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Can Mike Gundy make good on his best Bedlam chance in years?

Mike Gundy is the most successful Oklahoma State coach ever. It’s not particularly close. His winning percentage (67%) is the second-highest in program history among those who’ve coached at least five seasons – ‘ole Pappy Waldorf has Gundy beat from 1929-1933 – and his 134 wins are more than double Pat Jones’ 62 in second place. He’s the only Cowboys coach since 1976 to win a conference title.

For all of that success, it’s appropriate Gundy’s 200th career game as Oklahoma State’s head coach will come against Oklahoma this Saturday (6:30 p.m., ABC). No opponent represents the can’t-quite-get-there narrative of the Gundy regime like the Sooners.

Gundy is just 2-13 in his career against Oklahoma. Bedlam is among the most one-sided rivalries in college football, even during the best stretch in Cowboys history.

The first victory for Gundy in the series, 2011, came during the best season in modern Cowboys history. The second, 2014, occurred during Bob Stoops’ worst season at Oklahoma outside of his 1999 debut. Everything else has been missed opportunity after missed opportunity. One could strongly argue late-season losses to Oklahoma have cost Oklahoma State five chances to either win the Big 12 or reach the Big 12 title game. Just look at this timeline littered with disappointments:

2010: Oklahoma State needed a win to qualify for the Big 12 championship game. But Bedlam slipped away after Landry Jones threw a 76-yard touchdown with 2:34 remaining. Oklahoma won, 47-41.

2013: Oklahoma State destroyed Baylor the week prior and just needed a Bedlam victory to win the Big 12. The Cowboys lost, 33-24, despite holding a 24-20 lead with 1:46 remaining.

2015: The Cowboys were 10-0 to start the season. Then they lost to Baylor at home. A win over Oklahoma to end the regular season would have won them the Big 12 outright. They lost 58-23.

2016: Oklahoma State needed a road win over Oklahoma to win the Big 12. Instead, Oklahoma broke a 17-17 halftime tie and never looked back in a 38-20 win. Remember, that Sooners team started 1-2.

2017: Mason Rudolph looked like a Heisman candidate. James Washington was the best receiver in college football. Didn’t matter. The Cowboys gave up 62 points at home, a loss that cost them a spot in the Big 12 title game.

In the years since that 2014 win, Oklahoma State has just once played the Sooners to a one-possession game and nearly won a 2018 thriller over Kyler Murray & Co.; Oklahoma stopped a late two-point conversion attempt to win. This season, the Cowboys are seven-point road underdogs. 

Oklahoma State enters the week atop the Big 12 standings and firmly in the College Football Playoff mix, mostly reaching lofty preseason expectations that had some people – like 247Sports’ Barton Simmons – rank the Cowboys in their top 5. Gundy knew his team had a shot dating well back into the offseason.

“We go through cycles here at Oklahoma State,” Gundy told the College Football Daily in January. “To get to a point where you can finish for a conference championship you have to have NFL players on your roster and great quarterback play. We’re going to have a number of guys on our team next year that are good enough to play in the NFL and we have a quarterback coming back from 12 games of experience.

“When you have that setup, you have a feeling the next year can be pretty special.”

Oklahoma, for its part, already has two losses and looks the most vulnerable of any team during Lincoln Riley’s tenure as head coach.

There’s opportunity for Gundy to change his career narrative this week. A victory over Oklahoma all but ensures a Cowboys Big 12 championship berth and gives them real ammo in the playoff race. A loss merely continues the norm: Close but not good enough to beat Oklahoma.

This has not been the best year for Oklahoma State’s 53-year-old head coach. He suffered a near-revolt in his program earlier this offseason following a tweet in which he was pictured in an OAN news shirt. He had many foot-in-mouth moments in regard to his discussion of the coronavirus. An in-depth review of the Cowboy program resulted in Gundy taking a $1 million pay cut and the shortening of his contract.

A Bedlam victory won’t erase Gundy’s issues from earlier this year, nor will it put much shine on a record that’d read 3-13. But, at least for a season, Oklahoma State will have capitalized against its rival.

This Cowboy team is built to win a Big 12 championship. All it will take is a Bedlam victory in Gundy’s 200th career game as a head coach against the five-time defending Big 12 champions.

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