Either the Baylor Bears or Oklahoma State Cowboys will win their first Big 12 Championship Game this weekend, meaning the conference will have a new king for the first time in six years.
The Cowboys (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) have something extra to play for, as a win would put them on the verge of a bid to the College Football Playoff. If the Bears (10-2, 7-2) come out on top, Baylor gets a chance to cement itself as one of the reconfigured Big 12's top programs.
Here's what to watch when the teams take the field on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
Big 12 Championship Game: No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 4 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Spread: Oklahoma State -5.5
When Baylor Has the Ball
Baylor boasts a thundering running game. The Bears are averaging 5.5 yards per attempt on the ground in 2021, the fifth-best mark in the nation. It helps to have a one-two punch like seniors Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner toting the rock. The pair have combined for more than 2,000 rushing yards this season.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they have a big question mark behind center at the moment. Fourth-year junior Gerry Bohanon suffered a hamstring injury in a 20-10 win over Kansas State on Nov. 20. Freshman Blake Shapen piloted the offense in last week's 27-24 victory against Texas Tech, but throwing a rookie out against Oklahoma State's experienced defense sounds like a recipe for disaster.
The Pokes played a masterful game on defense in their season finale against Oklahoma. Although the Sooners put up 33 points, OSU held them without an offensive touchdown in the second half and flummoxed Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams the entire game. A similar effort against the Bears would likely have head coach Mike Gundy hoisting the Big 12 trophy in the end.
When Oklahoma State Has the Ball
Gundy reoriented his Cowboys teams in recent years as a run-heavy offense to take advantage of the move around the Big 12 to pass-focused defenses. The Pokes ran the ball on 60 percent of their plays this season and sacrificed some of their offensive explosiveness in the process. It wasn't flashy, but it was a brutally effective approach to winning games this year.
Baylor is one of the best teams in the Big 12 at stopping the run, giving up just 3.6 yards per attempt. But when the teams met in October, Oklahoma State racked up 219 yards on 59 carries in a 24-14 win.
The Bears would surely prefer that veteran quarterback Spencer Sanders try to beat them with his arm. Sanders was a first-team selection to the All-Big 12 team this year from a less-than-stellar group of candidates, and he has a knack for putting the Pokes in tough spots by turning the ball over. The Bears have demonstrated they will pounce on bad decisions by opposing QBs, snagging 12 interceptions to lead the conference.
It's worth asking if Oklahoma State's emotional victory against Oklahoma in the Bedlam rivalry game last weekend could give the Cowboys a hangover in AT&T Stadium on Saturday. With a conference title on the line, however, any lingering effects would pass quickly for the Pokes.
More likely to linger: Bohanon's injury. Those types of ailments have a way of sticking with athletes. If Bohanon does give it a go this weekend, count on the Cowboys and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to take advantage of his impairment. If it's Shapen taking snaps for the Bears, expect Knowles to try to tie the youngster up in knots with blitzes and exotic looks.
Whatever the outcome of this game, these two brilliantly coached teams have put together outstanding seasons. After Saturday, OSU's campaign will probably shine a little brighter.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 23, Baylor 17
Podcast: Championship Weekend Preview and Predictions
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.