Stoops, Miles' relationship symbol of evolving rivalry

Updated: October 31, 2003, 2:53 PM ET

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma hardly needs incentive when it plays Oklahoma State. The stakes have just gotten a little bit higher.

The No. 14 Cowboys have upset Oklahoma for two straight years and nearly ended the Sooners' national title bid the season before. This week, Oklahoma State coach Les Miles raised a few eyebrows with a remark about the top-ranked Sooners.

"They're the best team in college football -- so we are told," Miles said.

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).

Since Miles arrived in Stillwater three years ago, he's managed to stoke the fires of what was once a lopsided rivalry -- Oklahoma holds a 74-16-7 lead 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 victory that sent the Cowboys to their first bowl game since 1997.

Those wins have heightened the tension in a relationship that was already strained when Stoops hired 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 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 such other traditional as 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 Thanksgiving.

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 go into 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."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index