By Jenni Carlson
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State and Arizona are playing so regularly you might think they're in the same conference.
Not yet anyway.
Less than nine months after playing in the Alamo Bowl, the Cowboys and the Wildcats meet in a must-see-TV Thursday night game in Stillwater. Next fall, they're slated to play in Tucson.
By then, OSU-Arizona could be a conference game.
Conference realignment is all the rage in college football, and the talk over the weekend indicates that OSU and Bedlam brethren Oklahoma are focused solely on heading to the Pac-12. No more trying to patch up the Big 12. No more working to prop up a broken conference.
Time to head west.
Maybe such talk is premature or even in poor form only a year after the Big 12 schools agreed that they were in it for the long haul. Perhaps the Big 12 could actually be saved by adding a team or three. But Cowboy and Sooner power brokers seem skeptical.
“I don't think it'll be in existence,” OSU megabooster Boone Pickens said Saturday when asked whether the Big 12 would be around in five years. “I think this discussion's going to come up every year as long as the conference is not equal. You've got to have an equal deal like the SEC or the Big Ten. If you don't have it, it'll always be a sore spot that'll be continually discussed.”
No doubt the equality in the SEC and the Big Ten works. The thing is, the Big 12's profit-sharing structure is one of the original cornerstones of the league. It lured schools in. It brought hesitant partners together.
Changing it wouldn't be easy.
Honestly, changing conferences would be easier.
If Pickens knows anything about the Cowboys' future — here's betting that he's been clued in as much as anyone — the move would be to the Pac-12.
“You can come up with all sorts of scenarios,” he said, “but I think the likely one ... is stay in the Big 12 and add a team or go west. I think that's kind of where you are.”
If a move is in the offing, adding Arizona to the fray permanently would be grand.
OSU already has history with Wildcat coach Mike Stoops. He miffed plenty of Cowboys during his stint as Sooner defensive coordinator. That job title alone will make enemies in Stillwater, but Stoops irked folks even more in the final moments of a Bedlam beat down in 2003. He walked onto the field, glared at the Cowboy sideline and raised his arms.
“Want some more of this?” he seemed to be saying.
Think an annual meeting between his Wildcats and the Cowboys would be much fun?
Yeah, I think it'd be great, too.
And remember, if OU and OSU head to the Pac-12, there'd be an annual Stoops Bowl as well. Sooners vs. Wildcats. Bob vs. Mike.
I'm pretty sure the entire Stoops clan would hate it — Bob has refused schedule Mike for a regular-season game — but the rest of the college football world would definitely be in favor.
Arizona is the biggest nonconference opponent on OSU's schedule this season. It's a game that holds plenty of intrigue. How will the Cowboys' defense fair against the Wildcats' passing game? Will the OSU offense be as dominant as it was a year ago in the Alamo Bowl? And, of course, what uniform combination will the Cowboys wear this game?
But the big question is where this series is headed — will it be remembered as a fun three-year nonconference run or the beginning of a beautiful Pac-16 relationship?
“Golly, if you listen to everybody that's talking about it, it kind of seems that way,” Cowboy quarterback Brandon Weeden said of OSU and Arizona becoming conference opponents. “I'm so used to being in the Big 12, it just sounds kind of weird, but if you listen to people that are talking about it, it seems like a reality that might actually happen.”
We'll leave the question of what OSU would do next season with that Arizona-shaped hole in its nonconference schedule for another day.