The Big 12 is on the outside looking in of the College Football’s Playoff after the Nov. 10 rankings release, but the news isn’t all bad for the conference, as Baylor and Oklahoma have a chance to make an impression on the committee Saturday night in Waco. The Big 12 schedule wasn’t intentionally backloaded, but this league features a handful of the best games in the nation over the next four weeks, with the Sooners and Bears at the center of most of those matchups.
Heading into Week 11, Baylor does not have a victory against a team with a winning record. However, the month of November represents an opportunity for the Bears to impress. After Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, Baylor still has games against Oklahoma State and TCU, followed by the season finale versus Texas. Despite losing quarterback Seth Russell to a season-ending neck injury, coach Art Briles’ team won 31-24 at Kansas State last week. The offense is in good hands with true freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham, but the performance of the defense is likely to determine whether this team can finish 12-0 and reach the playoffs.
While the Bears entered the season as the co-favorite with TCU to win the Big 12 title, Oklahoma opened 2015 looking to rebound after an 8-5 mark last year. Bob Stoops made changes to his coaching staff get the program back on track. Rising star Lincoln Riley was hired to call the plays, and three other new assistants joined the staff. The moves have paid off for Stoops, as Oklahoma is 8-1 and is in the mix to climb in the rankings and contend for a playoff spot. The lone defeat for the Sooners this season came at the hands of rival Texas in early October.
Oklahoma has a 21-3 all-time series edge against Baylor. However, the Bears have won two in a row against the Sooners and three out of the last four meetings.
Oklahoma at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Baylor -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham
Stidham earned high marks in his first start. The true freshman replaced the injured Seth Russell prior to last week’s game against Kansas State and torched the Wildcats for 419 yards and three touchdowns on 23 completions. For the season, Stidham has completed 47 of 61 passes for 750 yards and nine scores. Additionally, the talented true freshman has yet to throw an interception and averages 12.3 yards per attempt. While Stidham has been impressive, the schedule is going to get tougher. Saturday night’s matchup against Oklahoma is the true freshman’s toughest opponent so far this year, as the Sooners rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense and have allowed just six passing touchdowns so far in conference matchups. Only one opponent (Tulsa – 427 surpassed more than 260 yards through the air against Oklahoma. The Golden Hurricane’s 427 yards is notable, as former Baylor assistant Philip Montgomery is in his first season as Tulsa’s head coach. The Sooners’ secondary also has reinforcements on the way. Standout Zack Sanchez returns to the lineup after missing two games due to an ankle injury. Sanchez’s return comes at an ideal time. Stidham is throwing to the nation’s No. 1 receiving corps, headlined by explosive junior Corey Coleman (20.3 ypc), Jay Lee (21.9 ypc) and KD Cannon (16.8 ypc). Even though Oklahoma’s secondary is having a standout 2015 season, stopping Baylor starts up front. The Sooners lead the Big 12 with 33 sacks generated, but the Bears have a protective wall in front of Stidham, giving up just nine sacks this season. The true freshman was in clear control of the offense last Thursday, made decisive reads and showcased the talent that made him top 50 prospect in the 2015 signing class. How will he perform against a tougher defense?
Related: Post-Week 10 Bowl Projections
2. Oklahoma’s Rushing Attack
The best way to slow down Baylor’s offense is to simply keep them off the field. The Bears are fifth in the Big 12 against the run and surrendered a season high of 258 yards against Kansas State last week. Standout defensive tackle Andrew Billings suffered an ankle injury against West Virginia on Oct. 17 and is getting closer to 100 percent, which should help the interior of this defense. Last week’s struggles against the run are a bad sign for Baylor with Oklahoma’s offense coming to Waco. The Sooners struggled early in the year to get a push from their offensive line and managed only 67 yards in a loss against Texas. However, ground game has progressed in recent weeks, recording at least 232 yards in each of the last four games. Samaje Perine (806 yards) is the headliner, but Joe Mixon (6.65 yards per carry) and quarterback Baker Mayfield all contribute to the ground attack. Can Oklahoma match Kansas State’s success last week? If the Sooners can, that’s a big problem for the Bears.
3. Preventing Big Plays in the Passing Game
With both offenses averaging over 45 points per game, this should be a high-scoring affair. It’s unlikely either defense can deliver a shutdown performance on Saturday night, which is why both units need to eliminate the big plays. Oklahoma will challenge Baylor at the point of attack with Perine and Mixon, with Mayfield spreading the ball to an improved group of receivers. Sterling Shepard and Dede Westbrook are the primary targets for Mayfield, but Durron Neal and Mark Andrews, along with Mixon out of the backfield will contribute. The Sooners rank fifth in the Big 12 with 19 passing plays of 30 yards or more, but this unit jumps to first in plays of 60 yards or more. The potential is there to take any play to the house for six points. The same theory applies on the Baylor sideline. Stidham is confident in this offense and has a strong supporting cast to lean on. In addition to a deep receiving corps and standout offensive line, running back Shock Linwood leads the Big 12 with 1,046 yards. Both defenses will bend and yield yardage. However, it’s critical for both units to not allow 15-yard gains to become 60-yard touchdowns. Oklahoma has allowed only nine plays of 30 yards or more, while Baylor has surrendered 19. Which team can prevent the big play on Saturday night?
The Big 12 might be college football’s most intriguing conference for the month of November. Some of the best remaining games are in this league, and Saturday night’s matchup between Oklahoma and Baylor shouldn’t disappoint. Both teams are going to land their share of punches and points on the scoreboard. The Sooners’ ground attack presents a big challenge for the Bears after struggling to stop the run in Manhattan last Saturday. The secondary is also limiting big plays, which is critical with Baylor receiver Corey Coleman looming this weekend. While optimism should be high in Norman for the upset, the Bears connect on one big play in the fourth quarter to remain unbeaten.