STILLWATER — Beat Oklahoma, and the spoils are many for Oklahoma State.
Bedlam bragging rights.
Big 12 championship.
A trip to a BCS bowl.
But which one?
The widely held assumption is the Cowboys are playing for a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, the destination for the Big 12 champ, but do they have a chance to get into the national championship game? Do they have a shot at the Big Bowl if they beat the Sooners?
Is there a chance OSU can leap Alabama and snag that No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings?
But it's a razor-thin chance that comes down to the whims of the voters.
The computers rankings have loved the Cowboys throughout the season, and even after that loss at Iowa State, the machines are still giving OSU serious respect. Two of the six computer rankings have OSU second while the others rank the Cowboys third.
If OSU wins Bedlam and scores a victory over the team that has the fifth-highest average among the computer rankings, the Cowboys' computer average will rise. It will likely surpass the Crimson Tide's, which only holds a slight edge on the Cowboys in the computer rankings.
That means the human polls will decide what happens.
And right now, there's a lot of guesswork in what the humans will do with the Cowboys.
A straw poll of 10 media members who have votes in the Harris Poll revealed a wide disparity on where OSU ranks. The Cowboys are as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 7 on their ballots.
Right now, the voters who rank OSU behind Stanford, Virginia Tech, Houston or Boise State have created a huge statistical advantage in the BCS rankings for Alabama. The Crimson Tide leads by more than .1000 in the two human polls — Harris and USA Today — and in the BCS formula, that's a huge gap.
To close it, OSU would need to be third or better on just about every ballot. Overall points earned in the human polls, after all, matter in the BCS formula.
All of this math making your head spin?
Think about it this way — Alabama earned 2,756 points in the Harris Poll, where each first-place vote counts 25 points, each second-place vote counts 24 points and so on. That point total gives the Crimson Tide a percentage of .9586. OSU earned 2,414 points, giving the Cowboys a percentage of .8397.
Those numbers play into their overall percentages where Alabama holds a .9551-to-.8712 lead.
Simply, the Cowboys must move up in the human polls to overtake the Crimson Tide.
What would it take for voters to do that?
“I can see moving OSU as high as No. 3 with an impressive victory over Oklahoma,” said Tom Luicci, a Harris voter from the Newark (N.J) Star-Ledger who currently ranks the Cowboys fifth. “But I'm not sure the Cowboys can crack the top two. LSU and Alabama, in my opinion, are clearly the best two teams in the country, regardless of what happens in the SEC championship game.”
Eric Bailey, who writes for the Tulsa World and ranks OSU third, said, “I would strongly consider moving OSU if it can beat Oklahoma in impressive fashion. What do I mean by impressive? Just 60 minutes of solid football on both sides of the ball.”
Winning Bedlam, it seems, might not be enough to vault the Cowboys in the human polls.
Style points are important.
“A convincing victory over Oklahoma would be huge,” said George Schroeder, one of our former colleagues here at The Oklahoman who is now a columnist for the Eugene (Ore.) Register Guard. “I like Oklahoma State's resume. I don't like the loss at Iowa State.
“I think Alabama's really, really good, but the Tide hasn't played quite the same schedule this year as most years.”
That, my friends, could be the thing that helps OSU. The Cowboys have beaten a bunch of solid teams. The Crimson Tide has not.
The SEC is down this year. Yes, it has three of the best teams in the country. Sure, it has won the past five national championships. But the depth of talent isn't there. Teams that were once lions — Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Auburn — are now more like lambs.
Consider these resumes of one-loss teams.
Team A has five wins against teams that rank in the top 20 of the Sagarin rankings, one of the computer formulas used by the BCS, and its opponents' winning percentage is 59.0.
Team B has two wins against top-20 teams, and its opponents' winning percentage is 59.2.
Who would you say should be playing LSU in the national championship game?
Team A is OSU.
Team B is Alabama.
Those statistics were featured in a blind-comparison poll done by CBSSports.com, and by Monday evening, the Cowboys held 78 percent of the vote.
Those big-time wins are what the Cowboys have to hope voters will consider.
There's no denying that OSU's loss to Iowa State was bad. It was much worse than Alabama's loss to LSU. But the Cowboys' resume of wins is much better than Alabama's.
“It's so easy to overlook the victories that a team puts together when it has one bad loss,” Bailey said. “OSU has some very good wins, but unfortunately, that one bad loss to Iowa State — especially late in the season — is lingering on the minds of many.
“It's been like that for years in college football polls.”
That's why OSU's chance of snagging that No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings is so slim. Voters may despise the idea of an LSU-Alabama rematch. They may like all those big-time wins by OSU, a list that could grow by one on Saturday night. They may realize that OSU suffered its only loss on one of the darkest days in the university's history.
But all of us tend to put more emphasis on more recent events. We remember them more clearly. We value them more heavily.
BCS voters are no different. That means a late-season loss to an inferior opponent, no matter the circumstances, is big trouble.
Could the Cowboys be bound for the bayou instead of destined for the desert?
It'll be tough — they're battling not only the Sooners but also human nature.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
The Harris Poll comprises a third of the BCS rankings. Here's what some voters had to say about Oklahoma State as they prepare to cast their final ballots after this weekend's games:
Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune and Laramie Boomerang
“The loss to Iowa State is why I have them (ranked seventh). A win over Oklahoma would certainly prompt me to move them up. For me, it is both who a team beats and who it loses to. As the season comes to a close, timing of wins and losses — and in my case, losses — has a lot to do with my rankings.”
Tom Luicci, Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger
“After LSU and Alabama, I think there's a significant drop, so it's splitting hairs with Stanford, Boise and Oklahoma State. The one thing Stanford and Boise have that separate them just a bit from OSU are signature wins — Stanford over USC, Boise over Georgia. I suppose OSU's signature win at this point is K-State, and we know that was a back-and-forth game that could have gone either way and was in Stillwater. Stanford and Boise both posted their signature wins on the road, too.”
Denny O'Brien, Bonesville.net
“I have Oklahoma State third behind Alabama primarily because of the quality of the two schools' losses. Alabama has the better loss — to No. 1 LSU by a field goal. Iowa State isn't exactly the pushover it once was, but that's a game OSU should have won, especially considering it was up 24-7 at one point. I realize it was on the road and amid tragic news, but it's still a game the Cowboys should have easily won.”
Mike Prater, Idaho Statesman
“The Cowboys have the most to gain this weekend. A win over Oklahoma, and they'll move more than anyone else in my top 10 (where they are now ranked No. 6).”
Drew Champlin, Dothan (Ala.) Eagle
“When it comes down to it, I think any team — even Alabama — can't complain much if they have a loss. Win the games. OSU losing to ISU would be like Alabama or LSU going to Mississippi State this year and losing, and that didn't happen.”
Mike Kern, Philadelphia Daily News
“I have OSU fourth because Stanford's lost once in its last 20 games, and that loss was to a pretty good team. If OSU beats OU, I might consider moving them up. I try to look at a body of work.”
Compiled by Jenni Carlson