The Oklahoma Sooners roll into Waco, Texas on Thursday in an unfamiliar position—underdogs to the Baylor Bears. And double-digit underdogs at that.
In the teams’ 22-game history, Baylor has averaged a meager 15.9 points per game according to mcubed.net. If the Sooners defense holds Bryce Petty and the Bears’ offense to anywhere near that number it would be nothing short of a miracle.
That’s not a knock on Mark Stoops’ defense, either.
Oklahoma’s D is annually one of the best in the country and it’s been that way again this season.
After eight games, the Sooners rank 14th in scoring defense (18.8 points per game) and ninth in total defense (314.2 yards per game).
They are also coming off a solid performance against Texas Tech in which they held the then second-ranked passing attack to just 259 yards passing. The Red Raiders were also held to 30 points, 11 under their season average.
Baylor’s a different kind of animal, though, as Grantland's Chris Brown points out.
Then there's Baylor. Superficially, Baylor is yet another shotgun spread that pushes the tempo and rarely huddles. But when you watch the Bears, it's evident that this is an offense unlike the others. While more and more college and NFL teams are adopting the same up-tempo spread philosophy (Art) Briles used at Stephenville, Baylor has stayed one step ahead by taking these ideas — from formations to play-calling aggressiveness to pace — to their extremes.
Texas Tech’s offense has some impressive firepower of its own, but Baylor’s is working on NCAA history.
The NCAA record for points scored is 767 and the Division I record is 716, set by Oklahoma in 2008. The Bears are on pace for 813 points according to Chip Rouse of Talking12.com.
We’ll find out just how much Baylor’s relatively weak schedule has padded those stats Thursday against Oklahoma.
One thing Bob and Mark Stoops have going for them is the 12 days of rest and preparation they have for the Bears. That gives them a few extra days of preparation, but Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery has that same luxury.
Unfortunately for the Sooners, no amount of time is long enough to be fully prepared for Baylor.
West Virginia didn’t have the extra days to prepare for the Bears, but defensive coordinator Keith Patterson didn’t make it sound like any amount of preparation would have been sufficient.
The biggest thing that sets Baylor apart from other Big 12 offenses is quarterback play. Petty has been heads and shoulders better than any other conference quarterbacks. As ESPN.com’s Big 12 blog puts it, “the gap between No. 1 (Petty) and everyone else on this list right now is tremendous.”
He is also surrounded with the best group of skill players in the league. The running back combination of Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin keeps the defense on its heels and Baylor’s receiving duo of Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese might be the best in the Big 12 as well.
Defensive back Aaron Colvin is a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist and will match up as well as any corner against either Goodley or Reese, but he can't cover them both. Baylor has so many talented receivers that there is always an open man or two for Petty to find.
Oklahoma will also be without some important defensive pieces against the Bears. Linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips are both out for the remainder of the season. They are replaced by freshmen Dominique Alexander and Jordan Wade at those positions according to John Shinn of The Norman Transcript.
The best game plan for the Sooners will be to play keep away from the Bears as Bill Snyder’s Wildcats did extremely well in Baylor’s closest call of the season.
CBSSports.com's game statistics show that Baylor only ran 59 offensive plays in its 20 minutes and 56 seconds with the ball while the Wildcats ran 80 plays in 39 minutes and 24 seconds.
Kansas State also loaded up the box with defenders and practically made Lache Seastrunk a nonfactor. That strategy worked well for most of the game, but Baylor was still able to burn them for three long touchdowns of 93, 72, and 54 yards.
Oklahoma’s offense has the ability to sustain long drives and leads the Big 12 in time of possession, but a key weapon is out for the rest of the season in fullback Trey Millard. Millard was an essential blocker and the Sooners will especially feel his loss against Baylor.
It would certainly help the Sooners' cause to hold the ball as long as they can, but for them to win the game they will have to force several turnovers.
Petty has been excellent at taking care of the ball with only one interception in 176 attempts, but BaylorBears.com's team statistics show that Baylor has racked up 18 fumbles already this season.
The Bears have only lost 33 percent of those fumbles, which is six. That's a pretty fortunate figure but not something Art Briles wants to mess around with for much longer.
And then there's the home-field advantage—a relatively new thing at Baylor.
People rag on Baylor fans and the city of Waco in general, but you can bet it'll be rocking on Thursday. The Bears have pulled the infamous tarp, making way for one of the largest crowds in Floyd Casey Stadium history.
Baylor has taken advantage of improved crowds and been an absolute force at home games this season. Thursday’s showdown is perhaps the biggest home game in school history and Baylor is going with the “blackout” crowd as noted by Art Briles' Twitter account.
The Bears may not reach their home average of 70.6 points per game, but you can bet they’ll hang a big number on the Sooners.
Baylor is ready to show the Big 12 and the entire nation it is for real.