The Saturday night matchup between No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 10 Baylor has huge implications for the Big 12 championship and possibly the national championship.
Baylor can still win the Big 12 but has probably been knocked out of contention for the four-team college playoff.
OSU, on the other hand, just has to beat Baylor and No. 7 Oklahoma to record a perfect 12-0 season and undoubtedly get a ticket to the national playoff. Last Saturday, OSU escaped from Iowa State with a 35-31 victory while the Bears suffered their first loss of the year, 34-44 against OU.
OSU is 10-0 for just the second time in program history. This is the 16th time OSU has been ranked in the Top 5, with the last being 2001 when the Cowboys were No. 3 at the end of the year.
OSU coach Mike Gundy is thrilled at the position the Cowboys are in.
“They need to embrace this moment,” he said of his players. “All of us do. That’s one thing that I’ve been able to do this year. I really enjoy the team, and I think they’re maximizing who they are as individuals. As a team concept, we’re getting what we can get out of our football team. We put a lot of work in and buy into the system, and then you go home at night and go to sleep. It has been really fun for me. I’ve said this to our coaches multiple times over the last four or five weeks, but I’ve told them to enjoy the time that we’re having and to embrace being with these guys. In today’s society, life moves too fast. You look back and you think, ‘I didn’t even enjoy that ride.’ So, I think we’ve stressed that to them, as well as the importance of the next game.”
Kickoff Saturday is 6:30 p.m. in Stillwater. The game will be televised by Fox Sports.
The resilient Cowboys have trailed by 15 points in three games this year and are 5-0 on the road. In four of OSU’s wins this season, the Cowboys did not have the lead with 3:10 or less remaining in the game.
Part of the reason for that success is quarterback Mason Rudolph. He ranks 11th nationally with 3,161 passing yards and is eighth nationally with 9.3 yards per pass attempt. He has thrown nine touchdown passes against just one interception in his last four games.
Rudolph takes a businesslike approach to the Baylor game.
“It’s another game,” Rudolph said. “It’s another chance for us to play well and show people around the country what we’re really about. We’re playing a great team in Baylor. It’s a high-powered offense and a great defense so it will be an awesome challenge. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to.”
Backup J.W. Walsh ranks 46th nationally with 120 points responsible for this year despite being on the field for only 78 total offense attempts (rushes plus pass attempts), meaning Walsh has accounted for an outrageous 1.54 points per total offense attempt.
Baylor coach Art Briles said it is difficult to prepare both for Rudolph and Walsh.
“Yeah, it is. It really is,” Briles said. “ J.W. [Walsh] does a great job for them. He comes in, midfield, short-yardage and they’ll throw with him. He was a starter last year until [Mason] Rudolph took over. I think Rudolph’s first start was against us last year and he’s been the starter ever since. Of course, he does a tremendous job running their offense and J.W. adds that little extra benefit for them that keeps you on your toes defensively, because he can throw. He’s not just a running QB. He’s a fifth-year guy who’s played a lot of snaps for them.”
“They have good quarterbacks, good players around them,” said Baylor defensive back Travon Blanchard. “[One of] their quarterbacks can run, so we’re going to have to keep our pass rushing lanes. We can’t give up explosive plays; whenever we have them in third down and have a chance to get off the field, we have to make sure we get off the field and don’t give them a chance to convert and keep the drive going.”
OSU linebacker Seth Jacobs said one of the keys is to contain Baylor running back Shock Linwood.
“He’s a talented player,” said Jacobs. “He has definitely done a lot of damage in his experience of playing in the Big 12. You have to respect him and what he’s able to do. They definitely have weapons outside that can toss the ball out. They make big plays. It’s just a matter of everybody doing their job and executing.
“Their offensive line plays really well. They do what they do very well. You can tell when you watch their film. There’s really no other way to put it.”
The Cowboys own a 12-4 advantage over the Bears in Stillwater and have won 11 consecutive home games over Baylor. The Bears have not won in Stillwater since 1939.
“Every time we’ve gone into Oklahoma State, it hadn’t been good, that’s the bottom line,” said Briles. “They’ve always been a good football team. I actually have a whole lot of respect for them as a team because they do a great job of playing within themselves. You see them in all types of games, they never panic, they always have poise, they always believe in their system, and a lot of it has to do with how long Coach [Mike] Gundy has been there with his system. They’ve done a good job for a long time, similar to Coach [Bob] Stoops and Oklahoma. Those guys have seen a lot, done a lot, and understand a lot, so I have a lot of respect for them. They’re a tough out.”
Baylor’s freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham injured his back against the Sooners Saturday night but an MRI showed no structural damage and he will start against the Cowboys.
“I think we always have a chip on our shoulder,” Stidham said. “That’s how it is here at Baylor. But we’re going to approach this week like we do every week. OSU is a great football team and a great program, and we know they’ll have a live crowd there in Stillwater.”
Baylor has one of the best offenses in the nation. To beat them, OSU may have to score a bunch of points.
“They’re special on the offensive side of the ball,” said OSU receiver David Glidden. “I don’t know if we feel any added pressures. Sometimes it’s in the back of your mind, but really when it comes down to it we’re going to game plan for the things we need to do and the coaches are going to give us the plays they think gives us the best chance to succeed.”
The Cowboys have a lot of confidence.
“It’s just a testament to this group,” Glidden said. “The resiliency, never giving up and Coach Gundy telling us all the time, ‘You got to play the next play.’ You can’t control what happened in the past and I think that’s something this team has done a great job of and we plan on keeping it that way.”