Picks, Predictions and Prognosis for Every Week 15 Big 12 Football Game
This is it, y'all. The final weekend of Big 12 football before bowl season. It will be missed, but at least it's going out with a bang.
The top four teams in the conference standings will play Saturday, three of which still have a chance for a Fiesta Bowl berth. Oklahoma plays at Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game at noon ET, followed by Baylor and Texas in Waco at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Oklahoma State wins the conference if it beats Oklahoma; Baylor and Texas need the Cowboys to lose to leapfrog them into the BCS. There's also a lot on the line for Longhorns coach Mack Brown. A win over the Bears could very well mean Brown returns for another year in 2014. A loss, and there could be some serious decisions to make.
So who wins in Week 15? Check out the keys to the game for each team.
Oklahoma's Keys to the Game
Oklahoma has been making a habit of entering games as an underdog lately, and Saturday's Bedlam game is no different. According to Vegas Insider, Oklahoma State is a 9.5-point favorite at home over the Sooners.
But you know the rivalry cliché: Throw out the record books (even though Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has an exemplary record in the Bedlam game).
The key to Oklahoma pulling the upset and preventing the Cowboys from going back to the BCS begins with quarterback Trevor Knight—if he starts. Stoops hasn't announced who will start, Knight or Blake Bell, but given that Bell is recovering from a concussion coupled with Knight's performance against Kansas State, it would appear as if Knight has the edge.
As Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World notes, Oklahoma quarterbacks making their Bedlam debut have gone 6-1 under Stoops. Oklahoma State's defense has been outstanding under first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, but Knight brings a mobility that could challenge the Pokes defense.
Oklahoma State stuffed Baylor's running attack a couple of weeks ago, but the absence of Bears running back Lache Seastrunk and his change of direction was glaring. Similarly, Knight is an open-field threat.
If the Sooners can have success in the running game—Oklahoma State is 21st in the country in run defense, allowing 130 yards per game—that should open up the pass, and Knight threw some darts against K-State.
On defense, Oklahoma needs linebacker Eric Striker to do basically what he's done all season: be a heat-seeking missile with coordinates "Clint, Chelf." Chelf has been on fire over the past month, so getting him out of his comfort zone is going to be paramount.
Oklahoma State's Keys to the Game
It would be nice to see running back Desmond Roland get going again. He hasn't topped 100 yards in a game since rushing for 219 and four touchdowns against Iowa State over a month ago.
If nothing else, Roland will be able to take pressure off of Chelf in the running game. Oklahoma has been vulnerable up the middle of its defense against the run, and Roland is a bruising downhill runner. Running back Rennie Childs is much smaller (listed at 180 pounds), but he plays more physical than his weight indicates.
Defensively, Oklahoma State's defensive backs need to be able to win the one-on-one matchups with the likes of Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard. With cornerbacks like Justin Gilbert, that is beyond doable. Saunders has been especially productive lately, catching at least six passes in three of the past four games.
Knight did a better job holding on to the football and making good decisions against Kansas State than he did to start the year, but Oklahoma State has made its living on forcing turnovers.
Score prediction: Oklahoma State 31, Oklahoma 26
Texas' Keys to the Game
Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is a legitimate candidate for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. If he has a huge game against Baylor, he could probably get some late votes to swing in his favor.
The Bears offense just hasn't been the same over the past few weeks. Obviously, injuries have been a big part of that. The absence of receiver Tevin Reese and lineman Spencer Drango has made it harder for quarterback Bryce Petty to stretch the field vertically.
Jeffcoat and defensive tackle Malcom Brown will need to take control up front to keep the Bears from returning to their old offensive ways, especially since the Longhorns' linebacker unit is getting thin.
Slowing Baylor on the outside can be tough, too. Texas' secondary isn't as good as Oklahoma State's or TCU's, but if it can press Baylor's wide receivers effectively and make good open-field tackles, it has a chance.
On offense, it's all about utilizing running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, both of whom are coming off 100-yard games against Texas Tech. That continues to be the strength of this offense.
Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite also needs to take a page from Oklahoma State's win over the Bears by getting creative with the playbook. Catch Baylor by surprise a couple of times, and maybe some things will go Texas' way that wouldn't have previously.
Baylor's Keys to the Game
Now that running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin are healthy, the ground game needs to pick up. Getting Seastrunk back against TCU was a reminder of how ridiculous his change-of-direction is in traffic. Texas has been much better at tackling since Greg Robinson took over the defense, but Saturday will test that fundamental.
Also, look for a big game by Bears receiver Levi Norwood. He's been reliable over the past few weeks and brings a lethal combination of physicality and finesse to the game. Antwan Goodley is able to stretch the field, but he and Petty haven't connected as often lately.
Defensively, Baylor's secondary needs to step up after getting pushed around a bit by TCU's wide receivers. There's definitely speed on the back end for Baylor, but Texas' Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will fight for the ball. Baylor needs to be ready to fight back.
If the Bears can survive the first half without safety Ahmad Dixon, who is suspended for the targeting hit on Trevone Boykin, they should be in good shape.
Score prediction: Baylor 38, Texas 20
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. Follow him on Twitter @BenKercheval.