Baylor defense could have say in Big 12 showdown

It’s impossible to overlook at what the Baylor Bears have done at offense.

That’s what happens when you average more than 700 yards and score more than 63 points a game.

But one of the big reasons the Bears (7-0, 4-0) have risen to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and No. 6 in the BCS rankings has been the play of their defense. Baylor, which hosts Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in a nationally televised game on Fox Sports 1, ranks just behind the Sooners in total defense in the Big 12.

The Bears are allowing just 316 yards a game and lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, giving up just 15.9 points a game.

The Baylor defense certainly has the attention of the Sooners.

“It’s probably the part of their team that hasn’t been talked about nearly as much as it deserves,” Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. “Not surprisingly they’ve got like seven seniors on their defense. They’re in the top part of the league in nearly every category. They’re playing very disciplined, very aggressive in how they play it. They’re playing well.”

Baylor’s defense has made the jump despite having many of the same players it did last season when the Bears ranked last in the Big 12 in total defense and allowed more than 37 points per game.

But players like linebacker Bryce Hager, who led the Bears in tackles last year and is doing the same again this season, have another year of experience. The top three tacklers for Baylor last year (Hager, Eddie Lackey and Ahmad Dixon) are the team’s top three once again this year.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis, whose team lost to Baylor 59-14 earlier this year, said it’s the linebacking duo of Hager and Eddie Lackey who set the tone for the Bears.

Setting the tone in big games hasn’t been an issue for the Bears in Waco recently. Two years ago Baylor upset Oklahoma in what turned out to be the signature game for Robert Griffin III’s Heisman season. Last year it was a 52-24 win over Kansas State that derailed the national championship hopes for the Wildcats and Heisman hopes for Collin Klein.

Now Baylor is a two-touchdown favorite over an Oklahoma team that’s 7-1 and 10th in the BCS rankings.

Baylor coach Art Briles doesn’t believe his team will get caught up in any of the pre-game hype surrounding the game.

“We certainly haven’t had as many big-game opportunities, or earned as many big-game opportunities as they have,” Briles said. “We are now. It’s really more about what’s present now. It’s 2013 and it’s like every conference game, it’s a big game for our conference. That’s how we view it. It’s a conference game that we’re trying to go out and win.”

The OU game also begins a stretch of five straight big games for the Bears, three of which are nationally ranked and have Big 12 title hopes. Briles isn’t looking at the rest of the schedule though.

“It (the schedule) just happened to land this way at this certain time,” Briles said. “As far as down the road, to us and our program nothing exists after Thursday night.”