Baylor-Oklahoma St. Preview
The last time Baylor and Oklahoma State met in Stillwater, one team was unbeaten and in contention for the national title while the other had one loss with plenty to play for.
It didn't end so well for the one sporting the perfect record.
The fourth-ranked Cowboys hope that isn't the case this time around, but they'd love to see their home dominance over the No. 10 Bears continue Saturday night in a game with major College Football Playoff implications.
Baylor was the team without a loss when it came to Stillwater on Nov. 23, 2013, but its spotless record and BCS title hopes took a hit it couldn't bounce back from in Oklahoma State's 49-17 trouncing.
The one-loss Bears (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) got some revenge with a 49-28 win in Waco last season, but this time it's Oklahoma State (10-0, 7-0) that's been perfect and has its sights most realistically set on a spot in the CFP.
Fresh off a rout of then-No. 5 TCU and with Baylor looming, the Cowboys crawled out of a 17-point hole last Saturday to escape with a 35-31 win at Iowa State.
Oklahoma State is sixth in the latest CFP rankings while Baylor is 10th.
"You don't win without having some maturity and a relentless football team," said backup quarterback J.W. Walsh, who has accounted for 10 rushing and 10 passing TDs in limited snaps, "and we've been able to attain those things very well. There was not a doubt in anyone's mind. You could see it in everybody's eyes."
Baylor wasn't as fortunate in escaping from a double-digit deficit against Oklahoma that same day. The Bears went down 34-20 in the third quarter en route to a 44-34 loss that ruined their perfect start and left them tied with the Sooners and Horned Frogs among the conference's one-loss contingent.
Since the Big 12 is no longer declaring co-champions - like last season when Baylor and TCU shared the title - the Bears couldn't claim a championship this year if they finish tied with Oklahoma. But they could be the champs by beating Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas in their last three regular-season games, and having the Horned Frogs and/or Cowboys beat Oklahoma.
"The way I can mathematically figure it, I think we're still very much alive," coach Art Briles said.
Is Baylor still alive for a spot in the CFP, where it was the odd team out last season at No. 5 in the final poll behind eventual national champion Ohio State?
"Really, I hadn't even thought that far, and really hadn't thought that far prior to last week," Briles said. "We're actually in the situation now where our vision is pretty tunnel. It's Stillwater this Saturday at 6:30 p.m., and whatever happens from there happens, and I think we all know that it's pretty hard to predict what's going to happen."
Briles should at least feel confident he'll have his quarterback healthy for this one. Freshman Jarrett Stidham, who took over following Seth Russell's season-ending neck surgery, is "bruised and sore" but otherwise fine after taking a hit on the opening series against the Sooners.
Stidham will have his work cut out for him in Stillwater, where the Cowboys have averaged 53.1 points in their eight wins over Baylor since 2000 and where they haven't lost in this series in 11 straight dating to 1939.
The Bears should have the edge on the ground, where they average a Big 12-best 6.3 yards per carry and 292.2 per game behind junior Shock Linwood.
And through the air, the transition from Russell to Stidham has been a plus. Stidham is averaging 11.44 yards per attempt and completing 71.6 percent of his passes - having receiver Corey Coleman and his FBS-best 20 TD catches still around doesn't hurt - while Russell threw for 10.52 YPA and connected on 59.5 percent.
"They definitely have weapons outside," Cowboys linebacker Seth Jacobs said. "They make big plays. It's just a matter of everybody doing their job and executing."
Oklahoma State doesn't do that particularly well on a per carry basis - its 3.8 yard-average is ninth in the Big 12 - but the Cowboys are strong in short-yardage situations. All but one of Walsh's nine TDs on the ground have been from inside the 5.
Starting quarterback Mason Rudolph has been sharp over the last four games as well, averaging 10.49 yards per attempt, 317.3 per game and tossing nine TDs to just one INT.
"I think his ability to see defenses now, recognize coverages and his understanding of our own offense and concepts have grown," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "I think he has an appreciation for ball security. Last week he did an excellent job of checking the ball down to his outlets. ... That was great to see for us. That was a great development."
Rudolph's first career action came at Baylor last season, and he threw for 281 yards but tossed a pair of interceptions to go with two TDs.
The Bears have lost all three road games against top-5 opponents since Briles arrived in 2008, getting outscored 149-55.