Oklahoma football: OU’s pathway to the Playoff begins at Baylor

Dec 7, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Gerry Bohanon (11) throws as Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) defends during the first half in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Gerry Bohanon (11) throws as Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) defends during the first half in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Of the teams that still have a realistic chance of making the College Football Playoff, the much-scrutinized Oklahoma football team may have the most to prove and the most difficult path to do so.

light. Related Story. Oklahoma's two biggest 2021 games may surprise you

Conventional wisdom tells us that a team that stands 9-0 11 weeks into the college football season should be held in high regard. But that isn’t the case this season with the Sooners.

Oklahoma is one of just four FBS teams who remain unbeaten this season, but the way they’ve gone about it hasn’t drawn much respect, at least not thus far, from the 11-member panel that comprises the College Football Playoff selection committee. The Sooners currently stand eighth in the CFP rankings.

That’s the not-so-good news. But of all the teams vying to be one of the top-four teams, and thus playoff bound at the end of the season, Oklahoma may be in the best position to control its own destiny.

FOX. Saturday, Nov. 13. 860. Sooners -5.0. 11 AM CT. 9-0. 815. 7-2

The way the schedule stacks up this season, the Sooners’ biggest games in terms of quality opponents all fall in November, when wins are the most important in the eyes of the CFP committee. Oklahoma will face two and possibly three ranked opponents over the next three weeks, and that all begins with a showdown against No. 18 Baylor (7-2, 4-2) on Saturday in Waco.

The Sooners are seeking their eighth straight win over Baylor and 18th consecutive win against all-comers. Oklahoma has lost just three times in 31 games against Baylor. All three of the losses occurred between 2011 and 2014, and two of them were at Baylor.

Since the start of the 2012 season, the Sooners are 46-8 in the regular season in true road games away from Norman and 17-2 under Lincoln Riley in road games. The average score in the road games played with Riley as head coach has been 43-30 in favor of the Crimson and Cream.

The Oklahoma-Baylor game will be part of the FOX “Big Noon Kickoff” program, which includes former OU head coach Bob Stoops as part of the pregame broadcast team. The game itself will be carried by FOX, with Gus Johnson doing the play by play and Joel Klatt providing analysis. Jenny Taft will be reporting from the sidelines.

What to watch for from the Baylor Bears

Baylor ranks second to Oklahoma in the Big 12 in scoring (36.3 points a game) and total offense (457.4 yards per game) and leads the conference in rushing, averaging 230.9 rushing yards per game. While the Bears have the ability to score with the Sooners, they also are a very good and physical defensive team, which head coach Dave Aranda and his staff are counting on the slow down OU’s high-powered offense.

The Bears have a couple of strong running backs, led by senior Abram Smith, who ranks third in the Big 12, and ninth nationally, with 1,055 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games. His 7.33 yards-per-carry average is the third best in the country. When Smith isn’t on the field, Baylor doesn’t lose much with Tristan Ebner, who has 601 rushing yards this season and averaged 6.0 yards per carry.

Baylor is quarterbacked by fourth-year junior Gerry Bohanon, who has completed 65 percent of his passes and averages 218.6 passing yards per game. He is one of six players nationally with seven rushing touchdowns and 15 passing touchdowns this season. The Bears’ offense line has done an excellent job protecting the quarterback. Bohanon has been sacked just six times in nine games.

When Baylor puts the ball in the air, it is generally Tyquan Thornton or R.J. Sneed on the receiving end. Thornton leads the Big 12 with 42 receptions for 722 yards and seven TDs. Sneed ranks 10th in the Big 12 with 35 catches for 500 yards.

Baylor will try to disguise its defensive looks to confuse OU freshman quarterback Caleb Williams. The Bears have been especially effective in third-down defense, allowing opponents just a 32 percent success rate on third down, which presents an intriguing matchup against the Sooners, who have been successful in nearly 50 percent of third-down conversions this season.

A couple other notable Baylor data points: The Bears are undefeated at home this season (5-0) with an average winning margin of 21.4 points.

What to expect from Oklahoma

Oklahoma has had an extra week to prepare for Baylor, and is coming off its most complete game of the season, a 52-21 home win over Texas Tech.

There has been a big difference in the Sooners’ offensive productivity since true freshman Caleb Williams replaced Spencer Rattler as the starting quarterback.

As the Sooner starter, Williams has completed 72 of 98 pass attempts , a Big 12 best 73.5 percent, for 1,087 yards and 14 touchdowns with one interception. His 211.7 passing efficiency rating is the best in the country since Oct. 9. Williams has also rushed for 227 yards, including touchdown runs of 66, 41 and 40 yards.

In OU’s first five games of the season (with Rattler at QB), the Sooners averaged 38.4 points a game, 433.4 yards of total offense and 6.3 yards per play. Over the last four games, the Sooners are averaging 48.5 points, 531.5 yards and 8.6 yards per play.

Running back Kennedy Brooks has also picked up his game over the Sooners’ last four outings, averaging 6.0 yards per rushing attempt. The run game is an important part of OU’s effectiveness on offense. When the run game is going, it opens up the field for the Sooners’ depth and talent at wide receiver. Ten difference players have caught at least 10 passes this season.

Baylor is stout stopping the run, but they are vulnerable against the pass. The Baylor defense does have nine interceptions this season, but BYU lit up the Bears for 342 passing yards several weeks back and former OU quarterback Chandler Morris threw for 468 yards and two touchdowns last weekend for TCU against the Baylor defense.

With cornerback D.J. Graham, safety Delarrin Turner-Yell and DE Jalen Redmond back from injuries, the Oklahoma defense had a strong outing in the Sooners’ win over Texas Tech, and they will need those three plus the rest of the OU defensive unit to show up big again against Baylor.

If the game is close, which has been the case in recent contests between Oklahoma and Baylor, especially the ones played in Waco, Oklahoma will have the special teams advantage with the best punter (Michael Turk) and best field-goal kicker (Gabe Brkic) in the Big 12.

Turk, a transfer from Arizona State is averaging 51.2 yards a punt. Brkic has made five field goals of at least 50 yards this season.

Savvy Sooner stat(s)

  • Oklahoma has won its last five games against AP Top-25 opponents.
  • The Sooners have scored 30-plus points in 35 consecutive true road games.
  • Oklahoma is 24-8 since 2000 coming off of a bye week.
  • No player on the current OU roster has lost a game in November while at Oklahoma.

Bottom line

The experts project this to be a close game. The oddsmakers have followed suit, establishing the Sooners as five-point (-5.0) favorites. Baylor will undoubtedly try to shorten the game, utilizing its strong ground-and-pound run game to limit Oklahoma offensive possessions and keep Caleb Williams and the OU offense on the sidelines.

The Sooners well remember what happened on the last trip to Waco and know what is at stake in this game. Oklahoma will look to strike fast, get some separation early and force Baylor adjust its game plan to playing from behind. The Sooners will benefit from the extra week to get healthy and prepare for this game. Oklahoma wins 37-31.