No. 5 Oklahoma State needs win over No. 9 Baylor to maintain CFP hopes

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy admits he didn’t expect his team to be in the Big 12 championship game and on the cusp of a College Football Playoff berth after the Cowboys started the season with three consecutive one-possession wins.

“After the nonconference (schedule), I thought the chance was zero,” Gundy said. “I was just trying to get to where we can function to play the next game.”

The Cowboys steadily turned things around from there, including winning their final five games to make the Big 12 championship game. They will square off against No. 9 Baylor on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

Oklahoma State (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) jumped up two spots to No. 5 this week, moving into position to make the program’s first CFP appearance with a win on Saturday.

To have a chance at that, they’ll have to beat the Bears again.

When the teams first met, a 24-14 Cowboys win on Oct. 2 in Stillwater, Okla., both sides were still working out their identity.

Now, those identities are solidified.

Oklahoma State’s rests with their defense, led by coordinator Jim Knowles.

When Baylor head coach Dave Aranda was LSU’s defensive coordinator from 2016-19, he’d often call Knowles to talk defense.

“He just wants to talk ball and get into it and go through all this stuff,” Aranda said. “Those times were fun.”

Oklahoma State’s defense is the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks per game (4.08) and third-down defense (.247), is tied for first with 8.2 tackles per loss per game, tied for fifth in scoring defense (16.42 points per game) and ranks sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (93.6).

“You can see, when you watch their film, there is an intelligence about them, there is an edge about them,” Aranda said. “They play with a confidence and they play with a respect-all, fear-none (mentality), and it screams off the tape.”

The Cowboys are coming off a 37-33 win over Oklahoma, when they overcame a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit.

“They burned a lot of energy, they burned a lot of emotion last Saturday night,” Gundy said of his players. “So if our guys don’t reprogram themselves this week, then they don’t give themselves a chance to play at the highest level Saturday morning. You just can’t.

“We don’t get any guarantees in winning the game, but we can control the guarantee that we can play at the highest level we can based on our commitment this week.”

While Knowles is a finalist for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coach in college football, so is Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.

The Bears (10-2, 7-2) are averaging 446.4 yards per game, although the Cowboys held them to a season-low 280 yards, including just 107 rushing yards.

A big piece of the Bears’ offensive success has been quarterback Gerry Bohanon, who has thrown for 2,160 yards and 17 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also has nine touchdowns on the ground.

Baylor secured its title-game berth — its second in school history after also appearing in the 2019 contest — by earning a 27-24 win over Texas Tech last week without Bohanon.

Bohanon sustained a right hamstring injury in the Bears’ Nov. 20 win over Kansas State. His replacement, Blake Shapen, finished off the win over the Wildcats and then went 20 of 34 for 254 yards and two touchdowns last week.

Bohanon was expected to return to practice in some capacity this week, but his status for the Saturday game was up in the air.

“I know he’s awfully eager,” Aranda said.

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