Four weeks into the season is an odd time. You can convince yourself the season is not over when you drop a game to Cal, or you can convince yourself you’re still the best in the conference because you only lost to Ohio State and Houston- two teams with excellent shots at making the playoff.
And even if you lost to the team that’s 4-0 and has won this thing two of the last three times, you can convince yourself it could still go your way.
But at some point, it’s obvious what we’d all be saying if not for what’s happened the last six months: Baylor is the best team in the Big 12 and the clear favorite to win the conference.
Baylor’s case is not just that the Big 12 is possibly the worst it’s been in years, if not its existence. But that’s a big part. Iowa State and Kansas have great basketball teams. Kansas might win it all, and although Georges Niang will be tough to replace in Ames, Steve Prohm is recruiting well and Monte Morris is back. I’m also sure both schools are happier I just wrote about hoops instead of football.
Texas Tech has a wonderful offense. Fank’s love of Patrick Mahomes is justified. If Kliff Kingsbury ever gets half a defense, they’ll be rolling. They don’t have a defense though. Tech is 125th in defensive S&P+. They gave up 68 to Arizona State and 45 to Louisiana Tech.
Kansas State is an interesting team, but the offense does not seem like it has the athletes to win the conference. Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters are not there, but if there’s a team of the non-Baylor, West Virginia, TCU contingent that could do it, Kansas State seems like the best bet.
The best win for Texas is over Notre Dame, which now looks pedestrian after losing to Michigan State and Duke. They’ve played just three times, but giving up 50 to Cal is a good indication of why most teams don’t go from 5-7 to 10-2. I cannot imagine Texas will go 7-1 the rest of the way.
Oklahoma State has already lost to Baylor. A number of Oklahoma State fans have asserted they should have won the game. I continue to believe a team has to lead for at least a second of a game to say they should have won the game. The Cowboys have a big issue running the ball, and won a ton of close games in 2015. They are a good team that should finish in the top half of the league, but they don’t seem like they are running off eight wins in a row.
Many still believe in Oklahoma because they’ve lost to two great teams. Pro Football Focus has a solid breakdown of why those loses are still troubling. The Sooners miss Sterling Shepard more than many thought, and the offense has not been the same.
TCU still lurks. Losing to Arkansas is not a bad loss. But TCU is 55th in defensive S&P+. They gave up 41 to South Dakota State and struggled late against Arkansas. Kenny Hill is a big play threat. He’s also a big threat to make a mistake or two, and the defense leaves little room for those mistakes. TCU should win 9 games.
That leaves Baylor. The Bears are getting credit by some for being the best of a not good conference. While that’s fair, the Bears also look like a good team. The first four weeks have not featured the excellent offensive play of the last few seasons, but the team still has many excellent pieces.
Pro Football Focus ranks Seth Russell the #5 quarterback and has graded him the 7th best through the season.
Ish Zamora looked like another standout receiver, and certainly a dominant enough wide receiver for the Bears to be bowl eligible when they head to Austin on October 29th and should have a fully healthy K.D. Cannon:
And sometimes Zamora’s just scoring touchdowns:
Even with Johnny Jefferson unavailable this season, the Bears still have a three-headed monster with Linwood, Hasty, and Williams:
Then there’s the huge improvement from the defense. The defense ranks 13th in defensive S&P+. Travon Blanchard just won this:
Congrats to Travon Blanchard for being named the Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week. https://t.co/Emaffkuibt pic.twitter.com/tTIsvRY93W— Baylor Football (@BUFootball) September 27, 2016
There were real problems getting off the field on 3rd down. But the defense was designed to not give up the big play, and Mason Rudolph kept making plays.
While the third down defense remains a concern, that’s not enough to hold back a team that has the Big 12 co-leader in sacks (K.J. Smith), Big 12 leader in tackles for loss, fumbles recovered and forced fumbles (Patrick Levels), Big 12 leader in passes defended (Verkedric Vaughns), and Big 12 leader in interceptions (Orion Stewart).
Baylor also has one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 in Taylor Young, and Ryan Reid should be healthy by the time the schedule gets tougher.
It’s understandable some people are doubting Baylor. Maybe they expect a rash of injuries or assume the team will collapse eventually. But too many people are not acknowledging what’s becoming obvious: Baylor is the favorite to win the Big 12.