Oklahoma football: Big 12 opener no time to take it easy

Up until the last five or six years, playing Baylor was always considered pretty much a walk in the park for Oklahoma football.

Things changed for Baylor — for better and for worse — and the Bears’ opponents when Art Briles became the Baylor head coach in 2008. Briles took over a team that was 18-40 in its previous five seasons and a perennial cellar-dweller in the South Division of the Big 12 Conference and gradually transformed the Bears into a national power.

Oklahoma is 23-3 all-time against Baylor, and until 2011 had never lost to the Bears in 20 games between the two teams. Baylor joined the Big 12 in 1996. The Sooners won the first 15 conference games between the two teams.

In 2011, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III led the Bears to their first victory ever over Oklahoma, winning 45-38 in a game played at Baylor. The Bears would win two of the next three meetings, including back-to-back victories in 2013 and 2014. The combined score of Baylor’s two consecutive wins over the Sooners was a whopping 89-26.

Oklahoma has gotten back on a winning track against Baylor, capturing the last two games between the two teams. Both teams have new head coaches this season (Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma an Matt Rhule at Baylor), and the two football programs are headed in totally opposite directions.

In the inimitable words of that famous baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, it’s like deja vu all over again as Oklahoma and Baylor prepare to face each other on Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

Art Briles was run out of Waco (Texas) following the 2015 season as part of a sexual assault scandal that rocked the football program as well as the university. Baylor football has been on a downward spiral ever since.

The Bears were 7-6 last season under interim head coach Jim Grobe, but were just 3-6 in conference play. This season, they are still looking for their first win after three nonconference games. Baylor is averaging just 25.0 points a game, a far cry from the Bears’ NCAA-best 48.0 scoring average from several years back.

The scoring differential (the difference between average points scored and average points allowed) between the Sooners and Bears through three games this season is nearly 22 points. Oklahoma is averaging almost 22 more points per game and allowing that many points fewer than Baylor.

Given that glaring statistical difference, you would expect Oklahoma to win easily on Saturday. the Las Vegas oddsmaker Sportsbook Review has established the Sooners as 26-point favorites. Unless Oklahoma decides to take it easy in this one, which clearly goes against what their head coach is looking for, I would take the over in handicapping Saturday’s contest between the Sooners and the Bears.

Staying with an analytical theme, there are a several streaks on the line in Saturday’s game. The Sooners have won 13 consecutive games, the nation’s longest active streak. one more than USC. Oklahoma also owns the longest active winning streak in true road games, with 12 consecutive road victories, one more than both Alabama and Clemson.

A win on Saturday over Baylor would give Oklahoma its 17th consecutive Big 12 victory. The last Big opponent to defeat the Sooners was Texas in 2015.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield has his own impressive record going. The two-time Heisman finalist is 25-4 in his three-year career as the Sooner starting QB, and 10 of those wins have come on the road. Mayfield is a perfect 10-0 in true road games at Oklahoma.

Mayfield is completing 76 percent of his pass attempts this season and has not thrown an interception in his last six games, dating back to Nov. 19 last season at West Virginia. Since that time, the OU quarterback has thrown 133 passes without an interception, including 15 touchdown passes.