The Big 12 doesn't yet have the respect of the committee. The conference has two remaining undefeateds, and both rank behind one-loss teams. No. 6 Baylor is behind Alabama and Notre Dame, and No. 8 Oklahoma State is behind Stanford as well. Looking at the rankings, you could craft a scenario in which an undefeated Big 12 team misses the Playoff.
I doubt that happens. If Baylor or OSU wins out, as do each of the top four teams (Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame), I would guess the Big 12 overtakes Notre Dame once the arbitrary conference title bump (and a bump from a few more top-15 wins in this backloaded Big 12 schedule) sets in. Plus, the Big 12's one-loss teams could still have solid cases with a couple of nice wins and others losing.
As I wrote on Wednesday, Baylor's got a bigger issue than the committee at the moment: The schedule gets really tough. The Bears welcome Oklahoma on Saturday before heading to Stillwater and Fort Worth to face top-15 opponents. That's a hell of a three-week span. And while we have visions of the last two Baylor-Oklahoma games dancing in our heads (Baylor won by a combined 89-26), last year's OU is not this year's.
The Sooners rank sixth in overall F/+, while Baylor ranks 10th. The Bears are projected to win this game because of home-field advantage, but with the way OU has been playing of late, the matchups are tight.
Of course, the matchups seemed tight last year, and Baylor's schematic advantages on offense overwhelmed the Sooners at Owen Field. The Sooners bear the burden of proof, considering a) they suffered perhaps the most baffling loss of 2015 the last time they played in Texas (Longhorns 24, Sooners 17), b) Baylor has won eight straight against ranked opponents in Waco, by an average of 45-31, and c) the Bears' next loss at 15-month-old McLane Stadium will be their first.
So what matchups will be the most telling?
1. Baylor's offense has an actual weakness, relatively.
Baylor has the best standard-downs offense in the country, and it didn't appear that was going to change in freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham's first start last week in place of injured Seth Russell. On first-and-10, Stidham's passing line was nasty: 13 for 16 for 282 yards. BU managed a tolerable 46 percent success rate running on first down; you would prefer that the Bears run instead of pass, but they are just good enough at it to keep you honest.
But on the rare occasion Baylor falls behind schedule, signs of mortality appear. The Bears rank 65th in Passing Downs S&P+, a clear step backwards.
OU's defense ranks 12th in the same category and is allowing just an 82.5 passer rating on third downs: 39 for 89, 450 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions. The pass rush isn't amazing, but the Sooners are doing something right.
Against KSU, Stidham was 5 for 11 for 68 yards with three sacks on second- or third-and-5 or more. KSU's pass rush is possibly better than OU's in passing situations, but the Wildcats affirmed the blueprint for stopping Baylor. You aren't going to knock the Bears off schedule very often, but when you do, you can and must finish the job. That the Wildcats did this gave them a chance to spring a home upset.
2. Oklahoma's already struggled with the Baylor system this year.
Cornerback Jordan Thomas, who leads Oklahoma with seven passes defensed, was suspended when the Sooners hosted Tulsa on Sept. 19. But even taking that into account, the Golden Hurricane's offensive success was startling.
OU allowed five yards per play to Texas Tech in a big win and held WVU (4.3) and Tennessee (3.3) to paltry per-play averages. But between the Tennessee and WVU games, Tulsa put up 6.6 yards per play, 603 overall yards, and 38 points. Dane Evans completed 34 of 51 passes for 427 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack. Three Golden Hurricane receivers had at least 84 yards receiving, and Zack Langer rushed 31 times for 161 yards.
Why does this matter? Because Tulsa's head coach is Philip Montgomery, who until this year served as Art Briles' offensive coordinator. Tulsa did what Baylor wants to do: Use tempo, spread you out, pick the matchup it likes (easier without Thomas) and, once you're spread from sideline to sideline, gash you up the middle with the run.
Maybe the Tulsa game proves worthwhile. Maybe it allowed Bob Stoops and his defensive coordinator brother Mike to identify adjustments. Still, on a per-play basis, Tulsa was more successful than even Baylor has been against OU. That's frightening.
More frightening: Star corner Zack Sanchez might be rusty after missing two games with a badly sprained ankle. And Baylor's Corey Coleman is coming off of his biggest game of the season. The junior from Richardson, Texas, caught 11 passes for 216 yards against KSU and is on pace for nearly 100 catches, 1,900 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. Those numbers could get even a receiver Heisman consideration.
3. You can go deep on the Bears.
Kansas State was averaging 4.2 yards per play in Big 12 games before averaging 6.1 against Baylor last Thursday. Quarterback Joe Hubener took on a massive load, not only attempting 22 passes but also 28 non-sack carries for 168 yards.
OU quarterback Baker Mayfield probably isn't going to avail himself to that many hits. The junior is nimble, averaging 5.1 yards per non-sack carry, but he's only taking on about eight such carries per game. Most of the OU rushing attack is Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, combining to average 24 carries for 147 yards. (They're also catching about four passes per game.)
Still, KSU's success was a reminder that Baylor's defense has all sorts of question marks.
Now, that's a loaded statement. Baylor's reputation has for years been one of all offense and no defense, and that's been unfair. Long a liability, the Baylor D improved dramatically over the last couple of years. The Bears ranked 26th in Def. S&P+ in 2013 and 39th in 2014. That might not be elite, but when combined with an absurd offense, it's good enough most of the time.
Baylor wants to attack you and force just enough mistakes to break your serve. The Bears are content with allowing points and yards -- it's inevitable when you move this quickly on offense and give your opponent this many possessions -- but they are willing to risk big plays to make their own.
But BU ranks only 79th in Def. S&P+ this time. K-State aside, the run defense has been fine (28th in Rushing S&P+, and yes, that is adjusted for opponent), and the pass defense has been disruptive. Opponents are completing just 57 percent of their passes, 52 percent over the last four games.
But a couple things are dragging down Baylor's ratings:
- Big pass plays. It's fine to risk big plays in the name of efficiency, but it's another to allow a ton of big plays. The Bears have allowed 15 passes of 30-plus yards (84th-best in the country) despite a weak slate of opponents.
- Finishing drives. Some ill-timed turnovers and iffy special teams have given opponents good field position, and when given the chance to score, opponents are doing so. Baylor is allowing 4.8 points per scoring opportunity (78th-best).
Oklahoma, by the way? Pretty good at big pass plays (19 passes of 30-plus yards, 18th in the country) and excellent at finishing drives (5.4 points per opportunity, 16th). Baylor will come after the passer on passing downs, and OU allows a ton of sacks, both because of line issues and Mayfield's play-maker tendencies. But if OU can keep Mayfield upright, there will be opportunities.
4. The numbers matchups
All of the stats
When OU has the ball
|OU offense||Baylor defense|
|Standard Downs S&P+||126.7||8||115.0||26||OU|
|Standard Downs Success Rate||54.6%||5||40.4%||19||OU|
|Standard Downs IsoPPP||1.35||5||0.99||20||OU|
|SD Line Yards per Carry||3.41||7||2.40||17|
|SD Sack Rate||8.2%||114||3.1%||106|
|OU offense||Baylor defense|
|Passing Downs S&P+||100.3||66||94.7||83||OU|
|Passing Downs Success Rate||33.6%||40||31.5%||78||OU|
|Passing Downs IsoPPP||1.51||120||1.82||81||BU|
|PD Line Yards per Carry||3.07||79||4.15||123||OU|
|PD Sack Rate||10.6%||108||9.6%||32||BU big|
When Baylor has the ball
|Baylor offense||OU defense|
|Standard Downs S&P+||133.8||1||120.3||15||BU|
|Standard Downs Success Rate||61.7%||1||41.1%||27||BU|
|Standard Downs IsoPPP||1.52||1||0.96||10|
|SD Line Yards per Carry||4.17||1||2.44||21||BU|
|SD Sack Rate||2.1%||16||7.4%||10|
|Baylor offense||OU defense|
|Passing Downs S&P+||101.2||65||129.1||12||OU big|
|Passing Downs Success Rate||34.7%||30||26.1%||28|
|Passing Downs IsoPPP||1.98||22||1.57||28|
|PD Line Yards per Carry||3.47||49||3.64||102||BU big|
|PD Sack Rate||3.8%||13||8.4%||52||BU|
Stidham passed his audition against Kansas State, and one can assume Baylor's offense will spend most of its time in standard downs, where the Bears are as devastating as anyone.
But OU will have some pretty clear opportunities. The Bears are not as sound on passing downs as they have been, and the secondary is glitchier. Plus ... well ... the Sooners are simply better than they have been in a while. Baffling Texas result aside, OU has wooed the computers with a series of dominant performances. Since Texas, the average score of an OU game has been Sooners 58, Opponent 13.
You still figure Baylor has the advantage, but leaning on previous years' results might not matter, considering what Oklahoma has been doing of late. This could be a barn burner and should serve as a feather in the cap of either an undefeated Baylor with an actual, quality win or an OU that could eventually have as good a résumé as any one-loss team outside of Tuscaloosa.