The Baylor Bears and Oklahoma Sooners still have high hopes for the postseason, raising the stakes for their meeting in Waco on Saturday.
Oklahoma (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) enjoyed an open date last week after playing nine straight games. The Sooners needed the rest, too, after seeing multiple starters on the defensive side of the ball miss extended time for periods this year.
While OU was watching on TV last week, Baylor potentially got caught looking ahead to its showdown with the Sooners. The Bears (7-2, 4-2) fell to a struggling TCU team, 30-28, giving them a damaging loss in the Big 12 race. Beating OU would get Baylor back squarely in the mix for a spot in the conference championship game.
Here's what to watch when the Sooners and Bears square off Saturday.
No.8 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma -5.5
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The Baylor defense has started to show cracks in the last few games. It began when the Bears gave up 11 yards per pass attempt versus BYU on Oct. 16. Last week, TCU backup quarterback Chandler Morris roasted Baylor for 461 yards and two touchdowns on 29-of-41 passing, leading the Horned Frogs to a win in Fort Worth.
Freshman QB Caleb Williams has proven to be almost every bit the equal of predecessor Spencer Rattler when it comes to throwing in the OU offense. In his last outing against Texas Tech, Williams completed 23 of his 30 passes for 402 yards and six touchdowns. Importantly, he also avoided turnovers in helping pilot the Sooners to a convincing 52-21 victory.
The big question for OU: Can Williams keep from trying to do too much in the passing game? Waco will be jamming on Saturday, so staying on an even keel will be a high priority for the rookie gunslinger.
When Baylor Has the Ball
The Bears run the ball on roughly 60 percent of their offensive plays. The combo of senior running backs Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner are thriving as the focal point of the offense and playing a big role in Baylor generating 5.9 yards on average every time the Bears run the ball. That ranks first in the Big 12.
The Bears may not lean as heavily on the pass, but they use it opportunistically. They're averaging 8.8 yards per pass attempt, with lanky receiver Tyquan Thorton evolving into one the most dangerous receiving threats in the Big 12. They're facing an OU pass defense that has struggled to live up to offseason hype in giving 8.1 yards per pass attempt this year.
The good news for the Sooners is that their defensive personnel hasn't been this healthy all year. Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell and defensive tackle Jalen Redmond have returned at full speed, for example, after missing multiple games already this season. Talk surfaced around Norman this week that starting cornerback Woodi Washington could be preparing for his first action since sustaining an injury in the second game of the season versus Western Carolina.
The last time we saw Oklahoma, the Sooners were blasting an overmatched Texas Tech squad that was missing its head coach. In other words, it sounds like a solid win until you look under the lid. Did last week's bye give head coach Lincoln Riley and his staff ample time to iron out some of the problems that have dogged OU through its first nine games?
Baylor, meanwhile, received a cold dose of reality from TCU last week, the Bears' second loss of the season. It seems fair to wonder if this team has already peaked.
The big story in this game is health. Specifically, the health of the Sooners, which has been poor for long stretches this season. Baylor will see the freshest version yet of this year's OU team.
With the rejuvenated Sooners trying to catch the eye of the College Football Playoff selection committee, they should knock out a solid win over the Bears. That will put Baylor's hopes of possibly seeing OU a second time in Arlington, Texas, in December on life support.
Prediction: Oklahoma 38, Baylor 28
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— 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.