Oklahoma State and Baylor quietly have compiled unbeaten records heading into their showdown on Saturday.
Baylor went 2-7 last year, but this year’s squad is much improved. The Bears (4-0, 2-0 Big 12) pulled off a 31-29 stunner over then-No. 14 Iowa State last week. It’s the first time the 21st-ranked Bears have cracked the AP Top 25 under second-year coach Dave Aranda.
“The team we’re playing is the best team we’ve played up to this point,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “They’re moving the ball very effectively, balanced on offense, fast and very aggressive.”
Baylor ranks sixth nationally in rushing offense. The Bears' ground game features Abram Smith, who has rushed for 413 yards and averages 7.2 yards per carry, and Trestan Ebner, who has rushed for 348 yards and averages 7.0 yards per carry.
Ebner is a threat in the return game, too. He ranks fourth nationally with 166 all-purpose yards per game.
Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon has been efficient, completing 73% of his passes. He has thrown seven touchdown passes without an interception.
Oklahoma State (4-0, 1-0) moved into the Top 25 at No. 19 after a 31-20 win over then-No. 25 Kansas State.
“What a great opponent this week,” Aranda said. “Talented, on the rise. I think Oklahoma State has a great identity now, so I’m excited for that matchup.”
Oklahoma State has found its running game the past two weeks, with Jaylen Warren becoming the latest big-time producer. The transfer from Utah State ran for 218 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago against Boise State and had 204 yards from scrimmage last week against Kansas State.
“Physical, explosive -- he’s got a turbo pack on back there,” Aranda said. “So, he jumps off the screen. He’s been the difference in their offense, really.”
Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders is finding his groove now that his receivers are back. After a relatively slow start to the season, he completed 22 of 34 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas State.
“Right away, you can see his legs and his ability to create," Aranda said. "He gets in the red zone and critical must-have areas, and now all of a sudden, the running back run becomes a quarterback keep. So, they save the best for last, in terms of the closer they get.”
Gundy said five years ago, he moved four scholarships from offense to defense. The results have been solid -- the Cowboys rank 38th nationally in overall defense and 20th in run defense.
“The short-term solution is to move more scholarships, play the numbers game, play percentages, try to beef up your defense to give you a better chance to slow people down and play good special teams, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now," Gundy said.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Baylor nose guard Siaki Ika stands out on film, and there’s a big reason why -- he's listed at 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds. He only has two tackles this season, but he is disruptive and makes the job easier for his teammates.
“They’ve got a nose guard — I don’t know what he weighs," Gundy said. "He might weigh 360, I don’t know, but he’s tough to deal with. He plays low. He flat backs. He drives you back.”
Gundy said Sanders has handled challenges well the past two years.
“You have a very competitive, humble, unselfish person that loves to play football," Gundy said. "I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anybody on our team. I’ve never heard him complain about not having healthy linemen last year. I didn’t hear him complain this year about not having wide receivers. He just goes and plays. He’s first class, he’s got character, he’s humbled, he’s unselfish.”
BIG 12 HONOREES
Oklahoma State linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and Baylor linebacker Garmon Randolph were co-Big 12 Defensive Players of the Week after last Saturday's games.
Rodriguez recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the first quarter against Kansas State. He finished the night with seven tackles.
Randolph had his first career interception against Iowa State and had six tackles, including one for loss. His interception came after Iowa State had driven to the Baylor 22-yard line with a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma State will honor its 2011 team that lost just once and beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Only an upset loss to Iowa State kept the Cowboys out of the national title game. The Cowboys finished No. 3 in the final AP poll.
Several of the players from that team will return to Stillwater on Saturday.
“For them to be able to accomplish what they did -- that year, they could have been the best team in the country,” Gundy said. “We’ll never know, but they very well could have been.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.