The Sooners and Cowboys prepare to meet for the 111th time on Saturday, and a Big 12 champion will be crowned on Saturday afternoon. In the past five games between these programs, three of them were decided by less than 10 points, with two of them going into overtime. The other two contests: A 35-point blowout win for the Sooners and a 34-point blowout for Oklahoma State. In three of the past five seasons, either Oklahoma State or OU have won outright or won a share of the Big 12 conference title. In this duration, both teams have been ranked in four of the five meetings, with one team being ranked in the top 10 three times. This year, two top ten teams meet with a Sugar Bowl berth on the line. Who needs this win more?
The series between these programs is not close. 85-18-7. The dominance by OU over OSU is self-evident, and is why Oklahoma has ultimately referred to them as "little brother." But even before Oklahoma held such a one-sided record over the Cowboys, they were already behaving like a little brother to OU.
OU, who is actually 6 years older than OSU, was an independent before they were a part of any conference. OSU followed behind and was an Independent before joining the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference alongside the Sooners in 1914. Both programs were simultaneously a member of the Southwest Conference, but OU ducked out when they joined the Missouri Valley Conference in 1920. Five years later, guess who followed Oklahoma to join the MVC? You guessed it: The Cowboys. The Sooners moved on to the Big Eight in 1928, as OSU stayed behind in the MVC where they experienced the most success in their program's history. Eventually, the Cowboys would become an Independent for a few years before following OU to the Big Eight, 32 years after the Sooners had joined the conference. Essentially, OSU has been the little brother who follows the big brother around, trying to hang out with him and his friends.
As the Cowboys live in the shadow of the Sooners, every year for OSU is a must-win. However, most times it does not work in their favor. Oklahoma's worst losing streak in this series is two games and their longest winning streak is 19, meaning that OU's longest winning streak is more than the total number of games Oklahoma State has ever defeated Oklahoma. Although one game will not make up for this huge deficit, upsetting the Sooners at home and grabbing a Sugar Bowl berth would be a great win for their program and would improve Mike Gundy's current record (2-9) against Bob Stoops and his team. This would also be two consecutive wins for the Cowboys in Norman, along with being Oklahoma State's second Big 12 conference title ever. This would be significant for OSU, however do not forget about the Sooners.
Given the history between these programs, there are expectations from OU fans every year going into this game. No matter how good or bad the Cowboys are in a particular season, Oklahoma is expected to beat OSU. This year is no different. This win would give Oklahoma their 10th conference title in just 20 years since the league started playing games, and would be OU's 46th conference title overall. This game will also be the deciding factor of whether OU will have a winning record against ranked opponents this season, as they sit at 2-2 going into this title game. If Bob can assemble a win on Saturday, this will be his 16th conference win in a row. Yes, this game means a lot to the Sooners, too.
Possible Personnel Changes
As seasons end, coaches are evaluated on the past season, as well as being judged for their whole body of work. It is no secret that Gundy and the Oklahoma State donor Boone Pickens do not have a great relationship with one another. Need proof? When asked if he was supportive of Gundy, The Oklahoman quotes Pickens saying:
"I’m certainly supportive of Oklahoma State University. I’m always going to be for OSU, I don’t care who coaches ‘em."
Gundy made sure to express himself with his response, stating:
"I don’t need anybody to tell me that they like me or dislike me," he said. "I don’t really care. I just like to coach my guys and keep playing ball … I don’t know what to say. He’s old enough to make his own comments now, right? I can’t control what he says."
(If this intrigues you, click here to see more interactions between the two) Pickens, who was honored by the university by having the stadium named after him, has given millions of dollars to Oklahoma State. In fact, back in 2006, he was responsible for the biggest donation ever to a NCAA athletics program, writing a check for 165 million dollars. With that being said, Pickens probably has a ton of influence on who should be running the program. One thing that really gets under his skin: Gundy not being able to beat OU. The AP is quoted Pickens saying:
"I would like to beat OU," Pickens said while standing in the stadium that bears his name. "Mike has struggled with that game. I think he’s 2-9, so we’re not competitive with OU...".
Does this mean that Gundy is gone if they lose? Not necessarily. But this game can either simmer or ignite the potential hot seat he is on. Oklahoma could be affected greatly due to this outcome as well.
Despite early-season knee jerk reactions, Bob Stoops is not on the hot seat. But, someone with his last name might be: Mike Stoops. This year, Stoops' defense has been depleted, but that does not excuse the effort seen in some of the games. Currently, OU is not in the top 50 in opponent points per game (72nd), opponent yards per game (83rd) and opponent yards per play (72nd). Mike has had his name tossed out there several times to be put on the hot seat. However, he always manages to assemble a timely win to quiet the noise. Could he do it again this year?
Mike is not the only personnel that Sooner fans should keep their eye on. Lincoln Riley has risen to national prominence by putting together successful consecutive seasons at Oklahoma, and multiple vacant head coaching positions could lure him away from Norman. A solid win by Oklahoma could provide the push that Riley needs to go be a head coach elsewhere. This game could impact the Sooners' roster as well. If Baker Mayfield, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine end the season on a high note, they just might leave early for the NFL. This may just be bigger than one game.
As the season winds down, these two teams may play with a little more fire due to past occurrences. For Oklahoma State, they are still salty about a Hail Mary against Central Michigan that may have cost them a chance at a playoff bid. Oklahoma State fans have tried to convince everyone, including themselves, that the game should not be counted against them (and they certainly have a case). However, it did happen, and now Oklahoma State has two losses and will be left out of the College Football Playoff once again. The Cowboys will be out to prove that they are one of the best teams in the country, and try to erase everyone's memory of that terrible loss.
For the Sooners, their redemption is a little more direct to Oklahoma State. Bob will be looking to make up for the fiasco in 2014, the last time this game was played in Norman. Despite being up two touchdowns with five minutes to go, OU's lead was cut to seven at the 4:51 mark. Oklahoma melted the clock to 1:01 before having to punt the ball from midfield. Jed Barnett punted the ball, which was fair caught at the 15 yard-line by the dangerous punt returner, Tyreek Hill. The Cowboys ran into Barnett on the punt — which resulted in a penalty — and Bob was faced with either declining the penalty or accepting it and re-kicking. He accepted it. This lead to a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown, and would send the game into overtime. The Sooners lost by a field goal. Bob will be ready for this battle.
Who's the best?
As these two teams go on the field, four players will be going head to head all game, but they will not all be on the field at the same time. It will be a battle between the QBs in Mayfield and Mason Rudolph, and a competition between Westbrook and James Washington. Although Rudolph edges out Mayfield with 210 more total yards passing, Mayfield has the advantage in passing touchdowns (10 more) and QBR (194.7 vs Rudolph’s 160.4). The gun-slingers will have a huge say in who walks home with this win, and will be able to claim the title as best QB in the state of Oklahoma.
Westbrook and Washington pose an interesting matchup as well. Westbrook has 195 more total receiving yards than Washington, six more total touchdowns and 10 more receptions. However, both receivers have an identical number of yards per catch (19.3 yards). These two playmakers can disrupt secondaries and change the momentum of a game with a pass down the field.
These players will have a lot to prove, especially with a Heisman Trophy potentially within grasp for Mayfield and Westbrook.
At the end of the day, this is a rivalry. As they say, throw away the records and the stats. Anything can happen in this game. Both programs would significantly benefit from bringing home a conference title and a chance at a Sugar Bowl win. The coaches and players have the possibility of being affected due to the outcome of this one. Both teams need this win, and it will all be decided soon.