Nov. 23, 2008

NORMAN, Okla. (AP): One impressive rout didn't provide quite to get Oklahoma where it needs to be in the BCS standings. The Sooners still have work to do — and who better to do it against than their in-state rival?

The Sooners' five-game winning streak pushed them past Texas, which handed OU its only loss a month and a half ago, in all three polls Sunday. But there's still more convincing to be done.

Oklahoma was in third place in the BCS standings Sunday, eight hundredths of a point behind the second-place Longhorns, and will need to make up ground in the final week of the regular season.

That's where Oklahoma State comes in. While the Sooners (10-1, 6-1 Big 12) are trying to pass the Longhorns, they'll have to make their case against No. 11 Oklahoma State (9-2, 5-2) in the Bedlam rivalry game Saturday night in Stillwater.

It's a chance to do what none of the other highly ranked teams in the Big 12 South have been able to do, win a road game against one of the other top teams in college football's most loaded division.
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"Oklahoma State is a big rivalry game, we know," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "We've circled it from the beginning of the year. It's one of our goals to beat them.

"I really don't see how we could overlook them."

Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas are tied for first in the Big 12 South. If they finish that way, the team with the best showing in the BCS standings would reach the Big 12 title game.

So what the Sooners need is more of the same. Their offense has been scoring at a remarkable clip, putting up at least 58 points in each of the last four games. Their total in a 65-21 rout of Texas Tech on Saturday night was the most ever given up by the Red Raiders, and also the most ever scored against a second-ranked team.

But what's been more impressive has been the defense.

After losing middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds to a season-ending knee injury in a 45-35 loss to Texas in October, Oklahoma's defense gave up at least 28 points in five straight games for the first time in school history. It took a while for replacement Austin Box to get up to speed, but the Sooners are showing signs that they're back on track now.

They became the first team to keep Texas Tech's offense, which was the best in the nation at passing and third-best at scoring, out of the end zone for five straight drives and also sacked Graham Harrell four times — one fewer than the Red Raiders' previous 10 opponents combined. And the Sooners did it without Auston English, who led the Big 12 in sacks last year, and fellow defensive end Alan Davis.

It was the first time in 15 games the Red Raiders were held to less than 30 points, and the last seven came on a touchdown with 11 seconds left.

Even with an extra week to prepare, defensive coordinator Brent Venables said the Sooners went with their most simplistic game plan yet against Texas Tech, trying not to overload six players who'd never started against the Red Raiders' prolific offense.

The plan paid off and the Sooners' defense keeps improving.

Oklahoma has gone from allowing 550 yards to Kansas State — the most against OU since 1999 — to becoming the nation's leader in turnover margin with 16 takeaways in the last four games.

"Making some improvement the last three weeks or so has gotten a lot of the guys fired up and excited, and I think we're playing really well as a team and guys are having fun," Venables said.

It'll be only the fifth time in the history of the Bedlam rivalry that both teams will enter in the top 15, and Oklahoma has won the previous four. But Oklahoma State has knocked the Sooners out of the national title contention before, with back-to-back upsets in 2001 and 2002.

The rout of Texas Tech got Oklahoma close enough that just about any win against the Cowboys, who will boost the Sooners strength of schedule, should be enough to make up the minuscule deficit to the Longhorns in the computer rankings.

Especially with Texas facing lowly Texas A&M at home.

"I would expect if Oklahoma wins next week, they'd finish ahead of Texas," said Jerry Palm, an independent BCS analyst and blogger. "Maybe not. You never know what the voters are going to do."

Of course, it wouldn't hurt OU to put together a performance impressive enough that a few more voters bump the Sooners up, like they did in the most recent polls.

"I guess to this point, with the convincing way that we just beat the No. 2 team in the country here late in the year, I guess that's what it's speaking to," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.

"But Oklahoma State is another major challenge, and we've just got to do our best to be prepared to play well there."