11-22-07 - A loss last week knocked Oklahoma out of the national title picture. It may end up costing the Sooners a shot at the Big 12 championship as well.
Injuries to its top rusher and quarterback leave 10th-ranked Oklahoma in a precarious position heading into Saturday's Bedlam game in Norman, with Oklahoma State possibly having a chance to keep its archrival out of the conference title game.
"It's the in-state rivalry. You see the TV commercials all week, everything's based around Bedlam," Cowboys defensive end Nathan Peterson said. "It's what everyone looks for."
The Sooners (9-2, 5-2) were looking to wrap up the South Division and a trip to the Big 12 title game last Saturday, but were upset 34-27 by a Texas Tech team which had lost three of four games.
"We didn't have anything chalked up," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "Just because you guys are all talking about it and writing about it doesn't mean it's that simple as you like to put it. It's not easy to put it all together, and we obviously didn't."
Oklahoma was ranked No. 3 in the AP poll and fourth in the BCS standings, but now the team could be left out of the Bowl Championship Series altogether with a loss Saturday. An automatic berth goes to the Big 12 champion.
The Sooners will know just how much is riding on this game before it even starts.
If Texas loses to Texas A&M on Friday, that would send Oklahoma to the league title game at San Antonio's Alamodome on Dec. 1. Though a Longhorns loss and a Sooners loss would leave them tied with the Cowboys (6-5, 4-3) for the division title, Oklahoma would represent the South against the Big 12 North champion due to tiebreaker scenarios.
"You've got to find a way to win this game. That's all you're concerned about," Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "You still have a chance to be the Big 12 South winner and champion, and get into the Big 12 championship. Everything that you stand for as a coach is on the line this week."
Oklahoma leading rusher DeMarco Murray dislocated a kneecap trying to recover an onside kick last week, and will be forced to miss this game. Quarterback Sam Bradford sustained a concussion in the loss and his status for Saturday remains uncertain.
Murray has rushed for 764 yards and 13 touchdowns, though his loss also hurts the Sooners' special teams because he's returned two kickoffs for scores. His 15 total TDs ties Adrian Peterson's school record for a freshman.
Oklahoma tailbacks Allen Patrick and Chris Brown take over the workload - each has five touchdowns and more than 100 carries this season - and should be confident going against the Cowboys. Both starred in last year's 27-21 Bedlam win in Stillwater, with Patrick rushing for 163 yards and a touchdown while Brown added 74 yards and two scores.
That, in part, would make the absence of Bradford much more significant than Murray. He is the nation's highest-rated passer (179.4), having completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,520 yards with 28 TDs and six interceptions.
Bradford attempted only three passes last week before having to leave the game. The Sooners are 9-0 this season when he has at least 20 pass attempts.
"They have a great amount of depth and talent, so I don't think it'll be too much of a drop-off," said Nathan Peterson, who leads the Cowboys with six sacks. "Plus, the fact that it's Bedlam, you know everyone's going to play their best game."
It seems likely junior Joey Halzle would start if Bradford can't after coming off the bench last week to go 21-of-41 for 291 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Halzle had only 10 career pass attempts before last week.
"I felt even on the sideline and his whole attitude over the whole situation the other week was positive in how he handled it all," Stoops said.
The good news for whoever ends up under center for Oklahoma is that the Cowboys are last in the Big 12 against the pass, allowing 303.1 yards per game. Oklahoma State is 10th in the league in total defense, giving up an average of 443.0 yards.
However, the Cowboys defense has played well on the road in Big 12 action, giving up an average of 17.3 points and 337.3 total yards while winning two of three games.
The most recent of those victories came last Saturday, 45-14 over Baylor, though that came against the only Big 12 team without a conference win.
Dantrell Savage had his eighth straight 100-yard rushing game, with 109 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He's the Big 12's second-leading rusher at 118.2 yards per game.
Quarterback Zac Robinson added a career-high 144 rushing yards on 17 carries, but also threw for two touchdowns and more than 200 yards for a third straight game.
Savage and Robinson lead the conference's top rushing attack, averaging 250.5 yards per game, but that unit now faces the Big 12's best run defense. Oklahoma surrenders an average of 82.0 rushing yards.
The Sooners have won the last four meetings - the two in Norman were decided by a combined 71 points - after Oklahoma State pulled off upsets in 2001 and 2002.
The Cowboys were 6-5, just as they are now, before their most recent win in the series and that came against a third-ranked Sooners team.
"Just always a big-time game, no matter if the teams are having a down year or both teams are playing great," Robinson said. "Anything can happen in the game."