Stillwater, OK (SportsNetwork.com) - First place in the Big 12 Conference and the fast track to a BCS bowl bid is on the line in a Saturday night showdown, as the third-ranked and unbeaten Baylor Bears come calling on the 11th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Baylor is off to its first 9-0 start in school history, and with another dominating effort last Saturday at Texas Tech (63-34), it has now won each of its contests by double-digit margins. The Bears, who are riding a school- record 13-game winning streak, sit alone atop the Big 12 standings at 6-0, a half-game ahead of both Oklahoma State and Texas, and they were ranked No. 4 in the latest BCS Standings, just behind Ohio State.
"It's a huge game because of what our team has done and what their team has done," Baylor coach Art Briles said of Saturday's much-anticipated matchup. "When you get late in the season and you've had a good run, that's what happens and fortunately we're in it."
The Cowboys made a statement in their road contest with Texas last weekend, as they easily handled the Longhorns, 38-13, to continue their quest for the Big 12 title. Oklahoma State has now won six straight games to improve to 9-1, and it would be crowned the league champion if it were to win both this matchup and its Dec. 7 bout with Oklahoma.
"We've got our work cut out for us this week playing the best team in the league," OSU coach Mike Gundy said of Baylor. "They've pretty much had their way with everybody that they've played this year ... They are very deserving of being third or fourth in the country. It should be a lot of fun Saturday night."
Oklahoma State leads the all-time series with Baylor, 18-13, but the Bears won the most recent matchup on Dec. 1, 2012, 41-34.
The Bears have had a historic offensive season, as they rank first in the nation in scoring (61.2 ppg) and yardage (684.8 ypg), and both numbers are on track to break the current NCAA records. They are the only team in the country to rank in the top-10 in both passing (384.4 ypg) and rushing offense (300.3 ypg).
Bryce Petty may be among the Heisman finalists invited to New York City next month, as he has been nothing short of sensational under center. He is completing greater than 65 percent of his passes for 2,992 yards with 24 touchdowns and just one interception. He is generally not a threat to run (127 yards), but he has cashed in near the goal line with an additional 10 rushing scores.
"It really doesn't matter how much we game plan and prepare for teams, they always come out and play us different than they have anybody else," Petty said of Baylor's one-of-a-kind offense. "We want to be different. We're fast and we want to score touchdowns."
Lache Seastrunk (888 yards, 11 TDs) has been a home-run threat all season at running back, but he's listed a questionable for this matchup with a groin injury. Luckily the Bears have another outstanding tailback to shoulder the load if Seastrunk can't suit up, as Shock Linwood has 812 yards and eight scores on 107 carries.
Baylor suffered a huge blow when it lost Tevin Reese (33 receptions, 824 yards, eight TDs) for the season with a wrist injury, but Petty still has one of the nation's best receivers to throw to in Antwan Goodley (48 receptions, 1,075 yards, 11 TDs). Levi Norwood saw an increase in targets last week without Reese in the lineup, and answered the call with seven receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
While Baylor's offense has been video game-like all season long, the team wouldn't be in the position it's in without a strong defense, which allows just 17.4 points per game, and its yardage allowance (322.6 ypg) ranks 11th in the nation.
Bryce Hager has a team-high 71 tackles, while Eddie Lackey (66 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) is hot on his heels. Shawn Oakman only has 2.0 sacks, but he has made his presence felt along the defensive line with 12.0 TFL. Demetri Goodson has been a shut-down corner with two picks and 11 passes defended.
While it's nearly impossible to keep pace with Baylor's offensive output, Oklahoma State has been outstanding in its own right, ranking second in the Big 12 in scoring at 40.4 points per game, and its production has been even greater since making a mid-season change at quarterback.
In four games since Clint Chelf has taken over as the starter, the offense's output has shot up to 47.5 points per game. Even though Chelf's passing numbers aren't great (.534 completion percentage, 1,222 yards, 11 TDs, five INTs), he is a strong runner (325 yards, five TDs) and that threat creates larger running lanes for his talented backs.
Desmond Roland (565 yards) and Jeremy Smith (329 yards) have been put to work often out of the backfield, and while neither averages more than 4.4 yards per carry, the duo has combined to score 21 touchdowns.
With leading receiver Josh Stewart (40 receptions, 510 yards, two TDs) listed as questionable with a foot injury, Chelf may need to send more targets toward Tracy Moore (37 receptions, 469 yards, five TDs) and Jhajuan Seales (419 yards, TD).
Much like the Bears, the Cowboys have an outstanding defense (19.0 ppg) to complement their potent offense. The unit has been able to swing the momentum of several games with an FBS-leading 19 interceptions and 26 takeaways in all.
Justin Gilbert has made a name for himself in the defensive backfield with six picks, while Caleb Lavey has made plays all over the field with 76 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, four interceptions and a forced fumble. Tyler Johnson anchors the defensive line with 8.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks and three forced fumbles.