Baylor-Oklahoma St. Preview
Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledges that this week is a big game for his undefeated and third-ranked Bears.
They just happen to be playing at No. 11 Oklahoma State, the preseason Big 12 favorite that has won six straight to get back in the thick of the title chase.
''It doesn't matter whatever team that Oklahoma State was playing this week or Baylor was playing this week,'' Briles said Monday. ''It was going to be a big game because of what they've done up through the season and what we've done up through this season. It just happens to be we're playing.''
With an offense on pace to set major college records at 61 points and 685 yards a game, the Bears (9-0, 6-0) are riding a school-best 13-game winning streak, have matched their highest-ever AP ranking and are fourth in the BCS standings.
"We got our work cut out for us this week, playing the best team in the league," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. ''Baylor's pretty much had their way with everybody they've played this year, I think everybody would agree with that. They're very deserving of being ranked third or fourth in the country. A lot of credit goes to them, so it should be a lot of fun Saturday night.''
Yet Briles, the Texas-born coach whose whole career has been spent in the Lone Star State, keeps the same even tone that he has throughout his six seasons at Baylor.
''It's huge. That mentality trickles down to us. You can't make any game bigger than any of the others,'' quarterback Bryce Petty said. ''You have to treat each game as it's a one-game season, as it's just a normal day. So that kind of confidence is what makes us play at such a high level.''
The Bears have gotten themselves in position to win their first Big 12 title, still facing a pair of potential title-deciding games in the last three weeks.
Baylor hasn't won an outright league title since Mike Singletary was a linebacker in 1980 for a Southwest Conference title team. The Bears shared the SWC title in 1994, only because unbeaten Texas A&M was ineligible and they were among five teams with 4-3 SWC marks.
Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1) is coming off a 38-13 win at Texas, which had been the only other team without a loss in Big 12 play.
"I don't think it's any pressure or nervousness, a lot of guys have been through this before the last two years, playing in big games," Cowboys senior offensive lineman Parker Graham said. "I'm just really excited for it."
Following a loss at West Virginia on Sept. 28, it might have been difficult to envision the Cowboys still having a shot to win their second Big 12 championship in three years, but the team has improved every week since then - particularly the offense after senior Clint Chelf took over at quarterback and junior Desmond Roland assumed primary running back duties about four weeks ago.
The Bears, meanwhile, overcame their first double-digit deficit of the season in a 63-34 victory over Texas Tech last Saturday at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium. Baylor trailed 14-0 and 20-7 but gained the lead for good by the end of the first quarter.
Now they head to Stillwater, where Baylor hasn't won since 1939, with plenty on the line.
''You have to embrace it, you really do,'' Petty said. ''You're there for a reason. The Big 12 is what we want. I think it's OK to take that for what it is and be excited about it.''
Briles believes playing in the festive atmosphere of the NFL stadium, a sold-out home game against Oklahoma two weeks ago and a trip to Kansas State earlier this season helped prepare the Bears for what to expect at Oklahoma State.
''We've been in some pretty good atmospheres so far this year, and we feel like Stillwater's going to fall right in line with some of the things that we've lived through,'' Briles said. ''Without question, the guys have been on a big stage, and we feel like it's going to be one this week in Stillwater, and we feel like our players have earned it.''
The Bears played against Texas Tech without their top two running backs, Big 12 rushing leader Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee) after both got banged up in a 41-12 win over Oklahoma on Nov. 7. Shock Linwood, effectively the third-string running back, ran for 182 yards against the Sooners and added 187 against Texas Tech and is second in the Big 12 with 101.5 yards per game.
Martin said Monday he expects to be able to play against the Cowboys. Seastrunk, meanwhile, started the running portion of his rehabilitation, and his return will be determined on how that goes this week.
''Lache, he's out there running. Glasco's looking really good, he was moving around really well the other night,'' Briles said. ''So they'll start coming around.''