Stoops, Miles' relationship symbol of evolving rivalry

Friday, October 31st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ It's not like top-ranked Oklahoma needed more incentive for its showdown Saturday against No. 14 Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys have upset Oklahoma for two straight years and nearly ended the Sooners' national title bid the season before. But this week, Oklahoma State coach Les Miles has raised a few more eyebrows with sardonic remarks about his more-heralded in-state rival.

``They're the best team in college football _ so we are told,'' Miles said of the Sooners after his team beat Texas A&M 38-10 last week.

That's the kind of material sure to be highlighted on Oklahoma's bulletin board, though coach Bob Stoops has refused to be drawn into a public hissing match with Miles.

Asked how he interpreted the ``so we are told'' part of Miles remark, Stoops said: ``It probably means he doesn't believe it. Gauging from the way we played a year ago, I don't blame him for not respecting us very much.''

Oklahoma (8-0, 4-0 Big 12) has rarely been in such a situation this season: most opponents have been downright deferential in the week before games. Not Miles and the Cowboys (7-1, 3-1).

Then again, no one else has had as much success against Stoops' Sooners.

Since Miles arrived in Stillwater three years ago, he's managed to stoke the fires of what was once a very lopsided rivalry _ OU still holds a 74-16-7 edge in the 97-game series.

The Cowboys' 16-13 win in 2001 cost Oklahoma a trip to the Big 12 title game, where a victory would have sent the Sooners to the national title game. The next year, Oklahoma State led throughout in a 38-28 romp that sent the Cowboys to their first bowl game since 1997.

Those wins have exaggerated the tension in a relationship that was already strained when Stoops hired away Miles' top recruiter, Darrell Wyatt, for his own staff after the 2001 season.

``When we get together, we're all cordial and there's not anybody that's hostile to each other,'' Stoops said. ``But it's also fair to say that we aren't going out to dinner.''

Another point of contention between the two coaches is the date of the game.

Last season, Stoops successfully lobbied to have the date of the game moved from the Saturday after Thanksgiving, where it had been played since 1999.

Miles wanted the game played on Thanksgiving Weekend along with other traditional rivalries like Texas-Texas A&M, Florida-Florida State and Colorado-Nebraska.

Stoops doesn't like that date because it's the week before the Big 12 title game _ the Sooners have played in two of the last three league championships. He'd prefer to give his players a few days off around the Thanksgiving.

``You can't argue with our reasons,'' Stoops said. ``How could that not be good for a team competing for the championship?''

What's different now is that Oklahoma State will be competing for the championship, too.

The Cowboys enter the game on a seven-game winning streak and are just a game behind the Sooners in the race for the Big 12 South Division title. Both teams enter the game ranked for the first time since 1988.

``The two teams that will play this Saturday _ one may be the best team in college football and the other one is a darned good football team,'' Miles said. ``This game will be played to determine which one is which.''

Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who was battling a nagging groin injury during last season's game, dismissed such comments.

``Hopefully after the game,'' Harris said, a smile creeping over his face, ``we'll have their respect.''