Stewart Mandel: With Bedlam statement, Oklahoma State earned right to face LSU - Sports Illustrated

With Bedlam statement, Oklahoma State earned right to face LSU

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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Were you watching Saturday night, Harris and Coaches' Poll voters? Did you see BCS No. 3 Oklahoma State (11-1) demolish its archrival Oklahoma (9-3) 44-10, and in doing so -- pay close attention to this part -- win its conference championship? You have a vexing decision to make Sunday morning, and be warned, if you choose wrong a certain multibillionaire may come after you.

"If we don't get in the BCS [title game], if I have the power to do it, I'm going to have an investigation," Oklahoma State mega-booster T. Boone Pickens said after Saturday night's game. "After the way we handled OU tonight, I just can't imagine LSU playing Alabama twice. It looks like an SEC-closed system if that happens."

There are no right answers when it comes to the BCS. Under a more sensible system, Oklahoma State and Alabama could play each other in a football game to determine which would meet No. 1 LSU. (At this point the Tigers deserve a bye, but if we're being fair, they'd meet 11-1 Stanford in a hypothetical semifinal.) Instead, the decision is left in the hands of mostly semi-informed voters.

But this is the system we have. So all we can ask, dear voters, is that you do the right thing: Give us the matchup we haven't already seen. But don't do it just to prevent a rematch. Do it because Mike Gundy's Cowboys earned it.

"I don't think there's any question Oklahoma State should play in the big game," Gundy said after his Cowboys handed the Sooners their most lopsided defeat in seven years. "After what they accomplished tonight and the way they did it, I don't think there's a question they deserve an opportunity to play for it all."

In ending an eight-game losing streak to its archrival and clinching its first outright Big 8 or Big 12 title, Oklahoma State beat its seventh opponent with a winning record and its fifth that was ranked in last week's BCS Top 25. By comparison, Alabama can claim three and two, respectively. And yet, if you watched television Saturday, you would have thought the Tide had some sort of overwhelming claim to the No. 2 spot.

The second half of CBS' broadcast of the LSU-Georgia game turned into a predictable infomercial for an LSU-'Bama rematch. Then, during ABC's broadcast of Bedlam -- with the No. 3 team in the standings still playing its last game -- a "BCS Lookahead" item scrolled on the ticker, providing assorted LSU-'Bama related nuggets.

"Before the season started, and again halfway through it, I said until someone beats an SEC team [in the championship game], they have a right to [brag]," said Gundy. "But people around the country need to be careful thinking someone from another league can't score some points against those guys."

Wouldn't it be nice to find out if he's right? Let us find out what would happen if Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon got to go up against Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne instead of, say, making us watch a game we already saw.

"Watching Oklahoma State football is exciting, and people want to watch an exciting game," said Cowboys defensive end Jamie Blatnick. "There weren't any touchdowns scored [in LSU's 9-6 win over Alabama on Nov. 5]. It wasn't a very exciting game."

There's never been much doubt about the Cowboys' ability to score points. They came in averaging 49.3 and finished with 44 against the Sooners, doing so with balance: Weeden threw for a modest 217 yards, while tailbacks Joseph Randle (19 carries, 151 yards, two touchdowns) and Jeremy Smith (10 carries, 119 yards, two TDs) did more significant damage.

The knock against Oklahoma State has been its defense, and understandably so. The Cowboys entered Saturday ranked a ghastly 107th nationally in yards allowed, and a more modestly mediocre 56th in yards per play. Their proponents would counter they'd forced a national-best 37 turnovers, and that many of those yards were accrued in the second half of blowouts or because the offense operates at such a fast pace. Still, they hadn't produced the type of dominant performance that LSU and Alabama deliver regularly.

Until Bedlam.

Oklahoma was not at full strength, and hasn't been for weeks. It lost starting running back Dom Whaley in mid-October and All-America receiver Ryan Broyles a few weeks later. Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill Young took advantage, blitzing relentlessly from the outset. In turn, the Sooners barely tried to run the ball (netting six yards on 10 carries in the first half), while star quarterback Landry Jones struggled to handle the pressure.

The first four times OU drove into OSU territory it came away with no points, with two of those possessions ending in Jones turnovers. One came when Jones threw to receiver Jazz Reynolds in the end zone only to have Cowboys cornerback Brodrick Brown wrestled the ball away for an interception. But a defining play came late in the second quarter after the Sooners, trailing 10-0, drove from their own 22 to the Cowboys' 23. On first down, blitzing linebacker Alex Elkins came screaming up the middle to hit Jones. He fumbled, and defensive end Blatnick recovered and returned it 59 yards to the Sooners' one. Randle crashed in on the next play to put OSU up 17-0.

It was 24-3 by halftime, 34-3 shortly into the third quarter after Richetti Jones scooped up a Jones fumble and ran easily into the end zone, and the rout was on. Oklahoma State held the Sooners to just 253 yards and three points through three quarters while forcing five turnovers.

"I had mentioned to our defense that this was a time for them to shine and be on a big stage in the spotlight," said Gundy. "They had taken some heat throughout the year and if they wanted to prove to people that just half of what I said during the season was right that they needed to do it tonight. ... I don't think there's any question they showed up in a big way."

But was it enough? Or was it too little too late?

The Cowboys picked up at least one coach's vote: Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. "I don't know what will happen, but I know I'll vote LSU No. 1 and Oklahoma State No. 2." But how many will follow his lead? Remember, in last week's polls, the Cowboys trailed not just Alabama but Stanford and Virginia Tech as well. The Hokies' loss to Clemson in Saturday's ACC Championship removed one hurdle, and it's likely the Cowboys will pass idle Stanford as well.

But Alabama is another story. The Tide have an indisputably dominant defense. They're the only team all season that made LSU look mortal, albeit in defeat. And, as several hundred thousand Alabama fans would be quick to point out, the Tide did not lose to Iowa State. (Gundy's counter: "We lost in double overtime on the road. We didn't lose at home [like Alabama].")

Asked point-blank why voters should pick his team instead of the Tide, Gundy replied succinctly: "They had their shot. Give us ours."

If those words sound familiar, it's because they're almost identical to those of then-Florida coach Urban Meyer five years ago this week, just before his team surpassed Michigan for a chance to play Ohio State in that year's title game. The Buckeyes, consensus No. 1 from the opening poll, were heavy favorites, but the 12-1 Gators got in and upset undefeated Ohio State 41-14.

Here, we have a nearly identical situation. Much like that year, it's hard for most of us to envision the Cowboys withstanding LSU's punishing rushing attack and suffocating pass defense. Just like that year, we don't actually know.

There was a lot of lobbying going on here late Saturday night in Stillwater, but judging from Twitter responses during and after the game, the vast majority of the country would like to find out for itself. The question is whether the voters feel the same.

If it doesn't happen, if Oklahoma State goes to the Fiesta Bowl instead and faces Stanford, it will still be an incredible achievement for Gundy's program -- and that'd be a heck of a game, too. But this isn't about what's best for the Cowboys; it's about what's best for college football, which is to remember that the name of the event is the BCS NATIONAL Championship Game.

The SEC has earned the right to go for a sixth straight crown. The Cowboys have earned the opportunity to represent the rest of the field.