Oklahoma State is in unprecedented waters.
With Saturday’s shutout of Texas Tech, the Cowboy football program locked up a spot in the Big 12 Conference championship game for the first time in program history.
And they did so without even having played Bedlam rival Oklahoma, yet.
That’s what lies ahead for Oklahoma State prior to the trip to Arlington, Texas, to play in the same stadium that is home to the Dallas Cowboys.
But just like this season, this year’s Bedlam isn’t typical.
There is far more on the line when the Sooners pull into town for a primetime game in Boone Pickens Stadium.
This is the type of Bedlam the late T. Boone Pickens dreamed about when donating millions to his alma mater to bolster the football program.
It’s not only that the Cowboys could keep OU from the Big 12 title game for the first time since the game’s return in 2017 – an Oklahoma State win, coupled with a Baylor victory vs. Texas Tech would do just that. This game has far-reaching implications for the Oklahoma State program both this year and in the future.
In the immediate, Oklahoma State has its best chance at getting to the College Football Playoff – the same system that was created when the program was snubbed from the BCS title game in 2011. Tuesday, OSU will likely find itself ranked seventh in the country by the CFP committee – thanks to Saturday’s lopsided losses by Oregon and Michigan State ranked ahead of the Cowboys.
The only way Oklahoma State has any chance of becoming the first Big 12 team not named Oklahoma to be in the CFP is by winning out – which starts with winning its first Bedlam game since Tyreek Hill’s late punt return pushed the Pokes toward an overtime win in Norman in 2014.
Obviously, winning the next two games may still not be considered enough in the eyes of the selection committee that hasn’t been without its own yearly controversy since replacing the BCS.
But bigger picture, winning the next two games – regardless of who Oklahoma State faces in the Big 12 title game – has implications far beyond this year’s roster.
Mike Gundy proclaimed earlier this season that he believes more conference realignment is ahead for college football in 2024-25 – when the Big 12 Conference media rights expire.
And if his belief is true, the Big 12 is likely at the front of that tectonic shift – for better or worse.
If the league were to fold if broadcast partners are unwilling to pay the same amount they have the past decade without having blue blood programs like OU and Texas, it is very likely there will be a feeding frenzy surrounding the remaining conference programs.
Oklahoma State can better position itself for that potential by having a win over Oklahoma more recent than when most of the Cowboys on this roster were pre-teens. And would look even better to future conference suitors to claim your football program has won a recent Power 5 conference championship – and did so by playing and winning in that “extra data point” of a conference championship game.
The future for Oklahoma State is uncertain. Whether it be this week, next week or four years from now.
But much like the past month for the football team, Oklahoma State’s future is in its own hands if it continues to win.
It may be easy to think small about this one Bedlam game – which the coaches will rightly try to do with its players – but in reality, this Bedlam game could turn out to be far more significant for the trajectory of the Oklahoma State athletic department than the previous 115 iterations of the game.
These are unprecedented times, and it will take an unprecedented moment from this unprecedented Cowboy team (in particular its historic defense) to ensure the future of the program.
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.