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Baylor vs. Iowa State Prediction: Big 12 Play Opens With Key Matchup in Ames

Defending champion Bears look to snap road losing streak to the Cyclones.

The Big 12 race is officially on as two of the conference's top programs the last couple of years outside of the Oklahoma Sooners line up against each other this weekend. 

Baylor (2-1) and Iowa State (3-0) should be the main attraction on the Big 12 schedule this weekend — no disrespect intended for Kansas and Duke fans, of course. This head-to-head matchup has the potential to be a difference-maker in the Big 12 race later on, if not a potential preview of a Big 12 Championship Game should the Sooners fall out of the top spot in the conference.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 4

Baylor has won two of the last three meetings in this series, but the Bears will be a road underdog this weekend as they look for their first victory in Ames since 2016. One should expect a healthy dose of defense in this matchup with Dave Aranda and Matt Campbell each having their programs playing some of the best defense in the Big 12 in recent years.

Here's a look at this weekend's Big 12 showdown between the Bears and Cyclones.

No. 17 Baylor at Iowa State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Iowa State -2.5
Tickets: As low as $50 on SITickets.com

When Baylor Has the Ball

Baylor will look to establish a rhythm on the ground with its running game. Richard Reese has already rushed for five touchdowns in the first three games of the season, averaging 6.97 yards per carry in the process. Keeping that kind of production going against Iowa State will be difficult, but it has been a formula for success for the Bears. The real chess match will begin if the offense gets in the red zone. Baylor has the Big 12's third-best red-zone touchdown percentage (83.3) and the Cyclones boast the second-best red-zone defense in the Big 12 coming into this game.

In fact, Iowa State owns the top-rated defense among its conference mates, giving up just 234.3 yards per game and 4.04 per play to opponents early on. The Cyclones also haven't given up many points either, holding Southeast Missouri State, Iowa, and Ohio to 27 total. The linebacker duo of O'Rien Vance and Colby Reeder have set the tone on that side of the ball with 25 combined tackles.

When Iowa State Has the Ball

Iowa State doesn't have the tools to blow the doors wide open on any team with its offense, so the Cyclones will be much more content to grind out yardage by any means necessary and hope it pays off in the long run. Fortunately, that's exactly what it must do against a team like Baylor that can play a similar style. Iowa State has the Big 12's eighth-best total offense at 415 yards per game, despite running an average of 78 plays per game (25th in FBS).

Jirehl Brock leads the team and is fourth in the conference with 280 rushing yards but just one touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Hunter Dekkers has eight touchdown passes but three interceptions while completing a solid 74.3 percent of his attempts. Senior wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson has been the go-to target with 315 receiving yards and five touchdown catches to emerge as the Big 12's most productive target in the early going.

The Cyclones will be facing the No. 3 defense in the conference. Baylor is allowing just 290.3 yards per game this season. The defense had a good rebound game last week against Texas State after struggling to slow down BYU. After yielding 366 total yards and 5.7 per play on the road to the ranked Cougars, the Bears held the Bobcats from the Sun Belt to 268 yards and only 3.8 per snap in the 42-7 home win.

Final Analysis

Don't expect plenty of offense or scoring in this game. Baylor and Iowa State are redefining the look of Big 12 football with hard-nosed defense and grinding together drives. Of course, both teams scored in the 30s in the last two meetings in this series, so the possibility of a back-and-forth game could still be there. It just seems unlikely. The home teams also have won the last four matchups, and that is a trend that could very well continue this week between two fairly even programs.

Prediction: Iowa State 25, Baylor 23

Podcast: Week 4 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, on TikTok, and Like him on Facebook.

*Price as of publication.