On Saturday night Norman, Oklahoma will take center stage. Both the Sooners and the Cowboys will have the national college football audience as the 2020 version of Bedlam ensues. ESPN’s College Gameday will originate from Norman to begin the day for the first time since 2012 and ABC will carry the game as the national game of the week. The winner of this game will have a firm grasp on getting to Arlington for the Big 12 championship game with all eyes on the Sooner state.
For the Sooners, they are out of the playoff hunt for the first time since Lincoln Riley took over as head coach. However, the Sooners are still in a position to win their sixth straight conference championship. By the time the game kicks off on Saturday evening, Oklahoma will know if they control their own destiny in the conference race. Their strong play, winning four straight and in particular, the last three games outscoring their opponents by 157-51 has put the Sooners back in a familiar spot.
Comparatively, the Cowboys have been the best team in the conference all year. Their only blemish was an inexplicable loss against Texas where they dominated the game but turnovers did them in. However, aside from that, Oklahoma State had put themselves in a position to reach their very first Big 12 championship game. With a favorable schedule after Bedlam, they would almost guarantee themselves a spot in that game with a win over the Sooners.
A Defensive Battle?
Could the Big 12 be turning into more of a defensive conference? Historically, that would be looked upon as skepticism. The Big 12 is the defense optional league whereas the SEC plays the best defense in the land. However, a closer look would indicate that the two conferences are becoming closer aligned. This season, in conference games only, the average total points scored in a Big 12 game is 60.3. Comparatively, for the SEC it is 59.1. A big part of that change is the improvement from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Cowboys come into Bedlam ranked 16th in the country in total defense and the Sooners are 27th.
Over the last 10 years, the Sooners and the Cowboys both have scored at least 40 points in this game on five separate occasions. However, the Sooners have won eight of those 10 matchups. This year, barring turnovers, it’s hard to see either team getting into the 40s. A big reason for that is the ability for both teams to get to the quarterback. Oklahoma has 26 sacks on the year and Oklahoma State has 22. Nik Bonnito leads the Sooners with 5.5 sacks on the season and Isaiah Thomas has 4.5 sacks. Calvin Bundage leads the Cowboys with 3.5 sacks but perhaps the best defensive lineman for the Cowboys is Trace Ford with three sacks of his own.
The Battle of the Spencer’s
This will be the first Bedlam matchup for the two young gunslingers. Spencer Rattler and Spencer Sanders have both been through their share of struggles this year. On the positive side, Rattler has thrown 18 touchdowns with just six interceptions and completed almost 68% of his passes. However, he’s had some costly turnovers at inopportune times down the stretch of close games against Kansas State and Iowa State. Has he matured enough to play well in crunch time against the best defense he will face all season?
Meanwhile, for Sanders his sophomore season hasn’t played out as he’d hoped. He was sidelined for a few games due to a high ankle sprain. But, his problem in his young career has been taking care of the football. He has accounted for six touchdowns this season, but he’s also had six turnovers as well. In order for the Cowboys to come up with the upset, Sanders will need to have his cleanest game of the season and will need to makes improvisational plays with his legs.
Keys to the Game
Win the Turnover Battle
It may sound like a cliche, but the team that wins the turnover battle in this game will likely win the game. In the Cowboys’ loss to Texas, they were -4 in the turnover differential. For all other games this season, Oklahoma State has been +5 in the turnover game. Similarly, in losses to Kansas State and Iowa State, Oklahoma was -4 in that category. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has preached forcing turnovers and that has finally come to fruition as the Sooner defense has forced five turnovers in the last two games. With two quarterbacks that have been turnover prone this season, protecting the ball will be a premium.
Which offensive line can perform better
Comparatively, both offensive lines have not been as good this year as in years past. The offensive line that is able to keep their quarterback upright and pave the way for their running backs has a great chance to win this game. Neither team has been able to protect their quarterback at a high clip this season. Oklahoma has allowed 14 sacks which is ranked 54th nationally and Oklahoma State has allowed 17 sacks which rank 96th nationally. The Sooners are led by Rhamondre Stevenson and T.J. Pledger on the ground while Oklahoma State counters with Chuba Hubbard and LD Brown. Oklahoma is allowing 3.2 yards per rush and Oklahoma State is allowing 3.6 yards per rush. Whoever can get loose could be the difference in the game.
What side of the ball can impose their will
The Sooners have the decided advantage on the offensive side of the ball in averaging 46 points per game. They are also playing their best ball as of late with back to back 62 point games. Oklahoma wants this game to be a track meet as the Cowboys likely will not be able to keep up as they come into this game averaging only 28 points per game. Conversely, Oklahoma State would love to ugly this game up and feel more comfortable playing to their defense which is only giving 18 points per game. Perhaps the biggest matchup to watch will be Cowboys wide receiver Tylan Wallace against the weakest part of the Sooner defensive, the secondary. Wallace had one of his best games in his career with a 10 catch 220-yard two-touchdown performance in 2018. If he’s able to have a monster game, he’ll have an opportunity to change the game.