The 108th edition of Bedlam football kicks off on Saturday when traditional Big 12 power Oklahoma visits Stillwater hoping to play spoiler to archrival Oklahoma State’s conference championship plans this season.
Oklahoma State will earn no worse than a share of the Big 12 championship by putting away the Sooners. But, more important, they will receive the conference’s automatic bid to the BCS Fiesta Bowl by virture of head-to-head wins over both Baylor and Texas, the other two one-loss teams in Big 12 play.
OU All-American center Gabe Ikard bristles at the notion that the Sooners are considered spoilers in this year’s game. “We don’t see ourselves an an underdog in this game,” Ikard said this week. “Obviously we realize that they’re (Oklahoma State) ranked higher than us (6 vs. 17 in the BCS standings), 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.”
The Sooners may have done some special things over time, but Oklahoma State isn’t buying into the history angle, nor are the Cowboys intimidated by OU’s name and overall dominance of the 107-year-old football rivalry.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers have Oklahoma State as a 10 1/2-point favorite in Saturday’s matchup with the Sooners. OU coach Bob Stoops doesn’t believe his team will approach this game any different as a road underdog.
“I think our team, in any situation, is always capable of winning and capable of playing well and doing well in this game or any other game,” Stoops said this week. I think our history speaks to that.”
The Sooners’ rich history and tradition, as well as their 83-17-7 dominance in Bedlam football vs. their in-state rivals from Stillwater, does speak volumes, but there is a good reason why OU is an underdog in this game this season. Similar to the scenario that existed two years ago, the last time this rivalry was played in Stillwater, Oklahoma State is the more complete team, at least on paper. And the Cowboys have also soundly beaten the two teams the Sooners have lost to this season (Texas and Baylor).
By coincidence, the two teams that Oklahoma lost to, and that Oklahoma State defeated, are matched up against each other in the second game of the two-game Big 12 championship weekend. Baylor (10-1) hosts Texas (9-2), both teams with identical 7-1 conference records, in the final Bears’ football game to be played at Floyd Casey Stadium. If Oklahoma is able to pull off the upset against its hated Bedlam rival, the game in Waco between the Bears and the Longhorns will be for the Big 12 championship.
Oklahoma State averages 41 points a game, second in the Big 12 behind Baylor. The Sooners average 10 fewer points a game, which could present an even bigger problem against the Cowboys, who lead the conference in scoring defense, yielding only 18.8 points a game to their opponents. Oklahoma is second in that category, allowing 21.1 points a game.
The key matchup in this season’s edition of Bedlam football will be the Sooners’ ability to run the football against the Oklahoma State defensive front. Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will probably stack the line of scrimmage and force the OU offense to beat them with one of the conference’s least effective passing attacks. Ironically, as bad as Oklahoma is passing the ball this season, the Cowboys are the second-worst in the league in passing yardage given up, which indicates OSU has been vulnerable to giving up big pass plays.
The Sooners are second in the Big 12, averaging 242 rushing yards a game. On the other side of the ball, OU will be going up against the best rush defense in the league in Oklahoma State, which has been extremely tough against the run this year, yielding 130 yards a game.
Adding to the Sooners’ run package is a highly mobile quarterback with some speed in redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. OSU quarterback Clint Chelf has shown he can pull down the ball and take off as well, if the play dictates it. In the past two games (against Texas and Baylor, respectively), the Oklahoma State quarterback ran for over 100 yards combined.
Five Things To Watch For In Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
- Can Oklahoma run the ball well enough against the Big 12′s best defense against the run to allow the Sooners to spread the field and open up passing opportunites with receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard, both dangerous open-field threats with the ball? Key stat to keep in mind: The Sooners are 62-1 under Bob Stoops when rushing for 200-plus yards in a game (8-0 this season).
- Anything can happen in a rivalry games such as this, which is why season records and performances in previous games, even against common opponents, are virtually meaningless in games like this. Turnovers can be critical and often determine the outcome in rivalry games. Oklahoma State is plus 16 (29 takeaways and 13 giveaways) in this department, best in the league by a comfortable margin and second-best in the nation. Key statistic: OSU has a takeaway in 19 consecutive games; OU is 36-2 under Bob Stoops when it does not have a turnover.
- The best defense against a high-powered, high-scoring offense is keeping the other team’s offense off the field. That’s where ball control, moving the chains and time of possesion become big factors. Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in time of possession (32 minutes per game). OSU is at the bottom of the conference, largely because of its ability to score fast.
- Scoring in the red zone – and, conversely, getting stops in the red zone (between the opposing team’s 20-yard line and the end zone) - is another key to this game. Oklahoma’s opponents have reached the red zone 27 times this season and come away with points (16 touchdowns and nine field goals) 92 percent of the time, worst in the league. Oklahoma State’s red-zone defense is the best in the conference this year, yielding points (15 touchdowns, 10 field goals in 35 total red-zone drives) just 66 percent of the time.
- Halftime score: Oklahoma State has outscored its 2013 opponents 247-108 in the first half. Oklahoma has won 41 consecutive games in which the Sooners have led at the half, the second longest active streak in the nation.
Game prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Oklahoma 30 – The Sooners will put a scare into the Cowboys, but unlike last season (won by Oklahoma at home in the first overtime game in the series), the visitors will come up short.
Tomorrow: A preview of the Baylor-Texas game and predict the winner