STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – For the second straight year, No. 11 Oklahoma State heads into its regular-season finale against its in-state rival, No. 7 Oklahoma, with a chance to claim the Big 12 title.
Last year, Oklahoma State was missing several key starters because of injuries, with quarterback Mason Rudolph hardly playing, and wound up losing 58-23 on its home field. Oklahoma claimed the Big 12 championship and advanced to the College Football Playoff.
This time, coming off their most complete performance of the season, a 31-6 win over TCU on Nov. 19, followed by a bye week, the Cowboys (9-2, 7-1 Big 12, No. 10 CFP) are well-rested and determined to finish the job Saturday at Oklahoma (9-2, 8-0, No. 7 CFP).
“We’re a healthier football team now, not only physically but mentally,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “We were a little bit beat up at this time last season. These guys, hopefully, we’ve instilled in them the importance of whether you have a tough loss or a big win, you have to continue to move forward. I think the biggest factor is we’re healthy and we’re in a position to practice at the pace that we need to practice in order to play at a high level.”
For the players, knowing that the Big 12 title is on the line brings out different mental approaches. One is to ignore the consequences of the result and just go out and play.
“We just look at it as any other game, try not to get too caught up in the hype or the emotions of it,” said senior running back Chris Carson, who rushed 17 times for 146 yards and a touchdown against TCU. “But this is great, playing for a Big 12 championship for the second year and hopefully looking for different results this year.”
Another mindset is to embrace the importance of the game and enjoy the high-stakes aspect of it.
“This is what you want as a senior, to be in a game with the Big 12 championship on the line,” said tight end/fullback hybrid Blake Jarwin, who has 16 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown this season. “It’s a new opportunity to go and maybe get a Big 12 championship. I’m excited to go out there.”
As painful as it was seeing the Sooners celebrate on their field last season, the Oklahoma State players point out that the motivation to win is not really about returning the favor.
“It’s not really a revenge factor, it’s done, but it’s really more of a learning experience,” junior linebacker Chad Whitener said. “Watching film from last year, really going back and studying, seeing what they did right and what we did wrong.”
“Not necessarily revenge, but we know that we lost it last year, and we want to win,” added Carson, who gained 38 yards on seven carries in last season’s showdown. “That’s just the motivation — it doesn’t matter who we play, we just want to win the Big 12 championship.”
Saturday’s game between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma marks the sixth time in the last nine seasons that the annual matchup known as Bedlam will determine the Big 12 champion.
Besides last year’s game, a 33-24 Oklahoma win in 2013 prevented Oklahoma State from claiming the title and allowed Baylor to emerge as champion. In 2011, Oklahoma State defeated the Sooners 44-10 to win its only Big 12 championship and deny OU a share of the title.
In 2010, Oklahoma’s 47-41 victory prevented the Cowboys from advancing to the Big 12 championship game, and in 2008, OU’s 61-41 win enabled it to advance to the Big 12 title game.
Gundy is proud that the annual in-state battle between the rivals has become such an important game on the national college football landscape.
“You have schools that are having fantastic seasons, have very exciting players, and give the state a lot to think about,” Gundy said. “We have 4 million people here in the state and it’s a big game. When they put up the college football standings and you have Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the top 10, that’s a tremendous financial advantage, marketing, for both universities in the state of Oklahoma.”
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