The good old days often refer to a luminous past which can never be fully recaptured.
For the Bedlam football series, the good old days are right now.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State had existed in a Big Brother-Little Brother relationship for many years. The Sooners almost always set the standard in the Big Eight and then in the early years of the Big 12. Oklahoma State typically tried to spoil the party. Such was the case even in 2008, when Oklahoma needed to beat Oklahoma State to forge the three-way tie in the Big 12 South which ultimately elevated the Sooners (unfairly, but that’s another discussion for another time) to the BCS National Championship Game against Florida.
In 2010, the winds of change started to blow through Bedlam, and in the subsequent years, the nature of this rivalry has become even more complicated… and consequential. There’s never been a better time to behold Bedlam as an outside observer. There’s never been a better time to watch this series in Oklahoma for state officials or clergy who must govern or minister to alums and students of both schools.
In that 2010 contest, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma played for the Big 12 South championship, in the last season with a split-division Big 12 and the conference championship game the league left behind in 2011 and beyond. Oklahoma State entered that game with a 10-1 record, a major player on the scene. Relative to the previous 10 seasons — in which it had won a national title and played for all the Tostitos on three other occasions, all while winning the Big 12 six times — Oklahoma had a 2010 campaign which was solid, but not as spectacular as Bob Stoops’s biggest years with the Crimson and Cream.
Bedlam had become a two-team fight for riches and glories beyond in-state bragging rights. It wasn’t just OU which was playing for a league title and a signature January bowl game.
Landry Jones was not the most consistent quarterback known to man, but he excelled on that night in Stillwater five years ago. As a result, the Sooners — though fully aware of the extent to which Mike Gundy had raised the bar in the rivalry — were able to survive and then beat Nebraska to win yet another Big 12 crown. Stoops bagged a seventh league championship, and despite the wobbles which marked that 2010 season, OU had overcome a rare rebuilding year in 2009. The Sooners, it seemed, were ready to continue winning league championships.
They haven’t won one since.
The Big 12 has mostly belonged to Baylor over the past five seasons, and interestingly enough, it could still belong to the Bears — for a third straight season, in fact — if Art Briles beats TCU and gets some help from the Cowboys against the Sooners. That subtext aside, the other team which has joined Baylor at the forefront of the new Big 12 (even more than TCU) is Oklahoma State.
Whereas TCU struggled in 2012 and 2013, Oklahoma State has been the more consistent player on the scene in this conference since 2011. Speaking of 2011, that’s when the Cowboys — in the new 10-team Big 12, the one without a league title game — were fortunate enough to host OU for a second straight season. Once again, the meeting with the Sooners was for the Big 12 title. Mindful of the 2010 loss, the Pokes wanted to establish themselves as the best team in the state and the conference.
This time, Oklahoma State put its foot down, finally taking advantage of home field in a Bedlam battle which really mattered. Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and a fired-up defense trampled Landry Jones en route to the school’s first Big 12 ring and the best season in school history since the 1945 team went unbeaten and captured the Sugar Bowl.
Bedlam — with Oklahoma State no longer being the spoiler — took on a very different context. In 2013, with TCU still not an ascendant program in the Big 12, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State once again met in Stillwater with the title on the line. OSU stood to win the league with a victory. Playing in Boone Pickens Stadium, the Cowboys had to love their chances.
Then, however, Oklahoma reminded OSU which team normally called the shots in this showdown. Our recollection of the 2013 Bedlam game is here.
Oklahoma didn’t win the Big 12 in 2013, but it denied Oklahoma State the ability to claim a second crown in three seasons. OU might be bereft of a Big 12 championship since 2010, but the Sooners still make enough statements to tell the Cowboys that history and reputation are hard to shake.
Now, in 2015, Oklahoma State is the team which needs a little more help to win the league. The Cowboys need TCU to help them out against Baylor on Friday. If that part of the puzzle falls into place, Bedlam becomes a clear-cut, winner-take-all throwdown for the Big 12 and a possible spot in the College Football Playoff.
The 2011 season might be an arbitrary point in time, but it does mark the beginning of the new 10-team Big 12 in its post-championship-game era. In that era, the Bedlam series is tied, 1-1, in meetings with championship implications.
This is the rubber match.
Anyone ready for some Bedlam, a Saturday night party?
That Bedlam doesn’t even refer to the College Football Playoff race, either — there’s more than enough chaos for these two in-state rivals, which have taken their feud to another level this decade.