WACO, Texas — Just more than a month ago, Oklahoma State's trip to Baylor to close out the regular season didn't look all that frightening for the Cowboys.
The Bears had lost four consecutive games to start the Big 12 season and could not stop anybody on defense. OSU, meanwhile, was still a contender to repeat as conference champions. And history was on OSU's side, with the Cowboys winning 15 of the last 16 meetings, including six straight blowout victories.
But suddenly, Saturday's matinee contest at Floyd Casey Stadium appears way more dangerous.
Baylor has won three of its past four games, including a convincing upset of then-No. 1 Kansas State and an overtime victory over Texas Tech to become bowl eligible. And OSU is coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to Oklahoma, a game the Cowboys led until the final score.
As Cowboy offensive coordinator Todd Monken said, timing is often critical in college football.
“West Virginia at that moment (Baylor) played them was really playing well,” Monken said. “Texas was playing better on offense than they are now. They probably caught Kansas State at the right time.
“Sometimes when you play somebody (makes a difference). Confidence is a big part of it.”
The timing could also be critical for Art Briles, the man who has built Baylor into a relevant program. He's been mentioned as a candidate for several head coaching jobs, most notably Arkansas, meaning Saturday could mark his final game coaching in Waco
But what's led to the Bears' surge down the stretch?
Offense has never been a problem this season, even without former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. Nick Florence has stepped in brilliantly, leading the nation in total offense. And receiver Terrance Williams is finalist for the Biletnikoff award and is sure to present a challenge for the Cowboys' pass defense that allowed 500 yards through the air a week ago.
But the Bears' improvement has come on the defensive side of the ball. The last two Big 12 Defensive Players of the Week have come from the Bears in cornerback Joe Williams and linebacker Eddie Lackey. Baylor has also won the turnover battle in each of its last four games.
“Everybody only remembers November, so we are playing well at the right time,” Lackey said. “We are able to produce and come up with turnovers or whatever it is. We have been able to turn the games around and help our offense.”
Saturday's result could, really, change the perception of OSU's entire season.
Win, and the Cowboys finish 8-4 and will be on their way to a solid bowl game, despite a revolving door at quarterback and a bevy of injuries throughout the season. That's a successful season.
Lose, and the Cowboys finish 7-5, ride a two-game skid into the postseason and slide down the bowl pecking order. That's a mediocre season.
It all hinges on an early December trip to Waco. And OSU coach Mike Gundy is confident in his team's ability to rebound from the Bedlam disappointment and finish the regular season strong.
“I don't think there's any question it's a challenge for us as coaches and players that we recover,” Gundy said. “It starts with us. We have to get over it first, and then we have to make sure our players understand, which they do.”