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True freshmen Samaje Perine, Mason Rudolph offer hope for Bedlam rivals

It’s not exactly the Dust Bowl days.

But the 2014 season has been a depressing one on the gridiron for the state of Oklahoma.

The Sooners opened the season with College Football Playoff aspirations. They will likely end it in either the Russell Athletic Bowl or Valero Alamo Bowl.

With one of the youngest teams in the country, the Cowboys were always going to be in rebuilding mode. Yet even pessimistic Oklahoma State fans assumed that would still include a ninth consecutive bowl trip (which remains possible but would require an upset over the Sooners).

But while playoff contenders Baylor and TCU will overshadow Bedlam on the final week of the regular season, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have reason to believe sunnier days lie ahead. Thanks largely to a pair of promising true freshmen in running back Samaje Perine for the Sooners and quarterback Mason Rudolph for the Cowboys.

In his debut two weeks ago at Baylor, Rudolph turned heads after getting his redshirt pulled following a concussion injury to Daxx Garman.

Rudolph, who was an ESPN 300 recruit coming out of Rock Hill, South Carolina, wasn’t flawless, tossing a pair of untimely interceptions. But he also electrified a previously dormant Oklahoma State offense that had ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring in conference games. Rudolph threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns and had the Bears sweating in the fourth quarter, until Baylor pulled away to win 49-28.

“We thought his poise was excellent,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “And toughness and leadership seemed to be good in that game.”

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops came away impressed, too.

“You can tell he’s been developed really well,” Stoops said. “He made good decisions, threw the ball well. A big guy. Stands in the pocket, throws a good ball.

"I think he managed that game really well.”

With Garman cleared to return, Gundy has yet to name Rudolph the starter for Bedlam, though that seems to be an inevitability. And with another banner performance in another tough environment, Rudolph can take a decisive lead in the quarterback derby over Garman and J.W. Walsh heading into 2015.

In Norman, meanwhile, there’s no doubt Perine will man the Oklahoma backfield moving forward.

The 242-pound bulldozer set an FBS record with 427 yards in the Sooners’ last outing against Kansas. Perine now leads the Big 12 with 1,428 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground.

“He’s a very good player,” Gundy said. “He’s a tough runner. Runs low, keeps his pads down, he’s run through a number of tackles and he’s really good with yards after contact.

“He’s one of the best (freshman running backs) we’ve seen. Certainly a very good football player.”

Perine has provided the Sooners with a much-needed identity offensively in the second half of the season. And the Sooners believe his best is still to come.

“Naturally, as he matures and gets older and more powerful,” Stoops said, "he can be even better.”

As a result, so could the Sooners.

The Cowboys, too, if Rudolph’s Waco debut was only a sign of what’s ahead.

Overall, this has been a downer season in the Sooner State.

But behind this pair of budding freshmen, the dust could be settling. And before long, Bedlam could be back in the limelight again.