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Oklahoma State, Baylor vie in battle of Big 12’s unusual suspects

Mike Gundy

Mike Gundy

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Updated: December 23, 2013 1:53PM



Remember that scathing exposé on the Oklahoma State football program back in late summer? Sports Illustrated’s report, released online in five parts over five excruciating days for the Cowboys and their supporters, contained a rainbow of salacious details: illegal payments to players, academic cheating, prearranged sex between co-eds and recruits, and so on.

More than two months later, who the heck knows what it all means? There’s no NCAA investigation. The Cowboys are rolling toward a possible Big 12 championship and automatic BCS berth. Any negative chatter about Mike Gundy’s program or a jock-sniffing culture at the school has all but completely died down. Probably, what all of SI’s reporting amounts to is a whole lot of nothing.

“I hear people say it in marketing: ‘Any publicity is good publicity,’ ” Gundy pointed out this week.

So, we stand corrected. A “scandal” that once seemed capable of taking down the Cowboys has actually helped them.

No, really, Gundy said as much this week — that he believes OSU’s recruiting has picked up in the aftermath of the extra attention. Whether that’s true, there certainly has been no damage done in Stillwater.

“For the most part,” Gundy said, “until somebody brings it up, it’s almost like it has faded and done and not even there anymore.”

If that seems strange, it’s nothing compared to the last three seasons for Baylor.

In 2011, when quarterback Robert Griffin III became a household name, the Bears won 10 games for the first time in 31 years and secured their first Heisman Trophy ever. But this time last season, Baylor was 4-5 and, with the nation’s worst defense, seemingly going nowhere. Since then, though, the Bears haven’t lost and have consistently, dramatically improved on both sides of the ball. A program that, before RG3’s special season, was nearly cast out of the Big 12 for its irrelevance is better, and more relevant, than ever.

“You have to embrace it, you really do,” quarterback Bryce Petty said of Baylor’s opportunity to win a marquee road game as it pursues the dual goals of a conference and a national championship. “You’re there for a reason. … it’s OK to take that for what it is and be excited about it.”

What it is, quite simply, is the game of the year in the Big 12. And imagine that: such an event with neither of the league’s flagship programs involved. Then again, perhaps we should rethink what Oklahoma and Texas mean to college football in that part of the country considering both OSU and BU are on much better trajectories.

This season, Baylor is outscoring teams by more than 30 points per game — in the first half alone. The Bears score 61.2 on average, tops in the land, and give up only 17.4. They’re on the longest winning streak in school history — 13 games — and are ranked as high as third in the AP poll for the first time since 60 years ago.

But the Cowboys, slight favorites over Oklahoma in the preseason to win the league, have been pointing to this home stretch for many months now. Last week, they won at Texas by 25 — the Longhorns’ worst-ever defeat in Austin under Mack Brown. If Gundy’s team can get past Baylor, it’ll be Bedlam: a final regular-season game, known by that name, against the dreaded Sooners in Stillwater.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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