STILLWATER — Mike Stoops went away from the Bedlam Series after the 2003 season. Went out to coach in the desert.
He left behind an in-state rival that was making some progress. The Cowboys had beaten the Sooners twice in three years.
In Arizona, plain bad luck sent Stoops' Wildcats to the 2010 Alamo Bowl to play OSU and to Stillwater in 2011, where the Cowboys administered whippings on the UofA.
So upon returning to coordinate his brother's defense, Mike Stoops was ready for the new-reality Bedlam.
The Cowboys are playing on a level field. Facilities and resources and talent to match Big 12 heavyweights OU and Texas.
Which explains why the Cowboys are 10-point favorites Saturday to beat the Sooners and win the Big 12 for the second time in three years.
“Their coaching and their players have significantly changed over the last 10 years, that's for sure,” Stoops said. “We're always there. But now Oklahoma State's always showing up, too. They've become very significant in this conference.”
A victory Saturday sends OSU to the Fiesta Bowl for the second time in three years. The Cowboys hadn't been to a major bowl since 1945. Now they're showing signs of being regulars.
And talent is the reason. Whereas OSU once had eight to 10 really good ballplayers, now the Cowboys have 30-40. Their depth is strong. Their recruiting is enhanced.
OU still has the jump on OSU in players drafted by the NFL the last three seasons, but the Cowboys have had more all-conference players.
“Since I've been in college, their talent's been up there,” said OU senior safety Gabe Lynn. “They're not lacking there. Before I got here, you could tell, OU was so much bigger and faster than OSU. Those days have kind of changed. We've kind of evened out now.”
Just look at OSU's senior class. We ran a list in The Oklahoman the other day, 28 strong, counting non-scholarship players.
More than 20 are heavy contributors. Some are stars. Like Justin Gilbert and Clint Chelf and Daytawion Lowe and Caleb Lavey and Parker Graham and Calvin Barnett.
This is a talented, deep, experienced team. That's why the Sooners, 9-2 and still mentioned as a BCS bowl contender, find themselves double-digit underdogs Saturday.
“Our talent level's improved in the last six years,” Mike Gundy said. “We've gotten considerably better athletically.”
A few examples:
* OSU has better defensive backs than do the Sooners, notably Gilbert and Lowe.
* OSU has better receivers than do the Sooners, with some of them freshmen (Marcell Ateman, Jhajuan Seales) who look like future stars.
* OSU has a better defensive line than does OU. This is the real stunner. There haven't been five seasons since the Depression when the Cowboys had such a clear Bedlam advantage up front. But they do now.
James Castleman and Calvin Barnett “are probably two of the best we're going to play all year,” said OU center Gabe Ikard. “They control the line of scrimmage. That's set ‘em up in the back end. They're playing the best on defense since I've been here.”
OSU is not assured of winning. The Sooners are good, too.
But gone are the days when the Cowboys have to play over their heads to win. Saturday, that mission falls to the Sooners.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.