With the Big 12 conference’s parity already on full display early in the season, every conference matchup feels like it has conference title game ramifications.
That is especially true with this Saturday’s matchup, a rematch of last season’s Big 12 championship game when the No.16 Baylor Bears host the No.9 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
It will be the third meeting between the two in the last two years, as the two schools squared off in a pair of classics last year. Oklahoma State beat Baylor in Stillwater last year 24-14 before losing a heartbreaker, coming up just inches short on a goal-line stop in a 21-16 loss at AT&T Stadium.
The Bears enter the game with a couple of impressive streaks. Baylor has won three consecutive games against AP top 10 teams under coach Dave Aranda, dating back to last season.
The Bears beat No.8 Oklahoma, No.5 Oklahoma State, and No.8 Mississippi en route to a 12-2 finish last season. Baylor will also look to build on its impressive 11-2 record at McLane Stadium with nine consecutive wins under coach Aranda, dating back to a 7-0 home record in 2021.
Last week, the Bears rolled to a 31-24 win over Iowa State in Ames to open league play, owning a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter and using an efficient offensive attack to secure the win.
Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen enjoyed maybe the best performance of his career against Iowa State, going 19-for-26 for 238 yards with three touchdown passes.
Shapen will need to build on his performance to take advantage of Oklahoma State’s weakness, which is the passing defense. The Cowboys rank 103rd nationally, giving up 265.3 yards per game through the air.
The defensive line is the anchor of the Oklahoma State defense as one of the oldest and most experienced in college football, with double-digit players contributing to the unit every week.
Baylor’s short and intermediate passing game will have to be effective to open up the running game against the Cowboys’ stout defensive line,
The Baylor running game has been surprisingly paced by true freshman Richard Reese who has 315 yards rushing on 55 carries with six TDs through four games, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 78.8 yards per game.
Reese had 78 yards and a rushing TD to help the Bears pull away from the Cyclones and earn the first Baylor win in Ames since 2016. Among NCAA freshmen, Reese is tied for first in rushing TDs and fifth in rushing yards.
On the other side of the ball, the Baylor defense is coming off, holding Iowa State to just 66 yards rushing, with two interceptions and four sacks. Linebacker Bryson Jackson had two of the sacks to go with four solo tackles and a QB hurry to earn Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Oklahoma State presents a much bigger challenge than the Cyclones, as the Cowboys have one of the fastest-paced offenses and the No.1 scoring offense in the FBS at 51.7 points per game. They also lead the Big 12 with 305.3 yards passing per game and in fewest penalties with just 4.67 per game.
“Their team speed really flashes on the tape,” Aranda said. “Up to this point, we’ve been probably looked at as the fastest team of whoever we’ve played. That’s probably not the case in this one. Their ability to play fast and violent is really what makes this a real competitive game.”
The Bears have been a thorn in the side of Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders. Seven of Sanders’ 12 interceptions last season came against Baylor. In total, the Bears have picked off the Cowboys’ quarterback ten times in four previous meetings.
Sanders has been impressive this season, completing 62-of-95 passes for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns to just one interception. He has added 27 rushing attempts for 110 yards and three scores on the ground.
However, Baylor’s defense, which ranks ninth nationally in rushing defense, 23rd in scoring defense, and 24th in total defense, is by far the most formidable defense the Cowboys have faced this year. Oklahoma State has not gone through a murderer’s row to reach its 3-0 record, dispatching Central Michigan, Arizona State, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“We need a great week of practice,” said Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. “We’re playing a good football team on the road. I can tell our guys are excited about the challenge this week.”
The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at McLane Stadium in Waco and will be televised on Fox.