NORMAN – Bedlam football is better than it's ever been.
Better than in the horse-and-buggy days of 1904, when the game was played in Guthrie and players chased an errant kick into the frigid waters of Cottonwood Creek.
Better than in the dusty history book days of Bennie Owen or Pappy Waldorf.
Certainly better than the days of Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, who coached a combined 33 Bedlams and lost exactly one.
Better even than when Les Miles refused to bow to the Sooners and produced back-to-back upsets in the early part of this century.
Bedlam football is better these days because it's relevant.
Relevant regionally. Relevant nationally.
The last two Bedlams have been marble games – the Big 12 South title on the line in 2010, the Big 12 title itself in 2011.
“Things only become rivalries when you make them competitive for a championship,” said OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “For years, Michigan-Ohio State meant a lot because it was considered the Big Ten championship. Same thing for years with Florida and Tennessee.”
Bedlam hasn't reached the stage of Ohio State-Michigan and isn't likely to. But OSU's ascension to the Big 12 Championship in 2011 signaled a fundamental change in this rivalry.
“That's what you want it to be, where it's competitive on both ends,” Monken said. “Obviously, they're in the same state as we are. When you have a program as successful as theirs, that's where you aspire to be.”
In-state rivalries always carry a certain amount of passion and fire. But rarely do they carry importance beyond state lines. Bedlam now does.
The Sooners and Cowboys play Saturday at Owen Field, and to the victor go these spoils: best Big 12 record over the last five years.
OSU and OU are each 30-10 in conference play since the start of the 2008 season. That's a better record than Texas (26-14), Kansas State (23-18), Texas Tech (21-20) or any of the schools that have fled the Big 12.
“Quality of the players,” is how OU quarterback Landry Jones explains it. “For the last couple of years, each of our programs has been really competitive for sure.”
Whereas once it was inconceivable for any Sooner to consider any team but Texas as OU's arch-rival, Bedlam has gained a foothold among the latest generation of Sooners.
Dusty Dvoracek, who played defensive tackle for the Sooners 2001-05, said he considers the Cowboys to be OU's primary rival, and it stems from his playing days. OSU beat OU in back-to-back years, 2001 and 2002, and Dvoracek hasn't forgotten.
Plus now, the OSU program is even better, the defending Big 12 champion, perhaps the Big 12 favorite for 2013 and still a contender to some degree in 2012.
OU retains a Big Brother status in the rivalry, but Little Brother has grown up fast. Which makes Bedlam better than it's ever been.
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.