Lincoln Riley’s departure from Oklahoma to USC has opened up the Big 12 for a new king to reign supreme.
Baylor’s Dave Aranda continues to show promise that he can fill the void. Nebraska’s Frank Solich and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops are the only Big 12 coaches who’ve won a conference title in their second season on the job. Aranda has an opportunity to accomplish that feat next Saturday when Baylor squares off in a rematch with Oklahoma State.
After all, the 45-year old has made one of the fastest turnarounds of any coach in the country, going from a 2-7 campaign in 2020, to 10 victories this season. Not to mention the No. 9 Bears went undefeated at home and won six of their past seven games, including the last two with a backup freshman quarterback.
Aranda’s success clearly shows his staff and the players have bought in. There’s a reason why his name continues to come up in the coaching carousel of the big job openings. However, Aranda keeps his players focused on the task at hand, without the team distractions and outside noise.
Now he has a chance to kill two birds in one stone, by getting revenge on the Pokes and winning the Big 12 hardware during the process. The Bears will need to get off to a fast start this time around, considering the Pokes held them scoreless during the first half in the first clash.
Quarterback Gerry Bohanon hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring in the first half against Kansas State. Blake Shapen has kept the wheels rolling for Baylor’s offense during his absence though. The Louisiana native has thrown for 391 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions over the past two games.
The Bears also have one of the best running backs in the country in Abram Smith. He finished the regular season as the Big 12’s No. 2 rusher, plus Smith is seventh in the FBS in rushing yards. On the other side of the ball, Baylor’s defense is second in the league against the run and points allowed.
There’s no denying the Bears have an identity. The recipe of pounding the ball and playing solid defense has put Baylor (10-2) in this position. Although Mike Gundy is the league’s longest-tenured coach, Aranda is the Big 12’s fastest-rising one. Those two are matching wits for the third time and Gundy has won the previous two.
As a matter of fact, Gundy is the only active Big 12 coach, who Aranda has yet to defeat. The road to Big 12 lore goes through Oklahoma State (11-1) and both teams are hungry for a championship.
The Pokes have plans on making the Playoffs with a win in Arlington. Meanwhile the Bears will be knocking on the door if they’re victorious, and will need some chaos to happen with the top-four teams. It’s amazing how Baylor was left for dead after the Art Briles debacle.
Still, Aranda has the program trending up in such a short period of time. If he’s the coach hoisting the Big 12 trophy Saturday afternoon, Aranda will be the new king of a conference that’s currently wide open for the taking.