Baylor entering teeth of its schedule, beginning with Oklahoma


Things are about to get interesting for the No. 6 Baylor Bears, beginning with Saturday’s game against the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners (8 p.m. ET, ABC/WatchESPN).

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Baylor has played the 96th-toughest schedule in the FBS. The Bears’ schedule is back-loaded, however, with games against No. 15 TCU and No. 8 Oklahoma State looming after the matchup with the Sooners.

The Bears’ remaining strength of schedule ranks fourth. Oklahoma's remaining strength of schedule ranks first.

The metrics

According to FPI, the Bears are projected as 58 percent likely to win, even though Oklahoma is No. 1 in FPI and Baylor is No. 2.

The difference in their FPI rating is 0.4, so they are projected as almost equal in strength looking to the future, and the game being in Waco, Texas, helps tilt the projection to Baylor.

Bears' offense humming along

Baylor (57.4 points per game) is on pace to finish as the top-scoring FBS team for the third consecutive season. The only team in FBS history to lead the nation in scoring for three consecutive seasons is BYU from 1979 to '81.

The Bears lead the FBS in pace of play by running a play every 16.7 seconds in the first half of games. They step off the gas as they pull away in the second half, running a play every 22.5 seconds. They have scored an FBS-high 40 touchdowns on drives of two minutes or less (second is Ole Miss with 29).

In Week 3, the Sooners played Tulsa, which runs a play at the second-fastest rate in the FBS. Against Tulsa, Oklahoma gave up season highs in points per play (0.42), yards per play (6.63) and yards per pass attempt (8.37).

Stidham solid in first start

In the Bears’ first game without Seth Russell starting, freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham passed for 419 yards and three touchdowns without an interception against Kansas State (he also ran for a score). He had eight 20-yard completions; the only Big 12 quarterback with more in one game this season is TCU’s Trevone Boykin, who had nine against SMU.

Seven of Stidham’s touchdown passes have come on throws 10 or more yards downfield. He has completed 61.9 percent of such throws, which would rank second in the Power 5, if he qualified.

Having Corey Coleman, who has caught 20 touchdowns this season, has helped. Coleman needs six touchdown catches to break the Big 12 single-season record of 25, set by Stedman Bailey in 2012. Coleman is seven touchdowns from matching the FBS single-season record, set by Louisiana Tech’s Troy Edwards in 1998.

On Saturday against Kansas State, Coleman had 216 receiving yards and extended his streak to seven games with two receiving touchdowns, the longest streak in Big 12 history.

Oklahoma showing balance on both sides of line of scrimmage

Since a loss to Texas, Oklahoma has posted 50 points and 500 yards of offense in each of its past four games. Since major classification occurred in 1937, four teams have had longer such streaks.

According to ESPN’s efficiency metrics, which measure a unit’s contribution to the scoring margin on a per-play basis, Oklahoma ranks in the top 15 of the FBS on offense (12th) and defense (10th). Clemson is the only other school in the top 15 in both metrics.

Baker Mayfield has an FBS-high five games this season in which he has been responsible for at least three touchdowns and hasn’t committed a turnover.

On passes of 10 or more yards downfield, Mayfield has thrown 17 touchdown passes with one interception. His completion percentage (61.5 percent) and Total QBR (98) on such throws ranks second among Power 5 quarterbacks this season.

Oklahoma’s defense has improved

Baylor will face probably the best defense in the Big 12. The Sooners lead the conference in defensive expected points added per game (12.4) -- meaning that the defense contributes an average of more than 12 points per game toward the Sooners’ final scoring margin. Oklahoma also leads the Big 12 in opponent Total QBR (30) and yards per play (4.3).

The Sooners are second in the FBS in sacks (34.0) and are one of two FBS teams (along with Houston) to have three players with five or more sacks. Senior linebacker Eric Striker leads the way with 7.5, followed by Charles Walker and Charles Tapper, who each have five sacks.

The running game could be instrumental. Baylor junior running back Shock Linwood leads the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (130.8) and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns (nine).

Oklahoma sophomore Samaje Perine leads the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns (10), including seven in the last four games.

Quick hitters

ESPN's FPI projects Baylor as 58 percent likely to win.

Two of Oklahoma's four largest regular-season losses under Bob Stoops (since 1999) have come to Art Briles' Baylor teams (a 34-point loss last season and a 29-point loss in 2013).

The Sooners won the first 20 games of this series, but the Bears have won three of the last four.

Saturday's game marks the fourth time in the last five seasons these teams have met while in The Associated Press poll. Before that, in a series that spans back to 1901, Oklahoma and Baylor had never met as AP-ranked teams.