The 117-year history of Bedlam has not had many installments approaching the mutual significance of the 2021 edition.
Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State come into the rivalry series with Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff aspirations, as well as the same record (10-1 overall, 7-1 in conference play). And while the 2017 edition had similarly high stakes at the time, the odd scheduling in early November ultimately rendered it far less consequential than this year's meeting.
The circumstances that lead us to Stillwater now are downright serendipitous. Oklahoma has become a mainstay in the playoff conversation — so much so that in a season like this, when the Sooners have been comparatively unimpressive by their own standards, they're still two wins away from crashing the final four yet again.
Oklahoma State's arrival at this juncture of the season is unexpected and has arguably been overlooked to this point. With wins in Bedlam and the Big 12 Championship Game, however, there's no downplaying the Cowboys' worthiness for a berth in the national semifinals.
No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 7 Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma State -4
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
For all the questions about Oklahoma's offense in 2021 amid quarterback controversy, the Sooners still rank in the nation's top 10 at 38.9 points per game. Still, they've trended in the wrong direction over the past two weeks.
Caleb Williams' Heisman Trophy candidacy ended as abruptly as it began, the result of Oklahoma scoring just 42 combined points against Baylor and Iowa State. Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley attributed 9-of-18 and 8-of-18 passing performances, with just one touchdown through the air and three combined interceptions, to the quarterback playing overly patiently.
Although Spencer Rattler took snaps against both the Bears and Cyclones, and on Oct. 30 against Texas Tech saw his first duty since his benching Oct. 9 against Texas, it remains Williams' show. He must avoid waiting too long for passing opportunities to develop and show off more of his mobility against an Oklahoma State defense that leads the nation in sacks.
The Cowboys bring consistent heat en route to FBS-leading totals of 42 sacks and 93 tackles for a loss. What makes them dangerous is the multi-faceted approach. Four Cowboys — Collin Oliver, Brock Martin, Devin Harper, and Tyler Lacy — account for between 3.5 and 6.5 of the team's sacks.
Oklahoma came into 2021 with an inexperienced front five, and the unit's youth has shown up at times throughout the campaign. In the loss to Baylor, the Sooners gave up five sacks. The Bears' success getting into the backfield was in part a byproduct of its ability to bottle up the run.
OU averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in the loss. Establishing Kennedy Brooks early this time around will be a must for the Sooners to give Williams some breathing room to operate. Williams can help his own case by running the ball effectively early on, too.
When Oklahoma State Has the Ball
Oklahoma State teams of years past leaned on potent offenses to light up the scoreboard and try winning track meets in Big 12 play. This Cowboys squad has succeeded in complementing its overwhelming defense with efficiency and ball control.
Spencer Sanders' passing numbers are unimpressive: 16 touchdowns against five interceptions, 1,997 passing yards, a 60.0 percent completion rate. His mobility is an asset, but not necessarily game-changing.
His running ability does contribute to Oklahoma State's multi-dimensional look, which produces almost 200 rushing yards per game. Jaylen Warren isn't putting up Heisman-caliber numbers like predecessor Chuba Hubbard, but he's eclipsed 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
Dominic Richardson provides an effective change-of-pace option. Operating behind a stout offensive line, Oklahoma State dominates possession for nearly 32 minutes per game.
The Oklahoma rush defense has been great for the most part, in particular last week against Iowa State when it allowed just 51 yards. The Sooners rebounded from a porous performance against Baylor, a showing that compounded their woes on the offensive end.
Oklahoma's offensive production has a direct correlation with its defense in Bedlam; scoring points is vital to keeping the Cowboys from squeezing the Sooners over the course of the game.
It's been 10 years since Oklahoma State's snub from the BCS Championship Game contributed to the formation of a playoff. The Cowboys finding themselves back in the title hunt, and presumably having a more fair shake at reaching the title game, shapes this high-stakes edition of Bedlam.
Oklahoma's record belies the inconsistency of the Sooners' play in 2021. And yet, here they are in the familiar spot of playing for a conference championship. Riley is well-schooled in these big moments, as is his staff. That experience on the sideline needs to translate onto the field to give Oklahoma a shot at returning to the Big 12 Championship Game.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 30, Oklahoma 24
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