Big 12 titles and appeared in a national title game. Their regular-season Big 12 record during that stretch is a dominating 30-10.

OSU's conference record during the same span: 30-10.

"You don't build a winning tradition in one year," Switzer said. "But OSU has been a good football team for a while now."

The Cowboys have been good for a while. But last year, they were great.

Led by quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, OSU climbed all the way to No. 2 in the BCS before falling 37-31 at Iowa State. The Pokes, however, roared back to annihilate OU in the regular-season finale to win the Big 12 and go to their first BCS bowl.

"I think it was a huge step for Oklahoma State football," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "It was a huge lift for our football program, our team. I don't think there's any question it put us in a different light with people across the country."

It wasn't just that OSU won Bedlam. Although rare, that had happened before. It was how the Cowboys did it. They led 44-3 until Blake Bell scored in the game's final minutes, and were so impressive they nearly overtook Alabama for the second spot in the BCS standings the following day.

"OU has been dominating the series for the past decade," Sooners senior defensive end David King said. "But the way they put it on us last year opened up a lot of people's eyes across the country, that hey, maybe this OSU program is for real.

"They're as real as it gets."

The Cowboys might be for real. But before last year, they had lost eight in a row to the Sooners. And the Bedlam scores of the past four played in Norman, where the game will be Saturday? All routs: 52-9, 42-14, 49-17, 27-0.

To make this rivalry for real, OSU still has much to prove against big brother.

"Like anything, if you want to win the conference or be considered a good program, you have to beat the teams who are usually on top," Pokes offensive coordinator Todd Monken told reporters on Monday. "Things only become rivalries when you make them competitive for a championship. For years, Michigan-Ohio State meant a lot because it was considered the Big Ten championship. That's what you want it to be, where it's competitive on both ends.

"Obviously, they're in the same state as we are. When you have a program as successful as theirs, that's where you aspire to be."

Still, OSU has closed what used to be an enormous gap, both on and off the field. The Cowboys have capitalized on last year's success with a recruiting class that ESPN currently ranks in the Top 25, and only four spots behind OU's.

"With the scholarship limits, everyone has a chance to get skilled players, everyone is closer talent-wise," Switzer said. "Then you get an OSU playing with confidence, well-coached with those facilities. They don't have tradition like OU's -- and you'd have to win for 50 years to get tradition like OU's. But is that important in recruiting today? I don't know if it is. Kids today don't know Bud Wilkinson and probably don't know Barry Switzer.

"Who you are today is what's more important."

Who OSU is today is a program that's won more games over the past five years than traditional powers USC, Florida State, Notre Dame, Michigan and Texas.

And despite losing Weeden, Blackmon and a host of other key players, the Cowboys have avoided sliding into rebuilding mode this season. Notwithstanding having to play three different quarterbacks because of injuries, OSU is within striking distance of a BCS bowl at-large berth after winning five of its past six games, including last week's 59-21 shellacking of then-No. 23 Texas Tech.

"People wanna say we're the big brother, but they're a great team and they've been doing great things since I've been here," third-year OU wideout Kenny Stills said. "So I've never looked at them like that.

"If people didn't respect them then, I'm sure they do now."

After last season's embarrassment, the Sooners sure do. So does Switzer, who watched the Cowboys for the first time this season last weekend.

"They're good again this year," Switzer said. "I was impressed. I think it will be interesting this week."

Beldam, until recently, seldom was.