Baylor is terrifyingly excellent at many things, namely scoring 61 points a game. That's why it's the No. 4 team in college football. But besides literally scoring a point a minute, the thing the Bears do better than anything else is play angry as hell.
That's likely because Baylor has been told all season it's not good enough. The foregone conclusion is that Alabama and Florida State will play in the BCS championship. There might even be a chance that Ohio State will finish ranked ahead of Baylor at season's end if both are undefeated. The Bears' strength of schedule has been mocked, repeatedly, and some Associated Press voters have punished the Bears accordingly.
That sort of criticism is traditionally saved for the Boise States of the world, but Baylor has had its share of doubters in 2013. Now, take that chip on the shoulder and put it on a team with several NFL-caliber players. Voilà, you have 9-0 Baylor.
The Bears' biggest test of the season should come Saturday in Stillwater against Oklahoma State, another team eyeing a Big 12 championship. VegasInsider has Baylor as a 9.5-point favorite over the Cowboys, but this has the feel of a toss-up game.
Here's how Oklahoma State can get that toss-up to go in its favor and upset Baylor.
Take Away Any Additional Opportunities
Let's start with the most logical key. Oklahoma State and Baylor have done an outstanding job winning turnover margin this year, tying for fifth and 10th in the nation, respectively.
Since Baylor usually jumps out to quick leads, the defense is able to force opposing offenses to abandon any game plan they had and play catch-up. That allows the defense to come with pressure and force turnovers. But it's not just about taking the ball away; it's hard to find many teams who do a better job of capitalizing on turnovers than the Bears.
Even if Baylor is behind, it can catch up quickly through mistakes. In Week 12, Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield threw an interception to Baylor defensive back K.J. Morton—literally, Morton jumped up to deflect the pass and the ball landed right in his hands. One play later quarterback Bryce Petty threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to receiver Antwan Goodley.
In a matter of seconds, Baylor went from being down one score to tying the game.
That's why Oklahoma State has to be smart with the football. With Baylor, turnovers really are another opportunity to score. Of the 20 turnovers Baylor has forced this season, a little over two-thirds have resulted in a touchdown. Oklahoma State should be putting an emphasis on taking away opportunities from Baylor, whether it's controlling time of possession, forcing turnovers or protecting the ball. Anything to keep it away from Baylor's offense.
Keep the Perimeter Game Under Control
Baylor has world-class athletes at the skill positions. It's why the Bears win so many one-on-one matchups—that, and Baylor's wide receivers are unselfish blockers on the perimeter. Oklahoma State needs to use its athletes to limit the big-play potential outside the hashes.
The best example of this is Kansas State's 35-25 loss to the Bears in October. As Bill Connelly of SB Nation and Footballoutsiders notes, the Wildcats forced Baylor to run up the middle of the field while playing tight and aggressive on the perimeter. With the exception of three long touchdown passes, which made up nearly half of Baylor's 446 yards that day, the 'Cats did an excellent job of keeping everything in front of them on the edge.
That's where Pokes cornerback Justin Gilbert is going to have to be more than just a cover guy; he's going to have to make open field tackles too. Oklahoma State's run defense is significantly better (27th in the nation, per NCAA stats) than K-State's was at the time of the Baylor game (71st). Spreading the field can leave defenses vulnerable up the middle, but the Cowboys have the players to slow the run.
And with Baylor's left offensive tackle Spencer Drango out with a back injury, Oklahoma State may be able to get some pressure up front without the need to blitz too often.
Clint Chelf Needs to be the MVP
J.W. Walsh was known as the better running quarterback for Oklahoma State, but Clint Chelf has been an underrated piece in the Oklahoma State rushing attack as of late. Chelf actually led the team in rushing with 95 yards and two touchdowns against Texas in Week 12.
Chelf will have to be the MVP of Saturday's game, running and throwing. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy praised Chelf for his improvement in the passing game on Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference, but the senior is more than a pocket passer. Oklahoma State has had a lot of success running Chelf up the middle of the field.
The one time Baylor showed a definite weakness in the run game was against Kansas State when Wildcats quarterback Daniel Sams rushed for nearly 200 yards. Last week, Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield showed his ability to evade tackles for loss. Mayfield is more slippery than anything, and he's more elusive than Chelf, but the Bears' defense has certainly struggled at times against mobile quarterbacks. And Chelf is more mobile than he's given credit for.
If Chelf is a key part of Oklahoma State's re-energized run game, the Cowboys' offense should be able to keep pace with Baylor.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.