STILLWATER – Mike Gundy has a problem. And not just the Oklahoma Elite's loss with 9-year-old Gunnar Gundy in the championship game of USSSA Baseball's World Series.
Gundy (Mike, not Gunnar) as head coach has elevated OSU football to heights greater than even when he quarterbacked the Cowboys. OSU's climb up the college football food chain has brought Gundy national acclaim, renewed by the No. 8 ranking in the coaches preseason poll.
But he's gone bust in Bedlam. Oh-for-6.
Gundy hasn't beaten the team he has to beat to get the Cowboys to the championship stage, be it Big 12 or national. OSU has to conquer the Sooners to make 2011 the historic season it could be in Cowboy Country.
Gundy missed OSU's annual fan and media day Saturday for the best of reasons (cheering on Gunnar down in Orlando), so he was spared the Bedlam questions. For now.
I know, football is supposed to be a one-game-at-a-time sport. Lose to Texas Tech and Iowa State, and it doesn't matter if you beat the Sooners. Except it does matter to a program that for too long has been trying to escape the shadow of its in-state archrival, and besides, OSU's season opener is Louisiana-Lafayette. So I think we all can agree that in August, it's OK to discuss December.
“Oklahoma's been a heck of a football team,” said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young. “Not too many people have been beating Oklahoma.”
Somewhat true. Except not that long ago, the Cowboys were winning Bedlam with some regularity. Bob Simmons went 3-3 against OU and was fired. Les Miles went 2-2 against Bob Stoops, and it helped earn him the LSU job.
But now Gundy is 0-6 in Bedlam, despite upgrading the Cowboys on every other level, from facilities to coaching staff to talent to victory total to even standings (a tie atop the Big 12 South Division last autumn).
And it's not like the Sooners have been invulnerable during those six seasons. While Gundy is winless in Bedlam, the Sooners have lost to every other Big 12 school except Baylor, Iowa State and the Kansas schools, plus non-powers UCLA, Brigham Young and Miami.
So someone is beating the Sooners. It's time the Cowboys became that someone, especially with the game at Boone Pickens Stadium for the second straight year.
“We respect the crap out of Oklahoma,” State quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “They're a tough squad. Gotta go out, treat it like any other game. Sometimes guys let it become a distraction. Last year, we did a pretty good job of not letting that happen. Play like it's just another good opponent. Do what we do. Take all the hype out of it. Go out and play ball.”
It's not like the Cowboys haven't had their chances under Gundy. Losses of 27-21 in 2006, throwing into the end zone on the game's final play; 61-41 in 2008, a game that was 44-41 midway through the final quarter; and 47-41 in 2010, a game tied at 24 after three quarters, with OU throwing touchdown passes of 86 and 76 yards in the final 183 seconds.
Spectacular entertainment and memories to last a lifetime, the Gundy Cowboys have provided. Satisfaction for a fan base that craves Bedlam success, no.
“The defense, we can't make the mistakes we made last year,” OSU safety Markelle Martin said. “We have to finish the game. We've been on top, we just haven't finished. Give credit where it's due, those guys have made plays.”
Early in Gundy's tenure, the Bedlam talent gap was vast. Now, it's been narrowed, with an OSU upgrade. Not eliminated (defensive tackle is the best place to start, even with OU's perceived weakness), but narrowed.
“The disparity between us and them, it's not near what it was,” said OSU center Grant Garner. But “you definitely have to play a clean game to beat OU.”
That didn't happen last November, when the Cowboys scored 41 for the second straight Bedlam in Stillwater, yet again went away disappointed.
“We were in position last year,” Young said. Then came those two Landry Jones home runs. The latter, “We busted the coverage,” Young said. “The previous one, I would put that one on Oklahoma. They just out-executed us. I made a bad call. They beat us one-on-one. The second play, we just didn't execute. I've replayed that play many times.”
Bedlam in Stillwater has become drama we can count on. Tight games. Wild plays. Fourth quarter showdowns.
But when the midnight hour approaches, and a play must be made, whether it's making a block or making a tackle, spearing a catch or nailing a kick, the Sooners have produced and the Cowboys have not. For the Mike Gundy Era to reach its zenith in this incredibly alluring 2011 season, that must change.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.