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Big 12 Football: Baylor Bears Should Be the Favorites, Not the Oklahoma Sooners

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It’s easy to forget that the Baylor Bears were the champions of the Big 12 last year. Thanks to the Oklahoma Sooners‘ upset win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in last season’s Sugar Bowl, the Bears have sort of taken a backseat to the Sooners’ hype this offseason. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Bears not only won the Big 12 last year, they also thrashed the Sooners 41-12 on their way to the title.

Baylor is used to playing the role of underdog, so landing at No. 10 in the preseason AP Poll may not have stung as much as it would for other programs. But really, it seems like Oklahoma’s No. 4 ranking, when compared to Baylor’s, can mostly be attributed to Oklahoma’s superior college football brand.

The Bears were the better team in 2013, and they bring back one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Bryce Petty. The return of Petty, along with plenty of talent at the skill positions, ensures that the Bears will once again have one of the top offenses in the country. They have to replace some talent on defense, but as a team, they have more than enough talent to roll through the Big 12 again in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Sooners enter the year led by a quarterback who still needs to prove that his performance against the Crimson Tide wasn’t a fluke. Prior to the Sugar Bowl, Trevor Knight had completed a pedestrian 52 percent of his passes and threw as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns.

Knight did not simply overcome a slow start and improve over the course of the season, either. He was up-and-down towards the end of the year as well, including an 8-for-14 performance against the Iowa State Cyclones and a 3-for-7 performance against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the final three games of the regular season. He also didn’t throw for a touchdown in either game.

Meanwhile, the Sooners have question marks of their own on defense. They are thin in the secondary and that could be very bad news in the pass-happy Big 12. Generally, the Sooners’ defense is expected to be pretty good. But if the secondary struggles, they will have an extraordinarily difficult time hanging with Baylor.

The Sooners also have plenty of recent history of not living up to top five rankings. Since 2005, the Sooners have entered the season in the top five a total of five times. In all but one of those years, they ended up well outside of the top five, finishing 22nd in 2005, unranked in 2009, 16th in 2011 and 15th in 2012. The only time they came close to living up to their preseason ranking was in 2008, when they entered the season No. 4 and finished No. 5 in the country.

Oklahoma is a team that will always receive the benefit of the doubt from the self-proclaimed experts, because their branding makes it easy to make assumptions. But that doesn’t mean that the Sooners couldn’t be in for another mauling when they find the Bears in their backyard this season.

Dan Kelley covers Big 12 football for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DKelley_CFB or “Like” him on Facebook.