OU football: Sooners' path to Big 12 title hinges on matchup with Baylor

·4 min read

Aug. 31—Editor's Note: This is the 11th installment in a series looking at Oklahoma's schedule for the 2022-2023 season. The Transcript will rank all games by evaluating their significance, difficulty and entertainment value. This article previews Baylor, which is ranked No. 2 in the series.

One of the biggest and most surprising stories in college football last season centered around the team in Waco, Texas.

Expectations were low coming into the season after Baylor finished 2020 with a 2-7 record. By the midway point of the year, however, the Bears had cemented themselves as true Big 12 contenders with wins over Iowa State, BYU and West Virginia.

Despite losses to Oklahoma State and TCU, the Bears stayed with it, and their conference title hopes grew with an impressive 27-14 win over Oklahoma. That win not only snapped a six-game losing streak to the Sooners, it also helped propel them to the Big 12 title game after closing out the regular season with wins over Kansas State and Texas Tech.

The Bears ended up clinching the conference championship with a 21-16 win over Oklahoma State, claiming their second outright Big 12 title. They finished the year with a Sugar Bowl win over Ole Miss.

They're the favorite to win the Big 12 again this season. The Bears finished No. 1 in the conference preseason poll despite losing key pieces during the offseason, becoming the first non-Oklahoma team to enter the season as the Big 12 favorite since 2014.

They're still behind the Sooners in the Associated Press rankings and Coaches Poll, but one thing is clear: the Bears are a real threat to win another conference title, and the Sooners will likely have to go through them to reclaim their spot at the top.

"We look at this like it is a brand-new team," Baylor coach Dave Aranda said at Big 12 Media Days in July. "...We continue to focus on what we're doing daily, how we're doing it. I think it goes back to just the task within a task."

Here's a look at Baylor entering the season and what to expect in their game against Oklahoma:

Quick facts

—When and where: Saturday, Nov. 5 at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kickoff time TBD.

Last season

—Offense: 31.6 points scored per game (40th nationally)

—Defense: 18.3 points allowed per game (10th nationally)

Series record

OU holds a 28-4 advantage in the all-time series record against Baylor, though all four of the Bears' wins have come since 2011. The two teams met once in the Big 12 title game back in 2019, with the Sooners winning 30-23.

Overview

Baylor's success last season was surprising for a lot of reasons, particularly their low offensive output. The offense scored 27 points or less in their final five games last season.

The Bears should look a little different on offense in 2022. Blake Shapen is the new quarterback after beating Gerry Bohanon, who started much of last season, for the top spot during the spring. Shapen appeared in five games last season, completing 62-of-86 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. He also was the starter against OSU in the conference title game.

The Bears are young and inexperienced at the skill positions, returning just 14 percent of their rushing production and 21 percent of their receiving production. They lost their top two running backs, Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner, and tight end Ben Sims is their returning leader in receiving production, though he was named to the All-Big 12 preseason team. The strength lies up front, where they return four starters from last season.

The defense lost production too, with five starters departing during the offseason. However, they return Siaki Ika on the defensive line and Dillon Doyle at linebacker, and both players were named to the conference preseason team. Doyle ranked second on the team with 90 tackles last season.

Even if the Bears defense lose a slight step from last season, that unit could still be one of the best in football.

Summary

Baylor dominated the Sooners at the line of scrimmage last season in a game where the Sooners appeared out of sync and outmatched.

But this year's game is in Norman, and it's doubtful that OU's returning players have forgotten that key loss that contributed to the team missing the Big 12 title game in 2021. This is likely the hardest regular season game on OU's schedule, and assuming both teams are healthy, this game is a true coin flip.

Either way, Oklahoma's chances at making the Big 12 title game would increase dramatically with a win over the Bears.

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580