7:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Oklahoma -10.5, Over/Under: 69.5
A huge showdown in the Big XII highlights Week Twelve, as the No. 10 Oklahoma Sooners travel to Waco to face off against the No.13 Baylor Bears from McLane Stadium in matchup featuring the top two teams in the conference. The margin for error has now become razor thin for Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1 in Big XII) if they are to once again be selected to compete in the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive year, for it’s become abundantly clear that since the release of the initial ranking two weeks ago that the Selection Committee doesn’t particularly favor them at the moment. After a 7-0 start in which they were absolutely clobbering their opposition by an average margin of 31.0 Points per Game, the Sooners were completely stunned in a 41-48 defeat at Kansas State, in which the final score didn’t quite indicate the difference between the two combatants. After racing out to an early 17-7 lead, Lincoln Riley’s charges trailed 23-41 heading into the Fourth Quarter, and very nearly completed the Comeback, had they not recovered an Onside Kick attempt late in the game’s final moments. The visitors were shredded defensively, allowing 426 Total Yards on Twenty-Four First Downs, while the Offense committed a pair of crucial Turnovers that swung the momentum in favor of the Wildcats. As a result, the Selection Committee clearly weren’t impressed, placing them at Ninth in the Rankings. So with plenty of ground to make up, how did Oklahoma respond? Well, they almost met same fate once again in last weekend’s narrow 42-41 escape at home against Iowa State. For the second straight week, the Sooners struggled to slow own an unranked opponent, as the Cyclones stormed back from a 21-42 deficit in the Fourth Quarter, scoring Three Touchdowns in the game’s final period, the last set up by a terrible Interception thrown by Heisman candidate, Jalen Hurts (73.3%, 2,742 YDS, 13.3 Y/A, 24 TD, 4 INT). However, after cutting the host’s lead to one point, the visitors decided to go for the win, and were unable to convert the two-point play, as the crowd in Norman erupted in relief following the first defensive stop that their side made all night. For the second consecutive contest, Riley saw his defense relinquish over 400 Yards of Total Offense, with the visiting side piling up 477 Yards on the evening. Hurts completed 18-of-26 Passes for 273 Yards, Three Touchdowns and that aforementioned Interception, while rushing for another Sixty-Eight Yards and two scores on Twenty-Two Carries. The Alabama transfer has proven to be arguably the most improved player in the country in 2019, accounting for a ridiculous 3,611 Total Yards thus far, the second-highest total in the nation. With Riley mentoring each of the last two winners of the Heisman Memorial Trophy, the fact that this kid has been even more prolific than his two predecessors really speaks to the teaching skills of one of the most in-demand coaches in the sport, along with the previously untapped potential of the veteran Quarterback. Getting back to Saturday’s affair, Sophomore Tailback, Kennedy Brooks (63 CAR, 515 YDS, 8.2 Y/C, 3 TD), rushed for a season-high 132 Yards and a Touchdown on Fifteen Carries, while Junior Receiver, CeeDee Lamb (44 REC, 983 YDS, 22.3 Y/R, 13 TD), hauled in Eight Receptions for 167 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns. With all that said, the pressure that is mounting on this unit to continue to perform at such a torrid pace in getting rather ridiculous, for how many teams can say that they’re worried about the outcome of an affair in which their Offense has amassed 500 Total Yards? That’s how poorly this Defense has played, ladies and gentleman, for to say that Oklahoma has struggled on this side of the football would be a gross understatement. With the season almost at it’s climax, the Sooners only appear to be getting worse in this regard, allowing 44.5 Points on 452.5 Total Yards over the past two weeks. Furthermore, they’ve proven unable to generate many big plays at all, totaling just Six Takeaways on the season, all of which came in their first four games. Making matters worse, Kansas State recently lost their third game of the season, with every defeat they suffer making their victory over the Sooners all the more damaging, which again, was a notion that was clearly reflected in this week’s CFP Rankings. While all is not lost, particularly if they storm into Waco tonight and best the Bears, this team is looking like one that is going to need some serious help if they’re going to get back into the Playoff.
Meanwhile, standing in the Sooners’ way is Baylor (9-0, 6-0 in Big XII), who now in their third year under the watchful eye of Matt Rhule is off to their best start since 2013. Apart from his counterpart in Norman, there probably isn’t a hotter Head Coaching Candidate, whether it’s the NCAA or the NFL that’s asking, than Rhule, the former New York Giants’ Assistant Coach who performed an excellent job at Temple before heading to Waco, where he’s successfully resurrected the Bears, who were in a rather bad way before his arrival in 2017. However, before we continue to wax poetic about this guy, it must be said that while this team has certainly been impressive thus far in compiling an undefeated record through Mid-November, they haven’t faced the most difficult of opposition, with nary a ranked opponent left in their wake. Granted, they bested both of the teams that gave Oklahoma fits, shutting down Kansas State (31-12) a week after narrowly escaping Iowa State (23-21), which will certainly bolster their argument for Big XII supremacy, but they’ve yet to meet either the reigning league champions or even instate rival, Texas, for that matter, with a trip to Austin scheduled in a week’s time. It also needs to be said that Baylor has also lived rather dangerously at times in 2019, flirting with defeat on a number of occasions, including that aforementioned win over the Cyclones, along with close calls over the likes of Texas Tech (33-30), West Virginia (17-14), and most recently Texas Christian (29-23), with those three outings ironically coming in their last four contests. Whether you subscribe to the theory of that this is a good teams finding ways to win close games, or rather one that started strong and is inevitably trending towards disaster, is your choice, and we don’t feel that their mutually exclusive. In fact, their triumph over the Horned Frogs last weekend gave credence to both opinions, as the visiting Bears rallied back from a slow start in which they fell behind 0-9, though there would be nothing but Field Goals in regulation for both sides, with the affair headed to Overtime squared away at 9-9, thanks to a 51-Yard Field Goal courtesy of Place Kicker, John Mayer. This is when the game opened up, folks, for Baylor struck first as Junior Quarterback, Charlie Brewer (67.3%, 2,338 YDS, 8.9 Y/A, 16 TD, 4 INT), barreled into the End Zone on a three-yard run, though TCU answered in kind with a 24-yard Touchdown that was eventually granted following review from the officials. Onto the second period, the hosts breached the End Zone in five plays, with the visiting side doing the same as Brewer hit his Senior Receiver, Denzel Mims (44 REC, 675 YDS, 15.3 Y/R, 8 TD), for 20-yard Touchdown to force yet another Overtime. Indeed, the third attempt would prove to be the charm for Rhule’s charges, who after another Touchdown from Brewer to a leaping Mims in the back of the End Zone, though the mandatory Two-Point Conversion failed. With the Frogs on their play, Fourth-Year Junior Cornerback, Grayland Arnold (20 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 SK, 3 INT, 1 PD), intercepted Max Duggan’s desperate heave in the End Zone to end a suddenly manic affair, bringing the visitor’s winning streak to eleven (dating back to last season). In the end, Baylor struggled to move the football, particularly during regulation, finishing with a season-low 294 Total Yards, including Ninety-Nine Yards rushing, while Brewer completed 27-of-41 Passes for only 195 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, with Mims accounting or both scores, Fifty-Seven Yards, and Six Receptions. Defensively, they were very fortunate that they benefitted from their opponent’s mistakes; in addition to the aforementioned game-ending Takeaway, the Bears picked off Duggan two more times, with the home side drawing the ire of the officials on eleven occasions for a whopping 125 Yards lost to penalties. Again, Saturday’s performance highlighted some persistent offensive struggles for Rhule’s troops, for ninety of their 294 Total Yards came in Overtime, a week after winning a game in which they scored less than twenty points for the first time in thirteen years. Needless to say, they’ll need to sort out their issues on this side of the football before their date with the Sooners, for the likelihood of limiting them to less than thirty points is a lot to ask, even if the Bears field what is statistically the best Defense in the Big XII, allowing on 19.0 Points per Game (17th Overall) on 337.4 Total Yards. This especially the case when you consider their recent meetings with Oklahoma, losing four consecutive games dating back 2015, in which they allowed no fewer than forty-four points and 511 Total Yards, including 625 and 607 in their two encounters since Rhule arrived.