It’s not as hyped as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning going head to head, but in terms of quality quarterback play and high-scoring offenses at the college level, Baylor-Oklahoma State is a sexy matchup Saturday.
The Big 12 Conference title still is up for grabs, and the Bears, 9-0 and ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press poll, can take control by beating the 11th-ranked Cowboys (9-1) in Stillwater, Okla.
Oklahoma State, which has one of the Big 12’s top defenses, is a 9½-point underdog. The line says a lot about the respect for Baylor in the betting market. The total of 78½ obviously indicates the Cowboys are not facing the Texas offense this week.
A week after holding the Longhorns to 13 points, Oklahoma State will get a much tougher test from Bears quarterback Bryce Petty, who has passed for 24 touchdowns with one interception this season.
Petty put up 63 points against Texas Tech last week without top wide receiver Tevin Reese and running back Lache Seastrunk. Reese is unlikely to return this season, and Seastrunk is listed as doubtful for Saturday by several sources. That will hurt Baylor’s offense, but as we’ve seen, there are a few formidable backups.
The keys to the Cowboys hanging in and winning the game go back to what I said last month. It starts with the Oklahoma State offense, which must control the ball as much as possible with a potent rushing attack and turnover-free play by quarterback Clint Chelf.
In a 35-25 win at Kansas State on Oct. 12, the Bears were forced into numerous three-and-outs and their defense spent a lot of time on the field. The Cowboys do have some strong points, and their defense is one.
I always start my handicapping by looking at trends, but those are a wash in this matchup. Baylor is 14-1 against the spread in its past 15 games. The Cowboys have owned the Bears in Stillwater, posting a 13-4 ATS record at home.
On paper, Baylor has what looks like one of the best offenses college football has ever seen by averaging 61.2 points. The Bears have hung at least 59 points on all but two opponents this season, and Petty is actually passing at a higher level than Robert Griffin III did in coach Art Briles’ system. But the Oklahoma State defense presents a difficult challenge, too.
This matchup will attract a lot of people to the betting window, but with each point there is a counterpoint, and the smart play might be to stay away.
Betting Baylor in the first half has been an automatic play for me. The Bears come out firing and — with the exception of last week against Texas Tech — typically are unstoppable in the first half. So if I bet the game, that probably will be my play.
But the highest-profile game of the week is rarely the best bet on the board.
Each week, I recommend three underdogs that have a real shot to win outright. I call it my “Hottie threesome,” and I also parlay the teams on the money line (Home team in CAPS):
■ Kansas (+5½) over IOWA STATE — Ames, Iowa, is a tough place to play and nowhere you want to visit, but the Jayhawks are riding high after upsetting West Virginia last week. That win might give Kansas the confidence it needs to do it again. I’ll take the points and hope the Cyclones still have not figured out how to stop the run.
■ Michigan (+6) over IOWA — I have bet against both of these mediocre Big Ten teams a lot this year. The ’dog is 9-3 ATS in the past 12 meetings. Off a comeback win at Northwestern, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke finally might have his team clicking.
■ Texas A&M (+5) over LOUISIANA STATE — Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has revenge on his mind. LSU is always tough to beat in Death Valley, but the scrambling Manziel is just as tough to stop. The Tigers were fortunate to win last year’s meeting, and the Aggies will give them another good run.
NFL best bet
■ San Diego (+5) over KANSAS CITY — Betting against the Chiefs, who are 1-3 ATS in their past four games, has been profitable for the past month. After a straight-up loss, Kansas City is 0-8 ATS, and the Chiefs are in a flat spot after losing at Denver. If quarterback Philip Rivers can figure out how to finish drives, the Chargers can stop their three-game skid.
Kelly Stewart of kellyinvegas.com can be reached at Askkelly@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kellyinvegas.