"Everybody's aware that when you're in-state and you're playing a school some people out there think you should be better than every year, and you should win, and it fires that school up more," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy, "then you put yourself at risk.
"So therefore to not speak to that wouldn't be very good. But there's a long list of reasons to play the game."
One of those reasons: a 2-for-1 home game arrangement tilted toward Boone Pickens Stadium; a deal-maker for OSU, a deal-breaker for TU under its previous regimes.
The Golden Hurricane may go 2-for-1 with Oklahoma, but they've perceived themselves, faulty or not, on more equal footing with OSU.
This time, TU went for the 2-for-1 proposition, along with the four matchups in basketball - two at Gallagher-Iba Arena, one at the Reynolds Center and one at the BOK Center.
"That complete package made sense to us," Cunningham said.
Under coach Todd Graham, Tulsa craves a win over a BCS conference foe, looking for a status upgrade.
"I have said it over and over that what we want to do, as a program, is to take steps forward," Graham said. "To do that we need to beat a BCS team. And we haven't done that."
There's also the appeal, as the perceived little brother in the state, of taking on the big boys from the Big 12.
"Our guys want to play Oklahoma State," Graham said. "They want to play against Oklahoma. You have to schedule (the right opponents) to be successful. And we also have to take into consideration the games that our fans want to see us play.
"I think this is a game that is definitely important. I don't think it's an option not to play them."
That bodes well for the future, even if it's a more distant future.
After this three-game series with the Cowboys, Tulsa moves on to another three-game set with OU. While the Golden Hurricane don't shy from the competition, there is a limit to how much they'll take on in any given year.
Still, the lines of communication are again open.
"I think that we have a great relationship," Cunningham said. "We play in an awful lot of sports other than football and basketball. And I think it's all been positive.
"Now we have to figure out long-term what's best for our football and basketball programs."
MORE FROM NEWSOK
The third game of the current OSU-Tulsa agreement - set for 2012 at Boone Pickens Stadium - appears headed for a later year.
Recent conference realignments are creating headaches for non-conference scheduling. Big 12 schools that have scheduled ahead could face canceling or postponing non-conference games as their league schedules increase from eight to nine games. Most schools are also trying to maintain a minimum of six, seven, even eight home games, complicated in the Big 12 by an alternating schedule that will feature just four conference home games every other year.
That's an issue for the Cowboys, who have four non-conference games set for 2012 and would like to shift the TU matchup to a year when another home date is needed. OSU visits TU next fall.
"It's so complicated," said OSU associate athletic director Dave Martin, who handles football and basketball scheduling.
Scheduling has become even more of a match game, created by the imbalance in league games.
Martin is trying to move next season's Central Arkansas game, as well as a 2012 date with Rice.
He's already seen a home-and-home series with Purdue canceled when the two teams couldn't match their newly created openings. And North Carolina State has bailed on a two-game deal scheduled for 2015 and 2016.
"When you're playing nine conference games," Martin said, "it's not going to be as easy to do these home-and-home deals. It's not that you can't get them, it has to fall right."
The Cowboys do have several future series in place with Arizona, Air Force, South Alabama and Texas-San Antonio.
OSU-TULSA: SERIES SPECIFICS
Overall: Cowboys lead 37-27-5. (OSU has it 38-27-5, but the 1922 game was mutually cancelled due a protest over two TU players)
Streak: OSU has won three straight - 2004, 2000 and 1999.
Last time: The Cowboys won 38-21 in Stillwater in 2004 behind Vernand Morency's 184 rushing yards and a Darrent Williams punt return for a touchdown.
Last TU win: The Golden Hurricane won 35-20 at home in 1998 as quarterback John Fitzgerald tossed three touchdown passes and the TU defense shut out OSU through most of three quarters.
Last TU win in Stillwater: 1951, 35-7.
What a rush: Barry Sanders owns the series single-game rushing record with a 304-yard performance in a 56-35 win in 1988.
Passing fancy: Tulsa's Jerry Rhome passed for 488 yards and four TDs in a 64-14 rout in 1964, the best passing day in series history.
Comeback kids: Tulsa trailed 23-3 with 8:14 remaining in 1995, but rallied to win 24-23 with three late touchdowns, including the game-winner with 16 seconds left.