Oklahoma State is inching closer to the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, but two huge tests remain for coach Mike Gundy’s team, with the first coming on Saturday night with a matchup against Baylor. The Bears suffered their first loss of the season last week, losing to Oklahoma 44-34 in Waco. While Baylor needs a lot of things to go its way in order to make the playoff, coach Art Briles’ team isn’t necessarily out of the picture after dropping to No. 10 in Tuesday’s rankings release.
After surviving a scare in Ames against Iowa State, Oklahoma State moved into the No. 6 spot and is the highest ranked Big 12 team in the playoff rankings. The Cowboys have made a habit out of winning close games this year, needing last-minute escapes against Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia. Additionally, Oklahoma State rallied from a 24-7 deficit in the first half against Texas Tech to win 70-53. While the late-game magic has been a running storyline, it’s also important to note the Cowboys easily handled TCU (49-29) two weeks ago.
Baylor entered the season as a co-favorite with TCU to win the Big 12 title. The Bears were on track to meet preseason expectations before last week’s loss to Oklahoma. Quarterback Seth Russell was lost for the season due to a neck injury suffered against Iowa State. True freshman Jarrett Stidham played well against Kansas State but was limited by a back injury against Oklahoma. Russell’s injury was a setback for the Bears in the Big 12 title picture. However, there’s time to make up ground, as matchups against Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas – combined with chaos in other leagues – leave enough margin for Baylor to remain a factor for the playoffs.
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Oklahoma State holds a 19-14 series edge over Baylor. The Cowboys have not lost to Baylor in Stillwater since 1939 and hold a 12-4 advantage in home matchups against the Bears.
Baylor at Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Oklahoma State -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Baylor’s Offense Get Back on Track?
While Baylor’s 34 points last week are hardly anything to be concerned about, there were some concerning totals for Briles. The Bears averaged 5.9 yards per play, threw for 257 yards and rushed for 159 – all the second-lowest totals of the season for this offense. A deeper look at the rushing totals shows Baylor has averaged less than four yards per carry in back-to-back games. Getting the offense back on track is priority No. 1 for Briles this week. However, Oklahoma State’s defense is one of the best in the Big 12. The Cowboys rank second in scoring defense (24.5 ppg), are holding opponents to 5.2 yards per play, have generated 35 sacks and lead the conference with 24 takeaways. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham suffered a back injury against Oklahoma and played at less than full strength. Stidham is not expected to be sidelined on Saturday night, and the coaching staff hopes the true freshman rebounds from a sluggish performance against a good Sooner defense (16 of 27 for 257 yards and two interceptions). Additionally, receiver Corey Coleman was quiet (three catches for 51 yards). Oklahoma State’s defense is going to bend and give up some yards. However, the Cowboys put the clamps on opponents in the red zone and on third downs. Will Baylor connect on a few big plays and turn those into touchdowns? Or will Oklahoma State’s defense trade yards for giving up three points or a turnover? That’s the key battle to watch on Saturday night.
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2. Turnover Margin
Luck and good fortune are two driving forces behind turnover margin and takeaways. While defenses can gameplan and put players in the best position to succeed, it’s impossible to predict turnovers. Simply, you need some good luck to generate turnovers and catch all of the right bounces each week. So far this year, Oklahoma State and Baylor rank as the top two teams in the Big 12 in turnover margin. The Cowboys are +12 and the Bears are plus-nine. The Cowboys have forced 24 takeaways, while the Bears have 22. In Oklahoma State’s victory over TCU, coordinator Glenn Spencer’s defense generated four turnovers. And to further illustrate why turnover margin is important, Baylor was minus-two in last week’s loss. With the ability of both offenses and the timely defenses, one or two mistakes could shift this game. Whichever team comes out on top in turnover margin is likely to end up with the victory.
3. Oklahoma State’s Two-Quarterback System
If you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have a quarterback. That’s the general cliché about quarterbacks and offenses. While there is some truth to that statement, using a two-quarterback system actually works for some teams. Oklahoma State’s offense has thrived under the tandem of Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh, averaging 43.6 points per game this season. Rudolph is the better passer (316.1 ypg), while Walsh is the better runner (20 overall TDs). Walsh’s rushing ability is critical for an offense struggling to establish a traditional ground attack (3.8 ypc), and the senior is expected to play a key role on Saturday, as Baylor has struggled to stop the run (181.3 ypg in conference matchups) and is not expected to have defensive tackles Beau Blackshear and Byron Bonds due to injuries. When the Cowboys throw, big-play threat James Washington (20.5 ypc) and David Glidden (45 catches) are the top options. Baylor’s defense held Oklahoma to 5.87 yards per play last week. That’s not bad. Can the Bears do it again – with injuries hitting the defensive line and secondary hard – versus an offense that has scored at least 49 points in three out of the last four games?
Another shootout in the Big 12. Even though quarterback Jarrett Stidham might be less than 100 percent, Baylor’s offense should get back on track this week. Expect receiver Corey Coleman to see a few more deep shots in his direction, while running back Shock Linwood will be a tough matchup for Oklahoma State’s rush defense. While the Bears are going to get their share of points, the Cowboys once again find a way to win a close game. Baylor’s injuries on defense and a quarterback at less than full strength could be the difference in a tight game. The lead changes hands a few times in the second half, but Oklahoma State finds a way to win another close game, improving to 11-0 and setting up a huge showdown against Oklahoma next Saturday.