By Jeff Latzke, AP Sports Writer
On his left wrist, Jamie Blatnick wears a reminder of just how close Oklahoma State came to finally breaking through against rival Oklahoma.
Inscribed in orange on a wide, black wristband are a series of numbers that refer to what he and his teammates view as a missed opportunity. With 2:51 left in last year’s game, the Cowboys trailed 40-38 when Oklahoma got the ball back.
Instead of getting a stop, Oklahoma State gave up Landry Jones’ 76-yard touchdown pass to James Hanna that put the game away.
“That close, man,” Blatnick said.
For a program that’s been overmatched by OU in most of their 105 meetings, close doesn’t cut it anymore for No. 3 OSU (10-1, 7-1 Big 12).
The 13th-ranked Sooners (9-2, 6-2) are the last ones standing between the Cowboys and their first-ever BCS bowl berth and first Big 12 championship. The school hasn’t won an outright conference title since 1948, when it only needed wins against Wichita State and Tulsa to win the Missouri Valley title.
With a convincing win, OSU might even be able to wiggle its way into the national championship game.
“It’s not like big OU’s coming to town and they’re way better,” Blatnick said. “I think we have the better team and I think we’re going to prepare extremely hard for them and I think that this game’s going to be a great game.”
Blatnick has worn the special wristband, which says “DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS” on the other side, since safety Markelle Martin got them for the team. He had been wearing it on the same wrist as one that reads “One Heart One Family” in memory of linebackers coach Glenn Spencer’s wife, who died during the season.
In the run-up to Saturday night’s Bedlam game, he switched it to the opposite side to serve as a more frequent reminder of what happened last season.
“That was just a rough game for us. Being so close and not getting it, it just hurts,” Blatnick said. “It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth and it’s been there all year long. I’m just excited for this. This is my last one, and we’ve got to get them. Absolutely have to.”
The Cowboys will be the higher-ranked team in the rivalry for the third straight year, but the last two have ended in disappointment. OU ended 11th-ranked OSU’s bid for an at-large BCS berth two years ago with a 27-0 shutout in Norman.
Last year, the Sooners won 47-41 in Stillwater to earn a share of the Big 12 South title. By virtue of a tiebreaker, OU went to the Big 12 championship game — and won it — instead of the Cowboys.
“I’m still upset about that one,” Blatnick said. “But this year, I feel like we’re practicing better. We’re more prepared than we were last year.”
The injury situation has flipped in the Cowboys’ favor this season after they had to play with quarterback Brandon Weeden and All-American receiver Justin Blackmon both at less than 100 percent last season.
The Sooners have lost their own All-American receiver, Ryan Broyles, and leading rusher Dominique Whaley to season-ending injuries. Starting defensive end Ronnell Lewis isn’t expected to play because of a sprained ligament in his left knee.
Yet OU still has won eight straight in the series, and 82 of 105 overall, including one victory that was forfeited later.
OSU still has to get over the hump.
“I think they’ve had a great season this year and I think they’re completely confident going into this game knowing that they’re going to win. We’re just as confident, too,” Sooners center Ben Habern said. “And so, overall, I think it’s going to be a close game, it’s going to be a good game and I think whatever team plays the hardest and holds onto the ball will probably win.”
OU coach Bob Stoops doesn’t buy into the talk his team should have a psychological edge because of the dominance recently. Of course, the Sooners also just lost to Baylor after winning all 20 of the previous games in that series.
“I’ve always been a firm believer and even in some other series where we might have had a run going that each and every year is its own unique body of work and you’ve got to earn it every single time and you’ve got to have a great week of practice and you’ve got to do what’s necessary in the moment, and in crunch time to make the plays that make the difference,” Stoops said.
“Does it give you confidence or an attitude that we’re ready for this? A lot of these guys were just here a year ago and have been in that moment that know what has to be done and how you’ve got to do it and be ready for it. So I think it gives them a sense of confidence that we can do it again.”