Bringing the Bedlam: The Battle for Oklahoma

Saturday, November 27 will be the most im­portant day in the history of the state of Okla­homa. Alright, so maybe April 17, 1951, when Mickey Mantle (born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma) debuted as a Yankee was pretty important. Or, when Oklahoma gained statehood on November 16, 1907, but whatever. On this fateful Saturday, the Oklahoma University Sooners will play the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2010 edition of one of the most brutal in-state rivalries college football has ever seen. This year, the game will carry connotations much more significant than the usual our-part-of-the-state-is-better-than-yours rivalry, seriously impacting the futures of both teams. This game also carries the highest ticket price of any NCAA football game at $125 a seat. The outcome will impact everything from BCS rankings to where star recruiting prospects end up. This game, ladies and gentlemen, will change the world … of college football, at least.

The history of The Bedlam Rivalry is a long and glorious one which stretches back to 1904. It is a rivalry played out in each sport, but in football, my beloved Sooners normally win. The rivalry is said to have begun when, during a vi­ciously windy football game between the two, a punt was blown back behind the OSU (then Oklahoma A&M) punter and into a frozen creek. Naturally, members of both teams dove into the frigid water to recover the errant ball and one brave (and frostbitten) Sooner brought the ball to the end zone, scoring a touchdown in the 75-0 Sooner victory. Thus, the Bedlam began. Last season, OU walloped OSU with a 27-0 win. At the time, OSU was 9-2 and in the middle of their winningest season in the BCS while OU was 6-5, having already lost more reg­ular season games than in any other season under head coach Bob Stoops. When the teams met in the great stadium in Norman, OK in front of 85,606 fans, the Cowboys were ranked twelfth and the Sooners were unranked. Maybe it’s the curse of that icy day, but OSU fell apart, looking downright foolish.

The reason this game is so epically impor­tant is not just because OSU is currently ranked higher than OU (12th and 14th, respectively), or because of bragging rights, tradition and future prospects are all up for grabs, but because this might just be the first year since 2002 that the Cowboys take down OU. First of all, the game will be played in Stillwater, OK. The Sooners have won the last 36 games they have played at Owen Field in Norman, OK. When the Sooners are home, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, OU will be winning, and winning by a lot. Cur­rently ranked sixth for the longest home winning streak since WWII, OU is 23 games away from the record. And, frankly, with an average mar­gin of victory of 28 points when playing ranked teams and an overall home record of 71-2 under Coach Stoops, I’m thinking it’s doable. Unfortu­nately, the magic of Owen Field will be just out of reach on the 27th, and the Sooners will need more than Norman voodoo to take this game.

Most recently, after a disgraceful loss to 19th ranked Texas A&M 33-19, the Sooners came back with a vengeance in their next game against Texas Tech as junior Ryan Broyles broke the school record for touchdown receptions, scor­ing three on the day. Despite the offensive py­rotechnics involved in the 45-7 win, these past few games have revealed a major weakness in OU’s defensive middle. Decidedly inconsistent throughout the season, the OU defense has not been able to shut down their opponent’s run game. This weakness was particularly apparent against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats who racked up 461 yards against OU. Though OSU’s offense is stacked to give them an advan­tage in the air (they’re second in the nation in overall passing yards), without the ability to shut down the run game, OU will very quickly find themselves in a sticky situation and too distracted by the run game to defend properly against OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden’s great arm.

The pride of the Sooners, the stellar offense which has defined the team’s recent history, is go­ing to have its prestige tested by its OSU coun­terpart. Weeden is one of the best QBs in the NCAA right now and, with a supporting cast of Jeremy Smith and Justin Blackmon, he’s going to really pressure that OU defense (currently hav­ing depth issues because of injuries and the team’s youth). OSU’s defense isn’t exactly a kitten ei­ther, dominating Baylor on the November 6 and holding a potent Texas offense to 16 points on November 13 despite a shaky start to the season.

So is it a lack of mental toughness that makes the away-game Sooners so much worse than home-game Sooners? I seriously hope so – better some mental issue (one which will hopefully go away under Bedlam-level pressure) than an ac­tual problem within the team. Either way, I guess we’ll find out on November 27.