It’s the biggest night in the history of the Baylor-Oklahoma rivalry on Thursday night. Granted, given Baylor’s spotty football record there probably aren’t a lot of a candidates for the honor. But on Thursday, the Bears and Sooners play a game that will decide if Baylor is a legit national championship contender and if Oklahoma still has a shot to win the Big 12.
And there’s one more little kicker to add some spice to the night. The schools’ most prominent recent alums are Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who won the Heisman Trophy at Baylor in 2011, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who set an NCAA freshman rushing record at Oklahoma in 2004. Guess who’s playing on the NFL’s Thursday night game? Yup, the Redskins and Vikes. Maybe RG3 and AP have a little side bet on who wins the college game.
The Baylor offense has been nothing short of spectacular, and the numbers on the stat sheet jump out at you. They’ve scored 70-plus points four times and 69 points another time. Two of the 70-plus games were in Big 12 play.
Quarterback Bryce Petty has only thrown one interception in spite of the aerial show where he generates nearly 14 yards per attempt. Receivers Antwan Goodby and Tevin Reese would each be the leading receivers most anywhere else in America. Running back Lache Seastrunk has rushed for over 100 yards every game but one, in spite of never getting 20 carries a game even once.
There’s one other thing that jumps out at you too though, and it’s the complete lack of credible opposition. The toughest conference opponents Baylor has beaten are West Virginia and Kansas State, a teams that have combined to lose 7 of 11 games within the Big 12. The non-conference slate’s most impressive wins were over Buffalo and UL-Monroe.
Thursday nights’ game starts a schedule stretch were Baylor is also going to see Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas before the regular season ends on December 7. It’s fair to have skepticism regarding the Bears–there’s a big difference between running up points on lousy teams and producing clutch drives in tough situations. We’re about to find out if Art Briles’ team can do the latter.
Oklahoma’s more of a known commodity. They’re a pretty good team, as their wins at Notre Dame and over Texas Tech last week demonstrate. The Sooners have played pretty good defense throughout the year.
The flip side is that they looked completely uncompetitive in a 36-20 loss to Texas that makes Thursday a must-win game for Bob Stoops’ team if they hope to win the Big 12 title. OU has often looked mediocre on the offensive side. They’ve got to hope that either Brennan Clay or Damien Williams can help them control the tempo in the ground game, because quarterback Blake Bell will never win a run-and-gun shootout against Petty.
Given Baylor’s lack of a track record, both this season and in general, I’m stunned that they are slotted as a 15-point favorite. We have no idea how they’ll respond to a real challenge, and we know Oklahoma just finished beating a team in Texas Tech that had been piling up points against bad teams and was undefeated. Regardless of who you think will win, doesn’t it seem excessive to allow OU to cover the spread if they only lose by two touchdowns?
It seems really excessive to me. I’m pulling for Baylor, because I’m a big RG3 fan, I’ll pull for his alma mater and I like Briles. Baylor winning the Big 12–or more–would be a great story. But I’m not ready to buy in on this team as a national contender just yet, and I’m leaning Oklahoma in an exciting win and easy cover.
THE ALUMS FACE OFF IN THE NFL
RG3’s Redskins have a lot on the line on Thursday night in Minneapolis. Their overtime win over San Diego moved Washington to 3-5, which in the woeful NFC East keeps you a game back of division leader Dallas in the loss column, and the Redskins still have a home game with the Cowboys ahead of them. The Vikings lost in Dallas on Sunday, dropping to 1-7, so A.P. can be forgiven if he gets someone to text him a college score during the game.
It was by Week 3 that Griffin started to at least resemble his old self, no longer favoring his front foot when he threw the ball and at least planting comfortably. He’s grown steadily more comfortable, and if you use that week as a benchmark, the Redskins have won three of the five games with RG3 probably as healthy as they can expect in 2013.
The Washington running game is also back and functioning, with Alfred Morris having strung together some nice games and the team ranking 6th in the NFL in rush yardage. If the ‘Skins establish the run–either Morris in the straight-ahead game, or if RG3 runs a few read options–he had a long touchdown run against Minnesota a year ago–the Redskins aren’t going to be stopped offensively, because the Viking pass defense is problematic.
When it comes to problematic though, the Redskins defense qualifies, and that includes a subpar effort against the run, and bad tackling. As a Washington fan, I’ve watched every game this team has played, and though the tackling isn’t as bad as it was early in the year, in no way does the ‘Skins D resemble a fundamentally sound unit. Dare I say this is a problem when Adrian Peterson is the man who’s going to have the football in his hands a lot on Thursday night.
Washington is the better team, and the price is modest–the ‘Skins are only (-130) on the moneyline, while you can bet the Vikes to win outright at (+110). That undoubtedly reflects homefield, the challenges the road team faces on these short weeks and the skepticism that Washington rightly encounters. I’ll still pick my team to win this one–if nothing else, they have to realize that this is the game on which contending in the second half of the season hinges on.