NORMAN — There was a time you couldn’t even get Oklahoma’s football players to admit facing Oklahoma State meant they were playing a rivalry game.
Look at the record. The Sooners lead 83-17-7. They’ve won 78 percent of the meetings. OSU has won less than one out of five when the teams step on the field.
For decades, OU reserved that status for Texas and Nebraska.
But times have changed.
OSU is a Bedlam victory away from claiming its second Big 12 Conference championship in three years. Look at the facilities the Cowboys have built in the last six years. This is no longer a game between the haves and the have nots.
The Sooners recognize this and that’s where Bedlam football has truly changed.
“Obviously, (OSU coach Mike) Gundy and their whole staff, their athletic department have done a good job of developing their program, getting great players, they’ve got great facilities and they’ve done a lot in Stillwater to get guys to come in and play,” OU center Gabe Ikard said. “Personally, I prefer them to be good and us to be good. That’s what rivalries are all about. You look historically throughout the rivalry, obviously with how lopsided it is, people still have the thought that OU should roll over Oklahoma State every time they play them. That’s just not how it is these days.”
The truth is every great program needs a rival to push it. Historically, OU has always had that opponent that constantly drove it to be better. For decades, it fully understood in order to be good enough to win conference and national championships it had to beat Texas in October and Nebraska in November.
It’s been years since that was the case. The rivalry with the Huskers waned when the Big 12 Conference began and the teams were in different divisions. The regular season no longer ended with the teams meeting. There were the classic games in 2000 and 2001 and the Big 12 championship game meetings in 2006 and 2010.
But without that every-year occurrence, it lacked the certainty previously provided.
The Cowboys are doing everything they can to take the spot Nebraska once occupied on the schedule.
OU coach Bob Stoops is the worst person to ask about the situation. He doesn’t put much stock into rivalries regardless of who they’re against. He wants to be beat every opponent every time. Who they are or where they’re from doesn’t matter.
But players are embracing everything that comes with Bedlam. In-state players relay the significance to the out-of-staters.
“When they come here, they know what it is. They’ll be ready,” said Gabe Lynn, a Tulsa native. “We talk about it at the beginning of the year — Texas and Oklahoma State, those are our biggest rivals. They know how important it is.”
It was always important because it was for in-state bragging rights. Many of the players on the field grew up playing against each other. They wanted those bragging rights.
But a true rivalry is one that pushes both teams toward championships. Beat the rival, and you feel like you can beat anyone else that crosses your path.
Bedlam typically hasn’t been at that level. Perhaps, OU being removed from the Big 12 championship race means it is the one that’s slacking this season.
But what Oklahoma State has done — especially over the last six years — means it is doing its part to elevate the rivalry.
The Sooners aren’t running from it, they’re embracing it.
“We’re in their way,” OU cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “I know that we have their respect. They have our respect. I mean, it’s gonna be a battle. You’re gonna see a lot of emotions out there. I mean, it’s a rivalry week. As we’ve seen this past week, anything can happen to any team. I know that it’s gonna be a fun game playing.”
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