NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma has rallied to salvage what appeared to be a lost season.
The Sooners entered the year with hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff, but they dropped games to Houston and Ohio State early and fell out of the Top 25. Now, No. 9 Oklahoma has won six straight to take control of the Big 12. The Sooners (7-2, 6-0 Big 12, No. 11 CFP) now must defeat their recent nemesis, No. 25 Baylor, to maintain their momentum.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he's impressed that the Sooners have performed so well, given the rough start and a slew of injuries to key players, including star running back Samaje Perine.
“We've been resilient,” Stoops said. “I still think there's more. Hopefully, to finish the season, we can be stronger and better and more consistent. I think we can keep improving. But we've been a resilient, tough-minded team to have handled what we have to this point.”
Baylor (6-2, 3-2) is coming off a humbling 62-22 loss to TCU , but that doesn't mean much to Stoops. The Bears have the best record in the Big 12 the past three years and have won two conference titles to Oklahoma's one.
Baylor is trying to overcome outside distractions. Coach Art Briles was fired in May after sexual assault allegations against some of his former players. Still, the Bears still won their first six games under acting head coach Jim Grobe, climbed to No. 8 in the AP poll and appeared to be the conference's best hope for a spot in the playoff.
With additional allegations made recently and assistant coaches and staff members supporting Briles on Twitter last Friday, the Bears struggled to focus. They say they are ready for Saturday.
“We're beaten up, but we are not going to lie down,” Baylor quarterback Seth Russell said. “We are going to continue to fight.”
Here are some things to watch Saturday:
The Bears are trying to avoid their first 3-game losing streak since the middle of the 2012 season, and they are 43-10 overall since then. It's going to be a tough task.
“I realize that for us to go to Oklahoma and have a chance, we have to play so much better than we have this year, because we're playing the most talented football team that we've faced so far, and maybe the best coached,” Grobe said.
Oklahoma's defense was ripped for 59 points and 854 yards against Texas Tech, but the Sooners bounced back with two of their best performances of the season against Kansas and Iowa State. Baylor is a different level of opponent though — the Bears rank sixth nationally with 541.8 yards per game.
“Texas Tech, that was a small bump in the road, and I feel like we've gotten past that,” Oklahoma safety Steven Parker said. “We play better, we practice better. This game, going into it, feel like we're very confident.”
Perine is expected to play Saturday after missing three games with a pulled muscle in his right leg. The 235-pound bruiser rumbled for 166 yards and two touchdowns in Oklahoma's 44-34 win at Baylor last year. In his past six November games, he has rumbled for 1,220 yards and 14 touchdowns with an average of 8.5 yards per carry.
Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook has produced one of the best seasons in school history, and he's in the running to be considered for major hardware. In six Big 12 games he has 47 catches for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has at least 105 yards and a touchdown in each league game.
Grobe suspended running back Shock Linwood for the game, citing attitude issues. Linwood is Baylor's all-time rushing leader with 4,056 yards. Terence Williams, Baylor's leading rusher this season with 691 yards and eight touchdowns, will have a greater role. Redshirt freshman JaMycal Hasty has posted two 100-yard rushing games.