Not much was expected of Oklahoma State or Baylor at the start of this season, but by the end of Saturday, one of them will be in control of its own destiny in the Big 12 South race.
For Justin Blackmon, helping Oklahoma State move to the top of the division would go a long way toward making up for a regrettable off-field incident.
In a matchup between two of the nation’s most potent offenses, the 19th-ranked Cowboys host the 22nd-ranked Bears on Saturday, with Blackmon expected to return after a one-game suspension related to a DUI.
Unranked at the start of the season and afterthoughts in a loaded Big 12, Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1) and Baylor (7-2, 4-1) have each taken advantage of some young talent to make a surprising ascent in the South.
Either team would reach the Big 12 title game if it were to win out. Both the Bears and Cowboys host No. 11 Oklahoma, which is 3-1, later this month.
That makes the return of Blackmon especially important. The sophomore receiver, who is one of the biggest reasons for Oklahoma State’s success, sat out the team’s 24-14 win at Kansas State last Saturday after a misdemeanor DUI charge stemming from his arrest on Oct. 26.
He’ll try to put that behind him Saturday. Despite missing last week’s game, Blackmon leads the FBS with 158.9 receiving yards per game and 14 receiving touchdowns.
“It’s obvious with what (Blackmon has) done all year that it’ll be nice to have him back. But on the flip side, I have confidence in all of the guys,” said quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats.
Even without his favorite target, Weeden continued his outstanding season. He’s tied with Oklahoma’s Landry Jones for second in the FBS with 318.4 passing yards per game.
Kendall Hunter also helped make up for Blackmon’s absence, rushing for 143 yards. Hunter is third in the nation with 1,174 yards rushing.
Oklahoma State ranks second nationally with 527.3 yards of offense per game and tied for third with 45.3 points per game. After being held to barely half that against Kansas State, the Cowboys hope the return of Blackmon will help them keep pace with an equally dangerous offense.
Baylor averages 34.3 points and 490.4 yards per game. After breaking into the top 25 for the first time since 1993 last week, the Bears won their third straight, defeating Texas 30-22 for their first win over the Longhorns since 1997.
Their rise has been especially surprising considering Baylor has finished last or tied for last in its division 13 times in 14 previous Big 12 seasons.
“The tide has changed. This year, we’re the team to beat,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.
Griffin ranks eighth in the FBS with 288.0 passing yards per game. Last Saturday he helped the Bears rally from a 19-17 third-quarter deficit with two scoring drives, capping one with a 30-yard TD pass to Kendall Wright to make it 30-19 with 8:38 remaining.
“I don’t think he has to get any better,” coach Art Briles said. “I think he’s playing at the level right now that allows us to do what we need to do. That’s the thing we’re looking at. For what we do, he is the best quarterback in America right now. I don’t think he has to grow. He’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing and we’ll be fine.”
Griffin, who has thrown 20 touchdowns, hasn’t had to do it all, however, with Jay Finley averaging 169.7 yards rushing the last three games. He ran for 116 yards and a touchdown against Texas.
After picking up a rare win in Austin, Baylor faces another challenge in Stillwater, where the Bears haven’t won since 1939. They’ve dropped eight straight there since.
Overall, Oklahoma State has won four straight over Baylor, outscoring the Bears 179-51, including a 34-7 victory last season. The Bears are 1-13 against the Cowboys as Big 12 rivals.