Game of the Week: No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State

Story posted November 22, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Aaron Carr

Each week ComRadio staff writer Aaron Carr will highlight a matchup in college football that he considers to be the “Game of the Week.” If you’re going to enjoy some college football action then this is the ONE contest that you do not want to miss. Carr’s, “Game of the Week” selection for week thirteen of the college football season comes to you live from Stillwater, Oklahoma, where the Big 12 Conference’s best clash in the de facto conference championship game.

The Game: No. 4 Baylor Bears vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys

I mentioned in my “Game of the Week,” matchup for week nine’s game pitting then-No. 8 Baylor against then-No. 10 Texas Tech that “this isn’t your daddy’s Big 12.”

Since the Big 12 Conference crowned its inaugural champion in 1996, the league has been dominated by one program: the Oklahoma Sooners, winners of eight conference championships, including a share of the conference crown last year (although Kansas State received the BCS bowl bid).

The front-runner to run away (maybe somewhat literally) with this year’s Big 12 championship is a program that not only has never won the conference title, it also never even appeared in the Big 12 Championship Game in the 15 years that the game existed.

That program is Baylor, and that No. 4 BCS ranking in front of its name is not a fluke. It’s an incredibly accurate assessment of what the Bears have accomplished thus far.

The (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) Bears look every bit the part of a legitimate National Championship-winning team, something the conference hasn’t done since Texas hoisted the crystal football in 2005.

What sets the Bears a part from the rest of its Big 12 colleagues, is how frighteningly balanced they are on offense and how complete a team they are on both sides of the ball.

Baylor ranks third best in the country in passing yards per game with 384, while also boasting the ninth best rushing attack in the nation at 300 yards a contest.

It’s also the highest scoring team in the land, dumping an average of 61 points per game on its unlucky opponents.

You know about the offense, led by junior quarterback Bryce Petty, whose 2992 passing yards and 24-to-1 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio has Bears fans giddy (and for good reason).

But the defense, a unit that ranks seventh best in the nation by allowing just a hair over 17 points per game, is widely considered to be the most improved in the conference, after allowing an average of 50 points in its five loses a year ago.

Simply put, if the Big 12 is going to have any shot of being represented in the BCS National Championship Game, Baylor is the team to bet on, and bet heavily. Once the dust settles on the plains of Oklahoma (had to squeeze in that not so subtle Jason Aldean reference), the odds may be ever in Baylor’s favor for a potential BCS title nod, if it can dispatch its toughest test of the season.

After realignment left the Big 12 in a whirlwind following the 2010 season, the conference was left with ten teams for the 2011 season and was not allowed to hold a conference title game because of only having ten teams.

The North and South Divisions were scrapped in favor of every team playing one another, one time each, and the team with the best win-loss record in conference play during the regular season, would claim the conference championship.

When this format was first adopted in 2011, the first team to claim an outright Big 12 championship was Oklahoma State, the same team looking to deny Baylor its first Big 12 crown.

The 2013 Cowboys are not as flashy as their 2011 version, they’re not as talented as their 2011 version and they haven’t received even a fraction of the same media hype as their 2011 version.

So why then, in 2013, should we care about these Pokes? One very good reason: defense

Oklahoma State’s defense is the only one in the conference with any hope of running with Baylor. Flanked by three senior leaders – defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, linebacker Caleb Lavey and cornerback Justin Gilbert – the Pokes boast the 14th best scoring defense in the country, allowing 19 points per contest.

That is the second-best current scoring defense in the conference behind Baylor, and only the Sooners (19th) have a current scoring defense rank that’s in the same ballpark as Bears and Cowboys.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy knows full well that if his team is going to have any prayer against the Bears, his offense will have to put some points on the board.

Despite scoring nearly 20 points less per game than their upcoming opponent, the Cowboys still have the 14th best scoring offense in the country.

Senior running back Desmond Roland (565 yards, 10 TDs) has been wildly inconsistent for the Pokes this season and will need to post a stat line similar to the one he had against Iowa State (219 yards, 4 TDs) if Baylor is to be supplanted atop the Big 12.

Players to Watch:

LB Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State: Let me introduce you to the Big 12 Conference’s best defensive player in 2013. The senior linebacker will surely be named a first team All-Big 12 selection at season’s end and has stuffed the stat sheet for the Cowboys this season. His four interceptions are tied for second- best in the conference, two behind teammate Justin Gilbert who ranks first in the Big 12 with six. In Oklahoma State’s victories over then No. 15 Texas Tech and then No. 24 Texas, Lavey registered a key interception in each win. While Lavey is watching the football, we’ll be watching him, intently.

WR Levi Norwood, Baylor: Picking a member of the Baylor offense to key on is no easy task, just ask every single opposing defense its left, literally, in the dust this season. Norwood gets the nod here because of his recent play (7 catches, 156 yards, 2 TDs, 58-yard punt return TD in the win over Texas Tech) and because of his hometown: State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State fans might remember Levi’s older brother Jordan, who was a wide receiver for Nittany Lions back in the late 2000’s. Nothing like a solid Penn State tie-in, to a game between Baylor and Oklahoma State.

By the Numbers:

19 Oklahoma State has a Big 12-leading 19 interceptions this season, returned for a league-high 331 yards.

44 Baylor’s average margin of victory in its nine victories this season: 44.

2 Baylor boasts two players in the top five in the Big 12 in rushing yards (Lache Seastrunk, 888 and Shock Linwood, 812) and receiving yards (Antwan Goodley, 1075 and Tevin Reese, 824).

Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email adc5230@psu.edu.