Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys

Bedlam Roundtable Discussion | Is it REALLY a rivalry? Why Each Team Will Win, X-Factors, and Winning Strategies

Zachary Low

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Bedlam Football is upon us, and with the game comes plenty of storied history, trash talk, and all-around fun. Our staff at Heartland Sports is made up of a mixed bag of Sooner and Cowboy fans, so we answered a few questions ahead of the game on Saturday. Let us know what you think, and enjoy!


Q: Be honest—the Sooners hold an overwhelming 89-18-7 advantage over the Cowboys in the series, so is Bedlam football REALLY a rivalry?

Matt: Yeah, it’s a rivalry. Not a good one, but a rivalry nonetheless. I’m confident if you poll Oklahoma fans over who the biggest rival is, then the overwhelming majority are going to mention the burnt orange squad down south rather than the halloween orange squad up north.

However, if you poll Oklahoma State fans, you’ll probably get the Sooners as the team they hate losing to the most. It’s all a matter of perspective. One team views the game as a bit more prestigious than the other, but both see it as a rivalry in one aspect or another.

I will say this though, Oklahoma State’s competitiveness over the last decade has added a lot more shine to Bedlam, and that’s good for both schools.

Rich: It depends on which side of the equation you approach the question from. Looking at it from the perspective of a Sooners fan, it’s easy to say no, given the stats. Why? The real measuring stick of success each year has been the Red River Rivalry — a game that typically holds national implications. In addition, the Texas Longhorns are easily the most hated team of those dawning crimson and cream.

Zack: Absolutely. To me, a rivalry isn’t just the overall standings or results of the game. Far too often people want to look at the postgame effects of the matchup, but if you pay attention to the pregame implications, then it makes a lot more sense from both sides.

Oklahoma State obviously views the game as a rivalry because for decades now, the Cowboys have been referred to as “little brother,” and whether they win or not, Sooners will always cite the overall record.

Sooners view the game as a rivalry, whether they want to admit it or not, and it’s obvious because of how much they care about it. If Oklahoma didn’t care about Bedlam football, they wouldn’t go out of their way to cite every statistic under the sun that proves they’ve historically been the better team.

Craig: Of course it’s a rivalry! It might not be the Sooners’ top rivalry, but it still stands as one of the biggest games of the season. Oklahoma State has made the game a lot more competitive in recent years, which adds to the rivalry even more. There was a time growing up where I never had to worry about the outcome of Bedlam. Now, it seems like it’s anyone’s game.

Mark:  It is absolutely a rivalry! Because it is a rivalry, I believe the Sooners prepare and get ready for it so the Cowboys rarely sneak up on them. It is even more of a rivalry considering one side is full of blue chip recruits. This is a proximity rivalry, and these two teams have been the best programs in the conference for the last 10 seasons. Just because they are mostly won by one side does not meant that there have not been classics won on both sides especially the past 20 seasons. I think we are geared up for another this season!

Oklahoma will win Bedlam because…

Matt: Because the Sooners will win the battle up front. Both teams have really good defensive lines. They both have a slew of offensive weapons, as well. Only one is crippled on the offensive line, though, and that’s Oklahoma State. Mike Gundy has even described his offensive line as a “musical chairs” type situation and with OU hitting on all cylinders on the defensive front, you can’t help but think this is a major advantage for the Sooners.

Rich: On the surface, it would appear as though the Oklahoma Sooners are playing the best football in the league. During the current win streak, the offense has only been held under 50 points once. Over the same duration, the defense has surrendered 24 points per game. It’s clearly a recipe for success, but it’s not the reason OU will win this contest.

Instead, the defining quality of the program has been time of possession. It’s an indicator that the defense is producing at a high level while the offense continues to be efficient. Over the course of the season, the Sooners have only lost the time of possession battle once — against the Kansas Jayhawks. The ability to control the clock will ultimately limit the likes of Spencer Sanders, a healthy Chuba Hubbard, and Tylan Wallace. Keeping the trio on the sideline will likely be a bigger deal than most will make of it, though.

Zack: History. As already state, the Sooners own the all-time record, and in a toss-up year like this one, the Sooners get an edge because of history. Mike Gundy has a tendency to play scared in this game, and he absolutely cannot afford to do so. Meanwhile, the Sooners enter this weekend with a ton of momentum from the last few weeks.

Craig: Oklahoma will win Bedlam because of their advantage on the defensive line. The Sooners have been dominating up front on defense, and the Cowboys can’t seem to stay healthy. If this game turns into a shootout, it will be the Oklahoma defense that eventually comes up with a big stop.

Mark: The Sooners are going to win because they are able to protect Rattler and keep the Cowboy defense off balance with an effective run game. The defense is able to keep pressure on Spencer Sanders and force turnovers.

Oklahoma State will win Bedlam because…

Matt: Because they are more physical. Oklahoma is hitting its stride, but the last four games haven’t necessarily been against top-tier talent. I’m very curious to see how they will respond to the physicality of Oklahoma State’s defense. OU has lost to the two most physical teams they’ve played this season. Kansas State and Iowa State just wore them down, and OSU is going to bring that same kind of heat.

Rich: The experienced defense has not surrendered a 200+ yard performance through the air to any quarterback outside of Jarrett Doege and West Virginia. That’s an impressive feat here in the Big 12 Conference. Possessing the ability to make an offense one dimensional is the reason why OSU will win Bedlam.

Zack: Consistency. Oklahoma State has been consistent: consistently good on defense and consistently mediocre on offense. Aside from the Texas game, no opponent has been able to score more than 21 points on the Cowboys, and the Texas game was a bit of a fluke. The Longhorns put up 41 points, but 4 Oklahoma State turnovers helped Texas to more than half of those points. The Cowboys best shot at winning this game is by being good enough on offense and continuing to be great on defense.

Craig: Oklahoma State will win Bedlam because of their experience. Yes, they have a young quarterback, but he’s still older than Spencer Rattler. Especially in rivalries, experience can play a huge factor. They have a lot of experience at the running back and wide receiver positions. Not to mention on the other side of the ball they have Amen Ogbongbemiga and Kolby Harvell-Peel who might pose a threat to freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler. 

Mark: If the Cowboys protect the football and force turnovers, they will win. Tylan Wallace and company have to get open and make choices easy for Sanders. Chuba and LD will need to be effective, and the Cowboys will control the clock. Most importantly, the defense plays like it has all season. I believe these will be the elements of a Cowboy win.

The X-factor for the Sooners in this game will be….

Matt: Rhamondre Stevenson. I definitely believe he’s a difference maker for Oklahoma’s offense, and this will be a huge test of that. I wrote earlier this week that Lincoln Riley has a road map for beating Oklahoma State, and Stevenson is the key to that. His presence just gives the defense so much to be concerned with and opens up a favorable chess match for Riley.

Rich: Turnovers! Time and time again, Alex Grinch has mentioned the floodgates opening for the defense in terms of forced turnovers. After collecting two in the first three contests, the group posted eight over the four most recent games. That’s an average of two each outing, which gives this defense confidence and an edge.

Zack: Spencer Rattler. In the Sooners 2 losses, they faltered down the stretch, and a lot of that pressure falls on the defense, but it’s typically up to the quarterback to settle the team. If Oklahoma trails at all, or even if they hold a lead, it will be up to Rattler to lead the troops to victory.

Craig: Rhamondre Stevenson will be the X factor for Oklahoma. He has completely revitalized the running game for the Sooners since returning a few weeks ago. If OU can get a big day out of this guy they should be able to control the pace of this game.

Mark:  Rhamondre Stevenson is the X factor for the Sooners. If he is effective in the running game I think it will be a long day for the Cowboys.

The X-factor for the Cowboys in this game will be….

Matt: Tylan Wallace! I have a lot of confidence in Oklahoma’s defensive front going up against an extremely banged up Oklahoma State offensive line. That said, I’m extremely worried about Tylan Wallace breaking free in the Sooner secondary. Yes, OU is playing better on the backend of the defense, but you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not full of confidence in the secondary just yet. 

Rich: Undoubtedly, it is the linebacker position for the Cowboys. Over the past several games, the play at the position continues to elevate itself to a level worthy of the preseason watchlists, which specifically named Ogbongbemiga and Rodriguez. Those two will clean up the rushing attack of the Sooners while allowing the defensive front to swarm around an inexperienced quarterback. A defense making plays in the backfield has given Oklahoma a bit of trouble in physical contests like this one is expected to be.

Zack: Spencer Sanders. The jury is still undecided on Sanders as QB1 for the Cowboys, and while he’s still my pick at the position, he’s going to have to do a lot if he wants to lead Oklahoma State to their first Bedlam football win since 2014. The key for Sanders is really just ball security. He cannot hold on to the ball for too long, as he will likely not have a ton of time in the backfield. If he can take care of the ball and make good decisions, I feel really good about Oklahoma State’s chances.

Craig: Spencer Sanders will be the X-factor for Oklahoma State. He has battled through injuries this season, but the Cowboys will need a big day from him to win Bedlam. Accounting for only 6 total touchdowns this season, OSU might need that many from him on Saturday to come out with the victory.

Mark: Trace Ford has to be a disrupting force in both the run and passing games. He is also who I think will be the best player on this team when it is all said and done.

Q: If you’re Lincoln Riley, what’s your primary focus for winning Bedlam?

Matt: Pressure! Pressure the OSU safeties to make a decision about run support in the first second of the play. Pressure Spencer Sanders to get rid of the ball quickly and not go through his progressions. I think they’ll want to pressure him up the middle and work to contain with the defensive ends. A Bedlam victory for Oklahoma will be tied in to how much pressure the Sooners can bring on both sides of the ball.

Rich:  Finishing. In the beginning of the season, the Sooners lacked the ability to close out games, which resulted in a pair of losses. However, the tides began to change during the Red River Rivalry. With two easy wins and a week off before Bedlam, it will be interesting to see if this mindset continues, or if Oklahoma regresses to its former self. Needless to say, it’s going to be the biggest focus for the team if I’m Lincoln Riley.

Zack: Get into the backfield. The Sooners could turn this one into a blowout if they can get heavy pressure on Spencer Sanders early and force him into making mistakes. If Oklahoma cannot get their hands on Sanders, there’s no telling what could happen, so that must be the main strategy for the Sooners.

Craig: Lincoln Riley should focus on controlling the tempo of this game. The Sooners have been improving defensively each week, but they’ve got a tough task defending Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace. The offense has to move at a pace that allows the defense to have plenty of rest and time for adjustments. 

Mark: Keeping Spencer Rattler comfortable and in rhythm.

Q: If you’re Mike Gundy, what’s your primary focus for winning Bedlam?

Matt: If I’m Mike Gundy, then my focus is on moving Spencer Sanders. He’s already mobile, and getting him out of the pocket will make him extremely more effective. I would look for a lot of play-action and designed rollouts in an effort to free up more time for Sanders to find his downfield targets.

Rich: If I’m in Mike Gundy’s shoes, the focus would most certainly be on creativity in the backfield. It’s no secret that the offensive line has experienced attrition and injury, which has led to a downturn in terms of performance. In order to combat the struggles in the trenches, the coach must get Spencer Sanders comfortable while utilizing the talents of Chuba Hubbard. It’s not as easily done as it is said, but it’s a must going against the OU front seven.

Zack: Put the pressure on the Sooners. Mike Gundy has been criticized year after year for being too conservative in the Bedlam game, and he absolutely cannot afford that this season. I’m not saying call a trick play every other down or go for it on every single 4th down, but Gundy can’t just sit back and let Lincoln Riley take it straight to him for yet another year. Only a gambler truly wins big, and while you sometimes lose, you sometimes win, and this seems like the kind of season that Gundy is probably going to have to gamble at least a little if he wants to give Oklahoma State the win.

Craig: Mike Gundy is one of the best college football coaches in the nation. But for some reason he can’t seem to overcome the Sooners. He’s got to let it all out on the line Saturday. This one is for all the marbles, and there is no time to hold anything back.

Mark: Grip it and rip it. Play to win the game. Stop playing not to lose. If Mike Gundy gets into a shell and plays super conservatively, this game will be over quick. 

Be sure to follow @SportsHeartland and @HeartlandPokes on Twitter for Game Day updates and discussion.

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