Win or lose, the snide comments and second-guesses about Baylor’s soft football schedule and dubious College Football Playoff pedigree should end Saturday.
It could end with No. 6 Baylor taking down No. 15 Oklahoma in a prime-time national telecast (7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8) that would lend credibility to the Bears’ playoff push by giving Baylor (8-0, 5-0 in Big 12) its first victory of the season over a ranked opponent.
Or it could conclude with a loss to the Sooners (8-1, 5-1) that would squash Baylor’s realistic hopes for a CFP berth and provide another round of fodder for analysts who consider the Bears unworthy of playoff consideration until the team tackles a meatier nonconference schedule.
Either way it ends, the Bears will arrive at McLane Stadium with an eight-game winning streak, two consecutive Big 12 championships and a 3-1 record in their past four matchups against blue-blood OU. That is significant because the Sooners won the first 20 matchups between the schools, starting with a 17-6 victory in 1901 and concluding with a 53-24 triumph in 2010.
But none of those Baylor victories, including back-to-back triumphs over OU by a combined margin of 89-26 the past two years, have earned the Bears the type of national respect they believe they are due from college football analysts, rival coaches or members of the CFP selection committee.
Baylor is 3-1 in its past four games against Oklahoma after the Sooners won the first 20 matchups between the schools.
Case in point: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads cited Oklahoma, not Baylor, as the best team the Cyclones have faced this season during Monday’s Big 12 conference call. Baylor players spent the weekend listening to a variety of ESPN analysts, led by David Pollack, poke holes in their playoff pedigree after Thursday night’s 31-24 victory at Kansas State, the Bears’ only triumph by less than 18 points this season.
Oklahoma players, in turn, began expressing their desire for some Baylor payback shortly after defeating Iowa State 52-16 on Saturday night in Norman, Okla. Center Ty Darlington said a chance to atone for recent losses to Baylor is something the Sooners have “talked about all season. We haven’t forgotten about that.”
Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango chuckled Monday when told the Sooners seem to think they have a score to settle in Waco.
“That’s kind of funny. Looking back over the record of the entire OU and Baylor series, I’m sure we owe them more than one,” Drango said.
In terms of the Baylor doubters, a smiling Drango said: “I can see why they’re doing it. Apparently, we haven’t played anybody good. But I say the Big 12 is a really good conference and anyone can beat anyone. If we win out, that says enough.”
If not, the Bears know they will hear more harping about how their soft nonconference schedule, rather than their deep set of playmakers, has allowed Baylor to lead the nation in scoring (57.4 avg.) and total offense (665.6 yards per game). They would face more indictments about defensive struggles in high-profile matchups.
This will be a statement game, a time to make them change their minds.
Baylor DB Travon Blanchard, on the Bears’ critics
So the Bears welcome Saturday’s spotlight, which includes a pregame visit from ESPN’s College GameDay program, because it offers a platform to convince the naysayers that they’re wrong.
“Everyone will be watching,” nickel back Travon Blanchard said. “This will be a statement game, a time to make them change their minds.”
It also promises to be a little more heated than past games in this series because of Saturday’s half-game suspension for Baylor assistant Jeff Lebby, the Bears’ passing-game coordinator and running backs coach. Lebby, the son-in-law of Bears coach Art Briles, must sit out the first half Saturday because he was on the Tulsa sideline during the Golden Hurricane’s Sept. 19 game against OU in Norman, Okla.
Lebby, a former OU player and student assistant coach, attended the game during Baylor’s open date. While there, he accepted an invitation from Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, Baylor’s former offensive coordinator, to join him on the team’s sideline.
57.4 Baylor’s scoring average this season, tops among the nation’s FBS schools
NCAA rules prohibit in-person scouting of future opponents and, after Lebby was spotted on the Tulsa sideline, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops filed a complaint with the Big 12 office. League officials suspended Lebby for the first half of Saturday’s game. Stoops declined comment about the suspension Monday. Briles said: “I’ve got my feelings, my views about it. I’ll keep mine private.”
What is public is Baylor’s 15-2 record in November matchups since 2010. Briles said he and his players will lean on that experience Saturday
“What we look at is what we’ve done in big games prior to this,” Briles said. “We’ve been in a bunch of big games since 2010, really. And we’ve done pretty well in our share of them. So, you look at past failures and productions and try to pull from the productions more than the others.”
If the Bears pull heavily enough from the production side, they’ll enhance their playoff résumé with a resounding victory. If not, the naysayers will have a field day on Saturday’s postgame shows.