For the Baylor Bears, the entire season starts now. They did what they needed to do in the first 8 games of the year. They beat up on overmatched teams, usually in very convincing fashion. It is now time for November madness, with games against three ranked teams and legtimiate playoff contenders in the next 13 days. First up is the Oklahoma Sooners who will visit McLane Stadium in front of a ramped up, and blacked-out Baylor crowd.
This is by far the closest matchup we have seen in these rankings, with West Virginia (30.50) and Texas Tech (40.0) ranking in the Top-40 of most of these metrics, at least at the time of the game. Oklahoma is ranked higher than the Bears in most of the Football Outsiders metrics, while the rest slightly prefer Baylor. Less than 1.26 places are the difference between these two teams when you add everything up. With the way that Oklahoma has been playing since their loss to Texas, the Sooners are rightyfully one of the best teams in the nation. With an offense that ranks at just a tier below Baylor's, and a defense with by far the best performance in the Big 12 so far, this is a difficult test for the Bears.
There is little doubt that this is the most complete and talented team the Sooners have fielded since the Bears started their run in 2011. Oklahoma has struggled at the quarterback position since 2012 after Landry Jones graduated. The Bears saw that first hand as Oklahoma scored a combined 26 points in their 2013 and 2014 losses to Baylor. This year, scoring is not a problem, as Oklahoma is 3rd in the nation in scoring offese with over 46 points per game.
The Sooners defense has continued to improve, and rank 16th in scoring per game at 18.1 points per game allowed, over 5 points per game better than the next best scoring defense in the Big 12.
Players to Watch
Baker Mayfield, junior Quarterback
The former Texas Tech Red Raider, Mayfield won the starting job in the fall over incumbent Trevor Knight and has not looked back. He has been sensational at times, setting Oklahoma records for total offense. He is a dual threat and can make plays in the running game.
Samaje Perine, sophomore Running Back
The most talented running back in the Big 12, the Oklahoma staff has truly started to lean on their sophomore star. Perine has rushed for over 800 yards with 10 touchdowns on the year. He has truly taken off the last three weeks, rushing for 386 yards and 8.21 yards per carry.
Sterling Shepherd, Senior Wide Receiver
One of the most talented receivers in the Big 12, Shepherd leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. A shifty runner, with good speed, Shepherd can hurt defenses underneath and over the top.
Dominique Alexander, junior Linebacker
The leading tackler for the Sooners, Alexander averages over 8 tackles per game, including 6 for loss. He is a steady presence in the middle of one of the best run defenses in the Big 12.
Eric Striker, senior Linebacker
A pure pass rusher, Striker has 7.5 sacks on the year, and 13 tackles for loss, both team highs. He is a major speed threat off of the end, and is their biggest big play guy.
Keys to the Game
1. Make Mayfield FEEL the Pressure - Baker Mayfield is having an exceptional season. With a win against Baylor, he will likely thrust himself into the Heisman conversation. 28 touchdowns versus 4 interceptions. Another 5 touchdowns with his legs, and over 300 yards passing per game. Those are ridiculous numbers. However, on the road, Mayfield has been a bit more human. He has just 13 touchdowns in 4 games on the road, his apsser rating falls from over 200 to just 170 away from home. His yards per game decreases from 349 to 266. He has just one of his five rushing touchdowns away from home, and averages 1.96 yards per carry on the road. His overall yards per game drops from 376 to 288.
He is still very good on the road, but not a record-setter like he is at home. In fact, the whole offense takes a larger step backwards on the road. Of course, these numbers are skewed a bit by the still perplexing loss to Texas at the Cotton Bowl, but even taking that game out of the equation, they average 476 yards per game, 41.25 points per game, 5.98 yards per play. Compare that to their home averages of 608 yards, 50.4 points, and 8.24 yards per play. Those are massive differences.
Mayfield is the key to it all. His ability to run the ball gets their star duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon better running lanes. His ability to keep plays alive and get the ball down field allow for more holes and fewer players in the box. With poor quarterback play, this is the same old offense Baylor has seen the past two years, except playing at a much higher tempo.
The one area where Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense has struggled is pass protection. They allow a sack on 8.26% of their dropbacks against FBS teams. That is 106th in the nation. Mayfield will sometimes try to do too much and keep plays alive when he should just throw it away or get the ball to an underneath receiver. The Bears defensive line needs to step up in this one and make disruptive plays in the backfield. The OU offensive line has struggled at times and Baylor needs to impose its well against that unit.
2. Get the Crowd Going - This is the other area where Mayfield could feel pressure. The Baylor crowd will need to carry this team. This should be an insane environment, and a major advantage to the Bears. It has to be. Baylor has scored a touchdown on their first possession of every game this year, and that streak has to continue. The Bears have struggled defensively to start games, giving up first drive touchdowns to 5 of their 8 opponents, with another scoring a field goal. They have stopped their opponents first drive just twice in Lamar and Iowa State. Even more important than getting a touchdown first, is getting a stop first and getting ahead of serve, so to speak. Baylor fans love touchdowns, but the pure emotion of shutting down the opposition sends the crowd to another lelve. They just know that with every stop, the other team will get more desperate to keep pace with the Bears prolific offense.
3. Winning the Battle on the Ground - These are two spread attacks, which means that they both obviously pass all the time, at least to people that don't pay attention. Both the Sooners and the Bears have terrific running games, led by star running backs. The Sooners arguably have the most talented backfield in the conference, while the Bears offensive line is one of the best in the nation. The Sooners average 4.91 yards per carry, while the Bears are at 6.57. The Sooner defense has the edge over the Baylor defense, allowing 3.48 yards per carry versus 3.74.
The best way to keep the Bears offense on the sidelines is to run the ball, control the clock and grind out points (see Kansas State). Oklahoma doesn't want to do that. They play at a very fast tempo themselves, but will focus on the running attack to setup a dangerous play action game. The Bears defense has had its moments against tough running games, but struggled last week against Kansas State. With Andrew Billings getting healthier, the strength of the Bears defense will be back. This has been a very strong run defense, especially against running backs. It is those dang quarterbacks that give them some troubles, and Baker Mayfield is more than capable of making the Bears pay for those sins.
On the flip side, Baylor's offense goes to another level when they can get their running game going (see Kansas State for an example when the run game struggles). With Shock Linwood averaging a ridiculous 7.81 yards per carry, he is one of the best players in the league at taking advantage of the opportunities given. The Baylor run attack has been much stronger this year at ripping of longer gains, and making defenses pay for giving too much attention to the talented wide receivers outside.
Massey Ratings – Bears win 43-38
RealTime RPI – Bears win 49-23
TeamRankings.com - Bears win 40-37
Vegas Line - Baylor -2.5
Staff Predictions COMING SOON!