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Big 12 Championship Game vs. Baylor: Game preview, storylines & predictions

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With both teams in the mix for the fourth College Football Playoff spot, the stakes couldn’t possibly be any higher.

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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The two teams responsible for the last seven Big 12 Championships will face off in one of the most highly-anticipated Big 12 title games in the league’s history this Saturday morning in Arlington. Additionally, Saturday’s matchup between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Baylor Bears is a rematch of one of the best college football games of the year thus far.

On one sideline, you have OU vying for it’s fifth consecutive conference title and a potential third straight trip to the College Football Playoff. The other sideline features a Baylor team that has shocked the college football world this year and finds itself with a chance to contend for a national title just two years removed from a 1-11 season.

Exciting enough for you?

No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners (11-1) vs. No. 7 Baylor Bears (11-1) (Arlington, Texas — AT&T Stadium)

Time & TV: Saturday, Dec. 7, 11:00 a.m. CT, ABC

Commentators: Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge, and Holly Rowe

Stream: WatchESPN

Radio: The Sooners Sports Radio Network with Toby Rowland can be found on KRXO 107.7 FM ‘The Franchise’ in OKC. For Tulsa listeners, listen to KMOD FM 97.5 or KTBZ AM 1430. Check out OU Football on TuneIn Radio for online access.

Line: Oklahoma -9 (as of Thursday at 9:30 a.m. CT)

O/U: 64

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Storylines

CFB Playoff Implications

For the first time since the reinstatement of the Big 12 Championship Game in 2017, this game features two teams that both have a potential College Football Playoff berth on the line.

Both teams’ playoff chances could depend on the outcome of the PAC 12 and SEC title games, but the winner of the Big 12 Championship will finish the year 12-1 and have a very strong case to crack the committee’s top four. Even if Oregon fails to pull off the upset, the winner of the Big 12 Championship will have a much stronger case than Utah, but the powers that be seem to feel like making us sweat it out all the same. I wonder why...

A win alone has a great chance of getting the job done for the Sooners or the Bears, but each team will still be looking for style points if Utah does indeed win on Friday night.

FiveThirtyEight currently gives OU a 79% chance of making the playoff with a win Saturday and Baylor a 60% chance with a win.

Turnovers

The main reason why Oklahoma found itself in such a deep hole against Baylor in the first matchup was Jalen Hurts’ inability to take care of the football. On back-to-back possessions in the first half, Hurts coughed up an unforced fumble on his own 27 yard line and threw an interception that was run back 71 yards to the Baylor 9 yard line. Baylor scored within two plays on both of these turnovers. Hurts also fumbled as he was crossing the goal line in the second half to erase an OU touchdown.

Hurts’ three turnovers ultimately resulted in a 21-point shift for Baylor and nearly cost OU the game.

In the two games since, OU turned the ball over three times against TCU but not at all against Oklahoma State. While watching the Bedlam game, one could tell that Jalen Hurts and Kennedy Brooks were each making a concerted effort to protect the football on runs, and the effort paid off.

With the outcome of the this game potentially being in question well into the second half, Saturday’s matchup could obviously come down to who takes care of the ball — particularly down the stretch.

Rematch in the Trenches

Baylor dominated the line in the first half of the November matchup thanks in large part to stellar play from Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year James Lynch and First-Team All Big 12 Selection Bravvion Roy. The group showed out early in the first matchup, as OU rushed for just 3.3 yards per attempt in the first half. Things obviously changed after the break, with OU rushing for 5.2 yards per attempt from that point on.

Since R.J. Proctor was inserted into lineup near the midway point of this one, Oklahoma’s run game hasn’t looked back, as it has had no issue imposing its will over the past 2.5 games. In the last three games against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State, the Sooners have rushed for 228, 366 and 283 yards, respectively. The offensive line is finally experiencing some continuity and is beginning to gel, and the results have been spectacular.

The Baylor defense is one of the best in the country at limiting big plays. The best way for OU to combat this will be a steady diet of Brooks and Hurts running the football.

Brooks has rushed for 309 yards in the last two games, and his late-season surge was enough to get him named Second-Team All Big 12. Another strong performance like this could be the difference for OU on Saturday.

Prediction

There isn’t much either team will do that will surprise the other. Both teams need a complete victory to make a strong closing argument for the playoff committee, but November’s matchup showed us that every single outcome is on the table.

Baylor caught just about every fortunate break it could in the first game between these two teams and still found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. CeeDee Lamb is healthy this round and the odds of Jalen Hurts turning the ball over three times again are low. The Bears would need to play an almost perfect game to win, and I just don’t see that happening. Having said that, with so much on the line in this one, this could be one of the more physical and contentious games we’ve seen in this conference in quite some time.

Oklahoma 38, Baylor 28