WACO, Texas (AP) — If quarterback Blake Shapen and the Baylor Bears want a realistic chance to defend their Big 12 title, they'll need a fourth consecutive victory when No. 23 Kansas State visits Saturday night.
The Bears (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) and Wildcats are tied with No. 18 Texas, and the winner will have a much clearer path to the championship game at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in December.
Neither team is dwelling on the stakes.
“Whether it's at the beginning of the year and feeling pretty full of ourselves when we haven't really accomplished anything, or in the year feeling pretty full of ourselves after one win,” said Baylor coach Dave Aranda, whose team is coming off a 38-35 win at Oklahoma. “I think (we need) to keep the focus on what's right in front of us and what we have to do today.”
The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) lost control of their path to the title game with last week's 34-27 loss to the Longhorns. But they can get it back with a victory over Baylor and a loss by Texas to undefeated Big 12 leader TCU.
“It's something that we don't get too caught up in," Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said of his players. "As soon as you start getting too much into that, you're not going to do what you need to do to be successful.”
The first extensive action of Shapen's career came last year at the Wildcats, when he replaced the injured Gerry Bohanon and was efficient enough in a 20-10 victory that kept the two-loss Bears on track for the league championship.
He won the job in the spring, and Bohanon transferred to South Florida.
“I’ve had to evolve in being more vocal, I guess, and things like that,” Shapen said. “When it’s such a long season like this, it’s easy to try to be out of the facility as early as you can and things like that and maybe take shortcuts. I’m not the type of person that can do that.”
Adrian Martinez was back as the starter for Kansas State against Texas after Will Howard threw four touchdown passes in a 48-0 rout of then-No. 9 Oklahoma State with Martinez sidelined by a knee injury.
Martinez threw for 329 yards and two TDs, but had an interception that led to a Texas touchdown and a fumble that clinched the victory for the Longhorns.
“Those guys are really good friends, and (Howard) handled that really well as a team player,” Klieman said. “You bet he would want to play. Just like the week before, I think Adrian wanted to play. He couldn't, and Will said, ‘Let’s go.'”
With the flu affecting a number of Baylor players, fifth-year junior running back Craig “Sqwirl” Williams ran for a career-high 192 yards and two touchdowns against the Sooners. National freshman TD leader Richard Reese (13) was limited to four carries.
Aranda said the Baylor players and coaches probably needed to be more mindful of washing their hands coming off the flu outbreak. But he did say he thought the team was in better shape.
“It started out as a trickle, as these things normally do, and toward the end of the week it became a thing,” Aranda said. “Lot of those guys are back. I think as it stands now, we’re in good standing.”
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This is a matchup of two of the top three teams in interceptions in the Big 12. Baylor leads with 12 after five the past two games, the most for the Bears in a two-game stretch since 1980. Kansas State is tied with Kansas for second with 11. Nationally, Baylor is tied for 11th with the Wildcats and Jayhawks tied for 15th.