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Oklahoma State football: Bears, Cowboys form Big 12's new world order

OSU plays Baylor on Saturday night in a de facto Big 12 championship game. That's a scenario few could have envisioned 10 years ago.
By Gina Mizell Modified: November 20, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: November 19, 2013

— Once upon a time, Oklahoma State looked to Baylor for its one guaranteed Big 12 win.

That 16-13 Bedlam season of 2001? The Cowboys' only other conference victory came against the Bears, who went winless in Big 12 play.

Even more recently, a loss to Baylor marked the most embarrassing low point of Mike Gundy's first season in Stillwater.

In that 44-34 defeat in 2005, the Cowboys turned the ball over eight times — and subsequently knocked themselves out of bowl contention — against a Bear squad that entered the contest with just one Big 12 win.

Yet here we are, in a college football world that time travelers from a decade ago would call an alternate universe.

OSU and Baylor are both ranked in the top 10 in the BCS standings in mid-November and regarded as two of the nation's newest blueblood programs. College football's most electrifying offense resides in Waco. The Cowboys were decimal points away from playing for the national title two years ago, while the Bears are very much in the championship hunt as we head down this season's final stretch.

And OSU and Baylor will play in a de facto Big 12 title game Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium in a contest that has lured ESPN's “College GameDay” to Stillwater and will be broadcast to a prime-time national television audience.

“Art Briles, what he's done with that program is like what Coach (Mike) Gundy has done here,” said OSU safety Zack Craig, who grew up following Baylor because of one sister who played softball and another who ran track at the school. “He's changed the whole atmosphere, the whole perception of Baylor.

“Whatever he's done, it's worked, and he's got the guys playing hard for him.”

Craig is right. The how-the-heck-did-we-get-here journeys for OSU and Baylor share many similarities.

Both schools brought in native sons to lead their programs, coaches with the right personality fit and a familiarity with the area culture. Both committed to upgrading facilities and became poster programs for the Nike uniform craze. Both have tapped into a rich talent pool in Texas.

And though Baylor especially had a long way to climb — the Bears won just 14 Big 12 games during their first 14 years in the conference — some current OSU veterans saw the early stages of the Bears' surge.

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