Undefeated Baylor is fighting its way into the national-title conversation, but there is a formidable obstacle standing in the Bears' way this weekend.
Baylor (9-0) visits Oklahoma State (9-1) on Saturday, and the Cowboys' defense has the ability to give the Bears' No. 1-ranked scoring offense (61.2 points per game) problems. Chief among Baylor's concerns should be playmaking CB Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert's stock is already trending upward, and a big game vs. Baylor will solidify his status as a riser on NFL draft boards.
A 6-foot, 200-pound senior, Gilbert is a speedy, long corner who tackles well and also changes games on special teams -- he holds the Big 12 record with six kickoff returns for touchdowns. A seventh would tie the NCAA record shared by C.J. Spiller (Clemson, 2006-09) and Tyron Carrier (Houston, 2008-11). Gilbert has six interceptions this season, tied for fourth in the FBS, and he's getting better and better every week. He has returned two of those picks for TDs this season, including one of the two picks he made last week in a win over Texas.
His 2012 season didn't live up to expectations -- he didn't have a single pick -- but he has proved he belongs in the conversation of college football's top corners in 2013.
Last season, the Cowboys were playing a different style of defense. They were playing more zone coverage, and it didn't suit Gilbert best. With Glenn Spencer being promoted to defensive coordinator in the offseason, Gilbert is being allowed to play the way he wants to more often. He likes to play press-man, and he is more locked in than ever.
This is his last collegiate season, and he appears set to leave behind quite a legacy.
While Gilbert is decidedly on our radar, there are some senior cornerbacks that are working their way into the conversation of prospects at the position. Here are a few of them:
Baylor's Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton: They have each played well all season long for Baylor's vastly improved defense. They are very aggressive, press-man coverage guys and like to get up in the face of wide receivers, forcing them off their route. Goodson and Morton are very consistent in what they do and a big reason why the Bears' defense is so much better. Goodson was a starting point guard on the Gonzaga basketball team before transferring to play football at Baylor in 2011 and is the brother of Jets RB Mike Goodson.
Duke's Ross Cockrell: He is as tough as nails. He has been banged up but played through injuries and is coming off a great game vs. Miami (Fla.) -- he recorded five pass breakups against the Hurricanes. He's someone to watch as we get closer to the NFL draft. We don't think about Duke players as prospects all that often, but Cockrell doesn't get the credit he deserves.
Follow Charles Davis on Twitter @CFD22.