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Baylor vs. Oklahoma State Football Prediction and Preview

Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State Football

Spencer Sanders and the Cowboys host the Bears for a prime-time showdown between undefeated Big 12 teams

The Baylor Bears and Oklahoma State Cowboys will kick off in prime time Saturday in a matchup of ranked and undefeated Big 12 rivals. The Bears improved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play following their 31-29 upset of Iowa State last week and entered the AP Top 25 at No. 21. Oklahoma State opened its Big 12 schedule with a 31-20 victory over a ranked Kansas State squad, improving to 4-0 and jumping to No. 19 in the national rankings as a result.

No. 21 Baylor at No. 19 Oklahoma State

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2
Spread: Oklahoma State -3.5

When Baylor Has the Ball

Few teams have found more success on the ground this season. Baylor ranks No. 6 nationally in rushing offense (273.3 ypg), thanks in large part to one of the best running back duos in the country. Abram Smith has been a pleasant surprise and ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 23rd nationally with 103.3 rushing yards per contest. Smith leads the Bears with 57 carries, 413 yards, and five touchdowns. Trestan Ebner ranks eighth on the Big 12 leaderboard with 87.0 rushing yards per game, having gained 348 yards on 50 attempts. Ebner is a versatile all-around weapon who also has seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, and he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the win over Iowa State, his fourth career score on special teams.

Quarterback Gerry Bohanon has contributed to the success as well with 105 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries. Bohanon was a question mark coming into the season, but he has been excellent through four games with a 73.0 percent completion rate, 817 passing yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions, and 9.2 yards per pass attempt. He's connected often with the wide receiver duo of R.J. Sneed (18 rec., 317 yds., TD) and Tyquan Thornton (16, 218, 3) as well as tight end Ben Sims (9, 98, 2). Altogether, Baylor ranks No. 11 nationally in scoring offense (42.8 ppg), No. 17 in total offense (489.5 ypg), and No. 6 in yards per play (7.56).

When Oklahoma State Has the Ball

The Cowboys have taken a different path to success. Oklahoma State ranks No. 90 in scoring offense (25.8 ppg), No. 85 in total offense (369.8 ypg), and No. 99 in yards per play (5.21). Quarterback Spencer Sanders was unavailable for the season opener (a 23-16 squeaker against FCS member Southwest Missouri State), but he has started the last three games and completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 591 yards and four touchdowns with an interception while averaging 8.1 yards per pass. Sanders also had one of the best games of his career in the win over Kansas State, in which he threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Also a valuable runner, Sanders has gained 120 yards and scored twice on the ground in 34 carries.

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Sanders' ground game has been important since the Pokes have been hit hard by injuries at running back. The trio of LD Brown (58 yds., TD), Dominic Richardson (28 yds.), and Dezmon Jackson (20) has combined for just 45 rushing attempts and each has missed at least one game. As a result, Utah State transfer Jaylen Warren has taken on a heavier workload than anticipated with 79 carries, 387 yards, and four scores. Warren ranks sixth in the Big 12 in rushing (96.8 ypg) and is also third on the team with seven receptions and fourth with 117 receiving yards.

Injuries have been an issue in the receiving corps as well. Tay Martin, whose 15 receptions, 207 yards, and two touchdowns lead the squad, missed the 21-20 victory over Boise State in Week 3. Jaden Bray had six receptions, 136 yards, and a touchdown over the first two weeks of the season but nothing since. Braydon Johnson, who hauled in 20 receptions for 248 yards and a score in 2020, had two receptions for two yards and one rushing attempt for 13 in Week 1 before he was forced to sit out the next three contests (and counting). Brennan Presley (11 rec., 162 yds., TD) and Rashod Owens (6, 111) are the only wideouts to appear in all four games this season.

Final Analysis

The Cowboys have leaned heavily on defense and held opponents to an average of 19.8 points and 311.5 yards per game, as well as 4.53 yards per play — respectable numbers, but none ranked among the top 20 units nationally. Oklahoma State does have a top-20 rushing defense, however, ranking 14th in yards per carry (2.56) and 19th in yards allowed per game (87.0). Digging deeper, the Pokes rank 20th in points allowed per drive in non-garbage time against FBS opponents as calculated by Brian Fremeau, giving Oklahoma State a solid yet unspectacular defense that should challenge Baylor. The unit also has sustained significant personnel losses, including defensive end Trace Ford and safety Tre Sterling to season-ending injuries.

The Bears have already exceeded expectations and won twice as many games through four weeks as they did in all of 2020. Knocking off Iowa State proves Baylor can compete with the top teams in the Big 12. Oklahoma State probably can't walk the tightrope of close, low-scoring games much longer. But one more week in front of the home crowd? With a steady defense, an improving Sanders, and a little injury luck, the Cowboys can survive another challenge.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 27, Baylor 24

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— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFBWinningEdge. Follow him on Twitter @CFBWinningEdge.