Dean's Blog: Beware Of Baylor And Beware Of Shepard's Injury

Tuesday, November 4th 2014, 6:10 pm
By: Dean Blevins

If it weren't so pitiful and a sad sign of the times, it'd be funny when those man-on-the-street interviews reveal that most people can't tell you that Joe Biden is the vice president, that Benjamin Franklin was not a president and that there are 100 US Senators.

History means next to nothing anymore. In sports too. OU players can't tell you much about the rich tradition of their program. Same for every other school—including Baylor, which is a good thing considering their past.

Sure, the Bears will have it pounded in their heads that they've never won in Norman. And that Baylor has not beaten a ranked team on the road while they've been on this earth (23 years and 36 straight games).

But snap-to-whistle, those facts didn't mean didly squat in the 2011 game in Waco where RG3 and the Bears beat the Sooners for the first time. History didn't mean much in their 41-12 route in 2013.

What meant more than history was the fact that QB Blake Bell struggled throwing costly interceptions, Sterling Shepard and fullback Trey Millard were hurt, and that Baylor was the better team.

The historical information is fodder for the masses. Yea, you. For me, it's easy lead-in material I use to set up a Bob Stoops sound byte. Factual data that gives PR typists words numbers to peck. But to the outcome of a 3 1/2 hour football game, most statistical data that stretches back years and years means very little. Or less.

What means a whole lot to the outcome Saturday morn's game will be three critical on-the-field issues: The health of OU's best player, Shepard; the amount of pressure OU puts on Bryce Petty; and whether the linebackers and secondary can cover some of the best receivers in the country.

Problems in any of those areas will likely doom the Sooners. Especially Shepard, whom position coach Jay Norvell told us last night would “definitely play.” Playing and playing to one-hundred percent with a groin strain are two different things. Beware. This injury is being blown off by most everyone believing the acrobatic junior is going to be fine and dandy because that's what they've been told. If he's out, the other receivers will have trouble getting open, Baylor will load up against the run, and it will shock me if the Sooners produce a bunch of points. Baylor's defense isn't the Boz defense of the eighties. But they're not pond scum either. They beat OU on several recruits.

Back to the point that a lot of folks around here and nationally are unconvinced that Baylor is legit this season. I have no doubts that Baylor is very good. Extremely well-coached. That this is one of the biggest games in the history of the program. And they're a one-loss team on a mission of winning out and getting a playoff invite.

May not happen. They could easily win out and be left out of the playoff after the committee selects 5 SEC teams to play in the 4-team playoff. But the important thing is this: you can bet the Bears buy into what their friend/hero/father figure/Head Coach Art Briles preaches. Why wouldn't they? He paid off a promise that if they'd sign with him he'd take them from the outhouse to the penthouse.

And right now How Great Thou Art is preaching two things: One, that Baylor is better than the Big Red—“just turn on the tape guys.” And two, win in Norman and we're sneaking into the playoff.

OU opened a 2.5 point favorite. But that number is based on the betting public's fondness of the name Oklahoma and their decades of doubts about the name Baylor. Take that away and the game would be a pick-‘em. Played on a neutral field, Baylor would be a field goal favorite. That's what Briles knows. And will impart in football terms.

The Sooners have a chance to salvage their season with a win. And if they don't turn it over and get positive results in the aforementioned three key areas, they should do just that.

But if they aren't sharp from the start –if they roll out a little sleep-like and the 11am crowd is not a factor early, Baylor will surely strike first. They are both run and pass potent. And trying to rally against a confident and talented Bryce Petty and a team of athletes who match up well with the Sooners would be a major challenge. This team is much better as a front-runner.

A win would send OU to a good bowl with a shot at finishing with an 11-2 record. It'd set up an offseason of talk of being five points away from accomplishing their preseason goals.

A Baylor win would not only be their first in Norman, but much more significantly, it would be their third in four years over a blueblood program that had laid the wood to them the first twenty times they'd scrummed.

It's not the national game of the week it could have been. But relatively speaking, it's huge. Win or lose.