Can Lincoln Riley help OU maintain edge in series vs. OSU?

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley prepares for his first Bedlam game against Oklahoma State this week, against OSU’s Mike Gundy, who is 2-10 in the series as head coach. 

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

NORMAN — Lincoln Riley’s first Bedlam Week as Oklahoma football’s head coach began much like normal.

He strode to the podium in a club-level suite above Owen Field, sporting a typical Midwest casual look.

Blue jeans, black shoes, black OU long-sleeve shirt.

He lacked one accessory former OU coach Bob Stoops wore proudly after 18 seasons at the helm: 14 victories in 18 tries against in-state rival Oklahoma State.

One of Riley’s tasks when No. 8 OU travels to No. 11 OSU (Saturday, 3 p.m., FS1) is to turn the right keys as playcaller, so OU’s burgeoning run game continues complimenting its passing attack against an OSU defense that has held three of its past four opponents to less than 65 ground yards.

But another Riley priority is assuring that, somehow, in his first season as head coach he maintains the perceived Bedlam mental edge that the Sooners (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) have possessed for years.

Whether that edge exists has been debated.

“Every year is a new year. You don’t pay attention to [history]. You go out there and try to win this year’s Bedlam,” said OU senior Steven Parker, who at one time leaned toward committing to the Cowboys.

Riley seemed to agree that ghosts from OU’s past won’t be much help.

“If it’s a tight game or if we do find ourselves behind, I think we’ll draw more back on how resilient this team’s been,” he said. “You know, we’ve won a bunch of different ways, different venues, against some really good football teams this year. … We’d probably would take more confidence in that.”

Riley remembers his first Bedlam, of course, when he was offensive coordinator in 2015.

“It was a great night. It was a beautiful night for football,” he said.

It was also a dominant 58-23 OU victory and Riley’s first Big 12 championship as a coach or player, the same number OSU coach Mike Gundy owns.

Gundy carries a 2-10 mark as head coach against the Sooners into his first meeting with Riley. It intrigues because both men could use the victory as feathers in their careers’ caps, but also, both have teams mathematically still involved in the College Football Playoff hunt.

Many joked when Stoops retired that OU’s hex over Gundy could start to dissolve. It’s a half-serious, subjective view, but a Gundy victory Saturday would at the least serve as momentum for the Cowboys, and he would own a winning record against a Sooner coach, which is a rarity at OSU.

So, it becomes another pressure-packed week for the 34-year-old Riley, who was asked if his actions as coach leading up to the game are more important these next few days.

“Maybe a little,” he said. “But we’ve been in a bunch of these big ones already. People threw a lot of emphasis on Ohio State. People threw a lot of emphasis on Texas … We’ve been in these. We understand the challenge that we’re facing.”

About 60 miles north up Interstate 35, Gundy fielded similar but far more unsavory questions about how to coach in the week before this game, considering his track record.

“From one year to the next, as much as people would like to think that it factors in, in my opinion, being in college football for 30 years now, I don’t see where there’s any carryover,” Gundy said.

Some things haven’t carried over this season.

While the Cowboys (7-1, 4-1) are No. 3 nationally in total offense — a normalcy — their defense is 16th in the Football Bowl Subdivision, according to ESPN’s weighted efficiency rankings. OU is 69th.

Also, OSU opened as a three-point favorite.

OU has been a Bedlam underdog once the past five years (2013) and defense has generally been its upper-hand.

“Underdogs?” OU quarterback Baker Mayfield asked, when informed his team wasn’t favored in a game it has won 86 times to OSU’s 18.

Records may not be on Gundy’s side, but experience is. He has 111 wins as a head coach and has managed 12 of these Bedlam weeks before, though 10 have in disappointment.

Riley begins his first with seven career victories and the understanding that he is still mastering how to win Monday through Friday before winning on Saturday.

“I mean, you learn about it. I’ve gotten more efficient with it,” Riley said of managing game weeks. “Yeah, I’m definitely learning some ways that I can do it better.”

Riley insists there isn’t a blanket answer for his most critical job this week. Much like what it will take to win on Saturday, he has to do everything well, he said.

“There’s a lot,” he said. “That’s what I get paid for.”

Winning Bedlam, especially as it has climbed into the national focus because of OSU’s steady rise, was what helped get Stoops paid, too.

“We know it’s a big rivalry game and important game in this state, and important game in this conference and really across the country,” Riley said. “We’ll be have to very resilient and tough to win it.”

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Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.