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November 28, 2008

Bedlam game is bigger than ever this year

How big is the latest edition of the "Bedlam" rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State?

"It seems like it is bigger than Christmas," Oklahoma State fullback Bryant Ward said.

Oklahoma State fans couldn't imagine a better gift than seeing their favorite team knock their biggest rival out of national title contention.

It's happened before.

Seven years ago, Oklahoma's hopes of winning a second consecutive national title disappeared when Rashaun Woods' 14-yard touchdown catch with 1:36 left gave Oklahoma State a 16-13 victory over the fourth-ranked Sooners. Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma again in 2002, but hasn't beaten the Sooners since.

But a victory Saturday might be even sweeter than that 2001 upset.

Oklahoma is third in the BCS standings and has an excellent chance of moving into the No. 2 spot and capturing the Big 12 South title with a victory.

Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas entered the week tied for first in the Big 12 South. If they remain that way, the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings wins the division title and plays Missouri in the Big 12 championship game next week. Texas entered the week second in the BCS standings, but the Sooners likely would leapfrog the Longhorns with a victory over Oklahoma State, which is 12th in the BCS this week

"You would hope so," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "I'm not going to sit here and debate all of that. We are concentrated on going to Oklahoma State and being as prepared as we can be and focused to play a strong game. That's what we have to do, and that's what we are looking at."

Stoops probably doesn't have to worry about his team overlooking Oklahoma State. Even if this game carried no national title implications, the nature of the rivalry would make both teams desperate to win.

At least one Oklahoma player believes this annual matchup may carry even more weight than the Sooners' Red River Rivalry with Texas.

"I think this is No. 1," Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks said. "Just being an Oklahoma kid, it's non-stop Bedlam. Just going out in public, Oklahoma fans don't want to lose to OSU, and OSU fans don't want to lose to Oklahoma. I think it's a bigger (deal) than Texas only because we come into more contact with OSU fans."

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State enter this game with much in common.

Both boast outstanding quarterbacks, though Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson has more mobility and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford has a better arm. Both teams feature outstanding rushing attacks. Both have All-America candidates at tight end and outstanding collections of receivers. Both have struggled at times on defense, though Oklahoma has played better on that side of the ball.

"We're expecting a big game," Oklahoma State center David Washington said. "I know they are going to be ready, and we just have to be ready."

Stoops learned his lesson seven years ago, when Oklahoma State ended the Sooners' quest for a national title. He wants to make sure his team doesn't let history repeat itself.

"We just have to realize that no matter where we are at [in the BCS standings], we have to come out and win," Franks said. "It's all on us. We can't worry about the voters or anything like that. We just have to come out and perform to the best of our abilities."

Who gets the edge?

Oklahoma run offense vs. Oklahoma State run defense
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's Heisman Trophy candidacy has overshadowed the Sooners' explosive rushing attack. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown have posted similar rushing statistics. Murray has 164 carries for 959 yards and 13 touchdowns; Brown has run 149 times for 890 yards and 15 touchdowns. Both have gone over the 100-yard mark in each of the Sooners' past two games. The difference is that Murray catches the ball out of the backfield more often. Oklahoma averages 4.7 yards per carry while running behind a line teeming with NFL talent. Oklahoma State is ranked 26th in the nation in run defense, but that figure is a bit misleading because Big 12 teams throw the ball much more often than they run. The Cowboys are allowing 3.9 yards per carry, which isn't particularly impressive.
Edge: Oklahoma.

Oklahoma pass offense vs. Oklahoma State pass defense
Bradford has been nothing short of spectacular all season, but he has been even better since that midseason loss to Texas. In the five games since the Red River Rivalry, Bradford has thrown 19 touchdown passes and only one interception. Bradford also has a collection of receivers that can rival any group in the nation. Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Ryan Broyles have combined for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a Mackey Award finalist and has 10 touchdown catches. Murray also has caught 30 passes. Oklahoma State has proved it can perform well against top-flight quarterbacks. Missouri's Chase Daniel threw three interceptions and only one touchdown pass in a midseason loss to Oklahoma State. On the other hand, Texas' Colt McCoy went 38-of-45 for 391 yards and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell threw for 456 yards and six touchdowns against Oklahoma State.
Edge: Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State run offense vs. Oklahoma run defense
Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter has run for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns to rank fifth in the nation in rushing. He has gained at least 90 yards in every game this season. Hunter has been at his best against the best competition. He rushed for 161 yards against Texas and 154 yards against Missouri, and he needed just 17 carries to run for 112 yards and two touchdowns against Texas Tech. Backup tailback Keith Toston has rushed for 632 yards on just 91 carries, while quarterback Zac Robinson has run for 418 yards and six touchdowns. Oklahoma ranks 12th in the nation in run defense and is allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. All-America candidate Gerald McCoy leads a front four that has allowed a total of 71 rushing yards on 51 carries against Texas A&M and Texas Tech in its past two games. Of course, Texas A&M and Texas Tech don't have any running backs nearly as talented as Hunter.
Edge: Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State pass offense vs. Oklahoma pass defense
Robinson has thrown 21 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions, though two-thirds of his touchdown passes came against Sun Belt program Troy, Conference USA program Houston and Big 12 lightweights Texas A&M and Iowa State. Robinson has benefited from the emergence of Biletnikoff Award finalist Dez Bryant, who ranks fourth overall and second among Big Six players with 1,222 receiving yards. Bryant's 16 touchdown catches rank second in the nation to Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, though he needs to prove he can deliver in big games. Bryant failed to catch a touchdown pass against Missouri, Texas or Texas Tech this season. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a Mackey Award finalist who has come on strong lately after struggling with injuries in the first half of the season. Oklahoma ranks 32nd in the nation in pass efficiency defense, but the Sooners did a good job of containing Texas Tech's top-ranked passing attack last week. This matchup could come down to how well tackle Russell Okung and the rest of Oklahoma State's line protect Robinson from an Oklahoma defense that averages 3.5 sacks per game. OU star defensive end Auston English has missed two games with a sprained left knee that also will sideline him Saturday. Oklahoma shares the NCAA lead in sacks with Texas, which had five sacks in its victory over Oklahoma State.
Edge: Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma special teams vs. Oklahoma State special teams
Oklahoma State boasts some of the best return men in the nation. Bryant has returned two punts for touchdowns and ranks third in the nation with his average of 18 yards per attempt. Perrish Cox ranks eighth in the nation with his average of 29.2 yards per kickoff return, including one touchdown. Oklahoma State kicker Dan Bailey is 12-of-15 on field-goal attempts, though he is 0-for-2 from 40 or more yards. Matt Fodge averages 44.4 yards per punt, which would rank ninth in the nation if he had enough attempts to qualify. Oklahoma's Jimmy Stevens is 5-for-8 on field-goal attempts, while Mike Knall averages 35.9 yards per punt.
Edge: Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma coaches vs. Oklahoma State coaches
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has done perhaps the finest job of his career this season while helping the Cowboys remain one of the nation's most explosive offenses even after the departure of highly regarded offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, now the coach at Southern Miss. But he doesn't have the big-game experience of Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and hasn't fared well in head-to-head matchups against Stoops. Oklahoma has beaten Oklahoma State by an average margin of 22 points in the three previous Gundy-Stoops meetings.
Edge: Oklahoma.

X-factor: Oklahoma State is best known for all its star power at the skill positions on offense, but the Cowboys' hopes for a victory depend on the performance of Okung and right tackle Brady Bond. Okung and Bond have performed well enough to help Oklahoma State rank 15th in the nation in sacks allowed, but the line's struggles against Texas' pass rush may have made the difference in the Cowboys' 28-24 loss. Oklahoma's offense is so powerful that the Cowboys probably must score 35 points to have a shot at pulling off the upset. Oklahoma State won't even approach that number unless Okung and Bond give Robinson time to throw and help create running room for Hunter.

Oklahoma will win if: Oklahoma is the better team and ought to win the game as long as the Sooners play as well as they have the past six weeks. But this game is no walkover. Oklahoma has been vulnerable on kick coverage and can't allow Cox or Bryant to break off a big return. The Sooners also must continue running the ball effectively and hope Bradford delivers one of his typical performances.

Oklahoma State will win if: The Cowboys need Hunter and Robinson to run well enough to keep Bradford on the sideline. They also need capitalize on their special-teams advantage by getting at least one big return that sets up a score.

Expert picks

Olin Buchanan: Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 31
Tom Dienhart: Oklahoma 45, Oklahoma State 38
Mike Huguenin: Oklahoma 41, Oklahoma State 31
Steve Megargee: Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 27

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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