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Cowboy Football: Previewing No. 10 OSU vs. No. 4 Baylor

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STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

College Gameday, national TV in primetime and Big 12 title hopes on the line.

The stakes are as high as they can be as No. 4 Baylor heads to Stillwater to take on No. 10 Oklahoma State in arguably the most anticipated Big 12 matchup of the year.

It's almost universally surmised that Oklahoma State will give Baylor its biggest test of the season. In OSU's case, there's no doubt Baylor presents its most daunting challenge.

Here are a handful of storylines to watch for as the unbeaten Bears take on the one-loss Cowboys at 7 p.m. in Stillwater:

 

1) Petty Differences

Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) is one of the nation's best in the turnover-creation department, as its ball-hawking defense ranks seventh nationally with 26 forced miscues. And of those 26 turnovers, 19 have come off of interceptions – no team in the country has more.

Obviously the availability of cornerback Justin Gilbert (who ranks fourth in the country with 6 INTs) is a big factor in the Pokes' ability to keep up the pace, but one would think there will be no shortage of opportunities to snag an INT or two given the frequency with which Baylor throws the ball.

But even with the staggering amount of offensive snaps the Bears reel off per game, they have been shockingly good at avoiding turnovers, ranking 11th in the NCAA with 11 on the year. Perhaps even more impressive has been quarterback Bryce Petty's ability to avoid picks. Petty has 2,992 passing yards and 24 touchdowns on 233 attempts with just one interception.

Something has to give in Payne County.

 

2) Establish The Run

As important as forcing a few turnovers would be for the Cowboys' success, establishing their run game is of equal or greater importance. Reason being: a team's best defense is often a good offense.

Baylor's offensive NCAA rankings are staggering: first in scoring (61.2), first in total offense (684.8), third in passing (384.4), first in yards per completion (19.33), first in passing efficiency (198.82), ninth in rushing (300.3), seventh in third-down conversion percentage (52.4) and 11th in turnovers lost (11).

Even though OSU's defense will be the best Baylor (9-0, 6-0) has faced, keeping the Bears' offense off the field is the best option. If the Cowboys can establish the run, which has been vastly improved in the latter half of the season, it will not only run the clock, but also open up the intermediate passing game.

And that rushing help to set up easier passes will be needed versus a Baylor secondary that ranks No. 14 in the country in pass defense.

This will put plenty of pressure on Desmond Roland, Jeremy Smith, Clint Chelf and possibly Rennie Childs to perform and that won't be an easy task against a highly-improved BU defense.

Baylor ranks 26th in rush defense, allowing just 132.9 yards per game, and will likely be putting plenty of people in the box with the cold weather on tap. If OSU can get the ground game rolling and, at least partially, control the clock, it would be a monumental victory and would cause the Pokes' chances of winning to skyrocket.

 

3) Get Off To A Good Start

Only Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have been able to get off to good starts against Baylor but neither OU nor K-State had the offensive firepower to make anything out of the opportunity and Tech didn't have enough defense to offset them.

OU's defense limited Baylor to just three first-quarter points but scored none of its own. K-State held BU to seven, but like OU, couldn't get on the board. And Tech scored 20 right out of the gate but allowed 21.

In BU's six other games it outscored its opponents 157-10 in the first quarter … yikes.

The Cowboys might have the best opportunity to knock off BU and definitely have the potential to make the most of a strong first quarter since the Pokes feature not only a more explosive offense than KSU or OU, but also potentially the best defense the Bears have seen.

If OSU is able to start strong and hand Baylor's its first deficit of the season after the first quarter, things could snowball in a hostile environment and swing momentum the Cowboys' way.

 

Notables

• Injuries could play a big factor in Stillwater. OSU has not confirmed the status of starters Justin Gilbert or Josh Stewart for the game, but both are considered questionable. Either would be a big loss, both would be a huge blow. That said, the Bears might be in worse shape. Starting left tackle Spencer Drabgo was lost for the season last week and star receiver Tevin Reese is also gone for the year. Gilbert's absence would likely be the biggest factor for either team. Good news for Baylor is that running back Lache Seastrunk is likely to play after missing the Tech game last week.

• Clint Chelf's legs will be important against Baylor and in three games where his running has been needed he has delivered. In victories against Iowa State, Texas Tech and Texas, Chelf has averaged 89.3 rushing yards per game and has four touchdowns. His ability to take off will keep the Bears on their toes.

• Baylor hasn't won a game in Stillwater since 1939.

• Oklahoma State has won eight of its past 11 games against ranked opponents.

• If the Pokes can get into the red zone it should be a good sign, as OSU ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 in red zone offense with an 88.5 percent conversion rate. In 52 trips inside the 20, OSU has scored 46 times – 26 of them TDs.

• A Cowboy victory would mark their 50th in the past five seasons with two games still to play.

• OSU linebacker Caleb Lavey is having an All-American caliber senior season with 76 tackles (55 solo), 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, four interceptions and a forced fumble and he still has three more games to build on that stat line.

• Tracy Moore has five touchdown receptions this season, four of them have come in the past three games, highlighted by a pair of scores against KU.

• Seastrunk has been a monster for Baylor on the ground this season. Despite missing last game with an injury, he has still run for 888 yards and 11 touchdowns on a stunning 8.7 yards per carry.

• OSU has forced at least one turnover in 18-straight games.

• The Cowboys have also won 18-straight games in which they don't turn the ball over.

• Mike Gundy is 4-1 against Art Briles with the lone loss coming last season in Waco.

 

Prediction:

The magnitude of this game cannot be understated; this is a heavyweight fight that will have the eyes of the college football world firmly set on Stillwater. OSU certainly has the horses to run with Baylor and they will present one another with their toughest obstacle of 2013 to date.

The Bears have been a force of nature all season but the Pokes are one of the nation's hottest teams and always play well and with confidence in Boone Pickens Stadium.

If the Cowboys can slow Baylor's offense down, which they are adequately equipped to do, all bets are off.

This game will likely come down to execution, which lends the upper hand to Baylor, but OSU is not to be counted out because of its uncanny ability to force mistakes and the cold weather should play into the Cowboys' hands.

We will find out exactly how good both of these teams are Saturday night with the winner leaving as the odds-on favorite to take the conference crown and earn the Fiesta Bowl bid.

As for us, we're calling the upset.

Score: Oklahoma State 35, Baylor 31

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