STILLWATER, Okla. — Beyond the Big 12 region, Bedlam maybe hasn’t reached instant-recognition status.
Yet if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State keep things up, their rivalry — and its moniker — is sure to keep gaining.
The Cowboys and Sooners meet for the 112th time Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium, amid high rankings and high stakes. ESPN is sending its College GameDay crew, the sixth time GameDay has appeared at Bedlam.
And yes, bedlam, as always, is always expected.
“It’s going to be probably rated R on Saturday,” said Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The Bedlam tag was first attached to the rivalry for the rowdiness involved in the teams’ wrestling duals, between teams and fans. Over the years, Bedlam became a thing in all their meetings, with football eventually escalating to the main attraction.
Oklahoma owns a lopsided edge in the series, 85-19-7, but since the end of the Barry Switzer era, the Cowboys have elevated their program in the Big 12 and nationally, and grown more competitive with the Sooners, if not quite superior.
“It’s a rivalry game,” said Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph. “The fans talk and think about it all year. And we do too, so we are excited about it and get another crack at it. It’ll be fun.”
This meeting, like many of their recent matchups, is worthy of elevated attention.
When the first College Football Playoff rankings were revealed Tuesday night, the Sooners stood at No. 5 and the Cowboys at No. 11.
In the Big 12, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State sit amid a four-way tie at the top of the standings, along with Iowa State and TCU, at 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference.
So clearly, there’s plenty at stake for both sides.
“Should be a great game,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said.
“I know it’s an important game to this state, to this conference race right now; important game on the national scene. That’s how Bedlam should be. One of the great rivalries in college football and one that we’re very much looking forward to going and playing.”
Mayfield and Rudolph, huge factors in their teams’ run of success in recent years, now stand as arguably the greatest all-time quarterbacks at their schools. This year, they’re both Heisman Trophy contenders perched at or near the top of the nation’s passing stats.
Rudolph leads all of FBS with 2,866 passing yards, while Mayfield ranks No. 8 at 2,628. Mayfield has thrown for 23 touchdowns, putting him in a tie at No. 5 nationally. Rudolph’s 22 scoring passes rank No. 8. Mayfield leads the nation in passing efficiency.
Both quarterbacks have playmakers spread across the field, which is why Oklahoma averages 586.1 yards per game to lead the nation, two spots ahead of Oklahoma State’s 569.3.
At a glance, the Cowboys may have the better defense, as its cast of young players has grown on the go, playing vital roles in wins the past two weeks at Texas and West Virginia.
“I think they’re definitely one of the most, if not the most, complete team we’ve played up to this point,” Riley said. “Really, really fantastic football team.”
For Riley, it’s his debut as the head coach in this series, although he’s experienced the rivalry as an Oklahoma assistant.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy might be fine with a new face on the opposite sideline after going just 2-10 against Bob Stoops.
On the field, the emotions run high, with a special intensity seen in the hitting and the trash talking. Boone Pickens Stadium, with its cozy confines, adds another element to the game atmosphere, complete with a group of students who call themselves the “paddle people,” situated behind the visiting bench.
“It’s the only stadium in the country where they are that close to you on the sidelines, even closer than ours,” Mayfield said. “And they are right on top of you with the paddles. They get that going.”
Not that Mayfield would ever cop to him or his team being intimidated.
“We love going on the road and into someone’s house,” he said. “Just having that hostile environment is even better.”
Better for the fans. Better for the teams.
Better for everyone.
“This week, everyone goes to work wearing orange or red,” Gundy said. “It’s a fun week and it’s always more entertaining when both teams are successful and playing well. I think it’s a fun time for everybody in the state.”