By Jeffrey Swindoll
The bye week is over and the final stretch of the season is out in front of No. 7 Baylor football. Three games remain for the Bears to defend their Big 12 conference title. Moreover, the Bears still have a legitimate chance at making a case to the College Football Playoff selection committee to be included in the inaugural season of the new four-team playoff system.
All of that starts with the Bears’ game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys Saturday night. Feelings of revenge, redemption and hope will all be in the mix.
It was around this point last season that the Baylor Nation witnessed the team’s biggest meltdown. On a cold, dark night in Stillwater, Okla., the undefeated No. 3 Baylor Bears fell to No. 11 Oklahoma State 49-17. The Bears, eliminated from the once very possible chance at playing the program’s first national championship game, were crushed by their loss.
“Last year we had one loss and it was to [OSU], so we want to make sure we right our wrongs and definitely me as well,” senior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I’d love to come out and show them who Baylor football really is.”
The Bears, just like last season have reached a point with everything in their control. It’s simple. If the Bears win the few games left this season, they all but solidify themselves as one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. However, as Petty has said from the beginning of the season, the Bears are taking it one week at a time.
Saturday night’s game will be Baylor’s second-ever “#EveryoneInBlack” game. Baylor has asked its fans to come to the game wearing black. Black shirts made available by the school have been on sale for the past two weeks. The stage is set for another pivotal night for Baylor football.
In last season’s Blackout, the Bears beat down Oklahoma 41-12 in front of a record crowd at Floyd Casey Stadium.
“It was fabulous last year,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of atmospheres and I would rate [last year’s atmosphere for the OU game] maybe as the best. Our crowd was unbelievable. They were there way before the game started and they were anxious and ready and excited and very supportive. It was a big night for Baylor. ”
Baylor will certainly have the crowd behind them at McLane Stadium, but OSU is struggling this season. In their past three games, the Cowboys (5-5) got blown out by a Big 12 team – 42-9 by TCU, 34-10 by West Virginia and 28-7 by Texas.
On top of their evident troubles on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys could be without their starting quarterback, Daxx Garman. Instead, true freshman Mason Rudolph could be taking the snaps for the Cowboys against the Bears. Rudolph would be making his first collegiate start against the Big 12’s top defense.
Many expect the Bears to destroy the Cowboys after Baylor’s convincing 48-14 win over the No. 15 Sooners in Norman, Okla., two weeks ago. With Garman out of the lineup, it may be OSU’s self-destruction on display at McLane Stadium.
The Bears have done a good job pressuring quarterbacks this season. Senior defensive end Shawn Oakman is third in the Big 12 and 20th in the NCAA with 1.4 tackles for loss per game. Oakman has 12.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Junior defensive end Beau Blackshear has 4.5 sacks on the season and is right behind Oakman with 8.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Oakman and Blackshear anticipate a lot of action tomorrow night, forcing bad decisions out of Rudolph on his debut.
Senior middle-linebacker Bryce Hager, a potential all-American, suffered an injury against Oklahoma two weeks ago. However, Briles extinguished any panic for Hager’s availability on Monday.
“I think [Hager] will be alright,” Briles said. “He did not practice last week but he’s a fifth-year guy who’s played a bunch and we’re letting him kind of heal up. We need him on the field.”
“Learning from Bryce [Hager] has been an honor because he is so knowledgeable on the field,” freshman linebacker Taylor Young said. “He has helped me out so much as a young guy. He is a vocal guy, but he leads more by example. He tells me to watch him or to look for certain formations in plays. He is a great teacher.”
BU’s defense has limited teams to 14 points or less in five of nine games in 2014.
Baylor also tops the country in total offense (585.1 yards per game) and scoring offense (50.1 point per game). Petty, specifically in his past two games (Kansas and Oklahoma), he has shown just how good he can be. He leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency (152.1) and passing yards per completion (14.76).
Petty has made noticeable improvement in his performances after the loss at West Virginia earlier this season. Baylor’s receivers helped revive and accentuate Petty’s ability as a quarterback. Sophomore receiver Corey Coleman, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week two weeks ago is by far Baylor’s best receiver this season.
“[Coleman]’s extremely dynamic,” Petty said. “Every time he touches the ball, he’s got a chance to score. You love powerful guys like that who can take it every time they touch the ball. Corey has worked really hard and I’m really proud of where he’s at right now. And he wants to get better.”
Coleman leads the conference in receiving yards per game (137.7), scoring touchdowns (9) and all purpose yards per game (155.5). Coleman and freshman receiver KD Cannon are the only two receivers in the Big 12 to accumulate 200+ yards in one game.
The odds are in their favor, but the Bears must win this game to have a chance at getting into the College Football Playoff. The message is simple from here until the end of the season for the Bears. Just win.
“They’re always a tough opponent. Always,” Briles said. “They’ve been a really quality program for a number of years and we’ve helped that record for them. That’s something we’re certainly trying to rectify.”
No. 7 Baylor plays Oklahoma State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. The game will be broadcast on FOX.