STILLWATER, Okla. – For long stretches, it was more of a mismatch than a heated rivalry when perennial powerhouse Oklahoma faced its cross-state foes at Oklahoma State.
That is no longer the case. Heading into the Saturday's annual Bedlam game at Boone Pickens Stadium, it is No. 6 Oklahoma State with the opportunity to claim its second Big 12 championship in the last three years while No. 18 Oklahoma has been relegated to the role of spoiler.
Even though Oklahoma owns a decisive 82-18-7 lead in the all-time series, including victories in nine of the last 10 meetings, the Cowboys are on the verge of establishing themselves as respected equals to their more celebrated foes.
In addition to the conference title, a win would give Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) a total of 42 wins, and 27 in the Big 12, over the last four seasons, while holding Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2) at 41 and 26.
Each school would have two Big 12 titles in that timeframe, and two wins against each other.
"Oklahoma State has come a long way in football and these players have brought this to a different level nationally, so they've earned the right for people to look at them as a respected, legitimate Top 25 team," said coach Mike Gundy, now in his ninth season. "We've finally started to build some tradition here over the last three or four years to where they're proud to say they played football at Oklahoma State."
Gundy's counterpart at Oklahoma has also noticed the trend.
"They've invested a lot in their program," said Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who is 11-3 against the Cowboys during his tenure. "They do have great players, but when you're the one that's facing them all the time, I wouldn't say that it's not like they never have, OK? They've had good players, in my eyes, for a long time."
With modern, top-notch facilities and well-respected assistant coaches, Oklahoma State has clearly made strides in recruiting, and their recent success will only enhance their ability to attract more elite players.
"Our talent level has improved in the last six years, when we've gotten considerably better athletically," Gundy said. "Our goal, when we started this nine years ago, was that year-in and year-out, on a daily basis, when we went to play a football game, we wanted to have a chance to win and not go to the stadium with people, the fans, thinking we don't have a chance to win. And I think we're to that point."
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who was a Sooner assistant from 1999-2003 before spending eight years as head coach at Arizona, agreed.
"I think their coaching and their players have significantly changed over the last 10 years, for sure," said the younger Stoops, who faced Oklahoma State twice at Arizona before returning to Oklahoma last season. "Oklahoma, we were always there. Now, Oklahoma State is always showing up, too. They've become very significant in this conference. You're getting a more consistent opponent and a better opponent."
That hasn't always been the case, especially in the annual contest against Oklahoma. In addition to winning nine of the last 10 meetings, the Sooners enjoyed a dominant stretch where they went 26-1-1 between 1967 and 1994. The Cowboys' lone recent win came in 2011, en route to their first Big 12 championship.
"I've been here six years and there never has been a bad Oklahoma team," said Cowboys' first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who previously served as linebackers coach. "Their teams are always well-prepared, they're always physical, they always have tremendous talent and they've pretty much taken care of business since I've been here. There's a lot of respect. You know you're in for a fight."
With 28 seniors being honored Saturday, Gundy discussed the impact that group has had on the program's resurgence, and how fitting it would be for them to go out with a win over their biggest rival for the Big 12 championship.
"It's a special group," Gundy said. "I've talked about it a lot in general, but we've been fortunate enough to say this about the last four or five classes that have come through here, guys that have been in bowl games and won them, and been ranked. They've kind of set the standard and have put the heart and soul into this program."