Brice Cherry: These 4 games will make or break Bears’ Big 12 title quest

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Brice Cherry, a 17-year veteran of the Tribune-Herald, has been sports editor since 2012.

Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 12:01 am

It doesn’t matter if it’s a pop quiz, a mid-term exam or the SAT, every test consists of three basic types of questions.

First, there are the no-doubters. You read the question, and you immediately bubble in your answer, because you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re right. Then, you’ve got the head-scratchers, those queries that require a bit more pondering. However, if you’ve studied hard and reviewed the material, you can safely locate the right answer.

Finally you encounter the dart-chuckers. You’re flying blind now. You have no idea. It’s all guesswork.

It’s how you perform in that latter group of questions that ultimately will determine your grade.

Let’s shift the analogy to college football, because I suppose I must gravitate to the point eventually. If the college football season is a three-month test, then those Anybody’s Guess Games (AGG) are the riddles that’ll make or break a team.

For Baylor to repeat as Big 12 champions, four key games should settle the score. The Bears may or may not be favored, but it doesn’t really matter, because the favorite label is circumstantial in these battles. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see either team win.

Last year, in AGG matchups, Baylor went 3-1, with victories over Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas and a road loss to Oklahoma State. On paper, that’s a 75-percent success rate, but it actually produced an A-plus result for the Bears.

How might Baylor fare in this year’s AGG slate? Let’s dig deeper.

At Texas, Oct. 4: Baylor’s frosty title-clinching win over the Longhorns in the Floyd Casey finale resembled a scene from Disney’s Frozen: Let Mack go, let Mack go, can’t hold them (the regents) back anymore … (Sorry, I live with a 6-year-old girl. I’m eternally frozen to Frozen).

Exit Mack stage left, enter Charlie Strong. As such, Texas figures to be an unknown commodity in 2014. Strong’s calling card at Louisville was a formidable defense, and the Longhorns can rely on some dynamic playmakers on that side of the ball in Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs.

Texas’ offense is a mystery, especially at quarterback. Injury concerns perpetually swirl around David Ash, and sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is unproven as Ash’s understudy.

But winning in Austin is never easy. If Texas can render Baylor’s running game ordinary and force the Bears to be more one-dimensional — the most effective strategy thus far against Art Briles’ prolific scheme — then the Longhorns should be able to keep pace.

Naturally, that’s easier said than done.

Extremely early prediction: Baylor 42, Texas 30

At West Virginia, Oct. 18: The scoreboard lights are probably still buzzing from Baylor’s last trip to Morgantown in 2012. Nobody involved will ever forget that offensive explosion, which ended in a 70-63 Mountaineer win.

Baylor’s defense has matured light-years since that time. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, have plummeted deep into the valley following the departures of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and company.

Dana Holgorsen didn’t earn his reputation as an offensive mad scientist by accident, though. If either Paul Millard or Clint Trickett can develop into a steady signal-caller, WVU will score points. Lots of them, most likely.

Probably not enough this day, however.

Extremely early prediction: Baylor 49, West Virginia 28

At Oklahoma, Nov. 8: No, it’s not a coincidence that the first three of Baylor’s toss-up games are outside of Waco. Thank you for paying attention.

For Baylor, the wins go sweeping out the door when they venture into the Sooner State. The Bears last won a game in the state of Oklahoma in 1995, before the Big 12 existed, when they beat Tulsa, 37-5. They haven’t won in Stillwater since 1939, and they’ve never won in Norman.

What’s more, history doesn’t even hit as hard as the Sooners. Bob Stoops’ squad returns nine defensive starters from a team that yielded only 22 points per game in 2013. They’ll be stingy again. On the flip side, Trevor Knight threw a convincing coming-out party in OU’s Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. The QB job should be all his going forward.

Motivation will abound in this one, as it could be the de facto Big 12 title game. Sooner or later, the Bears will beat the Sooners in Norman, but I think it’ll still be later.

Extremely early prediction: Oklahoma 31, Baylor 27

Home to Oklahoma State, Nov. 22: Don’t sleep on Mike Gundy. The guy can flat-out coach, and the Cowboys always seem to find a few extra bullets in their chamber, because they reload quickly.

They’ll be forced to, given the loss of 28 seniors. The defense was especially hard-hit, as seven starters departed. J.W. Walsh, while experienced, hasn’t blown anyone away with his play at quarterback.

Nevertheless, OSU hasn’t experienced a losing season since 2005, the second-longest streak in the league behind Oklahoma. The Cowboys should be good, though perhaps not great.

With two weeks to prepare for this game at McLane Stadium, expect Baylor to hold serve.

Extremely early prediction: Baylor 52, Oklahoma State 38

Like last year, that would bring Baylor to a 3-1 record in those toss-up games. Whether that would be enough to retain the Big 12 championship belt is, of course, anybody’s guess.

Test time will be here soon enough. Baylor had better have its No. 2 pencils ready.

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