While some might view this article as a case of cruel optimism, its intent is to go through the still mathematically viable scenarios in which Baylor can still make a bowl game this season. To be clear, Baylor will likely not be favored in many, if any, of its remaining games (unless it does start to get hot). But, I think those who watched the Duke game could clearly see some improvements, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Regardless of if this team goes 9-3, 0-12, or anywhere in between, this team deserves every Baylor fan’s support as they’re giving it their all each week. With that being said, let’s look at how Baylor could still make a bowl game this season.
First, reasons this team could improve enough to start picking up some wins:
- We’ve already seen improvements, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Absent two cases of really bad over pursuit, the Baylor defense looked, dare I say, really good last week? The pass rush has come back in a big way, with Ira Lewis sitting at #2 in the conference in sacks and Brian Nance at #4 in sacks. Clay Johnston also looked like an absolute dude out there, with 13 tackles, including three tackles for loss and one sack. If the offense can figure out what it’s trying to do, I think this team gets much, much, much better. Which brings me to my next point...
- Baylor is getting A LOT of players back this week:
Rhule just told me CB Jordan Tolbert and LB Lenoy Jones, Jr. are also back. #Baylor.— David Smoak (@DavidSmoak) September 18, 2017
Obviously, there’s a lot of defensive depth making it’s way back this week, which will be very helpful. But, arguably more important, the offense gets back its starting tight end and starting runningback, who was a 1,000 yard rusher last season. I think, in a world where we’re trying to find the road to six wins, those are the biggest game changers. What was clear watching Baylor’s offense the past two weeks is that the run game has been stagnant. Baylor has only rushed for 194 yards the past two games combined, with a miserable 3.34 yards per carry. Without a strong running game, teams have been able to drop more players back into pass coverage and completely disrupt the offense. What’s the best way to improve the rushing game (and, by proxy, the passing game)? Get back a great rusher and a great blocker which is what Baylor will get with Terence Williams and Jordan Feuerbacher, respectively. Combine that with Zach Smith likely learning a lot through film this week (and hopefully making a few less than 4 turnovers in upcoming games) and I might be inclined to agree with a certain Mr. Platt on the following two accounts:
It's going to click.....and when it does...— chris platt (@chrisplatt14) September 16, 2017
Now, with the ground laid for a continually improving team, let’s look at the rest of Baylor’s schedule and see where the Bears could dig up six wins. Keep in mind, Baylor would have to go 6-3 in its remaining nine games to become bowl eligible this season. I’m going to look at most of these games as optimistically as I can to find the road to a bowl game.
Yeah, I know I JUST said I’d look at these optimistically, but I don’t see this one happening. Baker Mayfield and company look playoff level good and I still don’t think the Bears will be in the condition they need to be to come out of this game with a win. That being said, I think this game will be a lot closer than the betting line and experts think it will be. I’m also all for seeing this happen:
@ Kansas State
Here’s where I think Baylor has a chance to pickup its first win. A lot of cracks were revealed in Bill Snyder’s team in their 14-7 loss to Vanderbilt this past weekend. The KState offense does not look very good at all. I think the continually improving Baylor defense could take advantage of this and score just enough to edge them out in Manhattan. There’s one potential win for the good guys.
@ Oklahoma State
The beginning of Baylor’s Big 12 schedule is pretty rough to say the least. I don’t think the Bears get a win against this Oklahoma team either. Stillwater is a notoriously tough place to play and it doesn’t help that Mason Rudolph is leading what looks like the best offense in the country, blowing out Pitt last weekend before the first quarter was even over. The only chance I could see is if Baylor’s defense gets REALLY good REALLY fast and there’s confidence coming off of a KState win. But I’m not buying that until I see some big things. Good guys still at one win.
Homecoming for the Bears should mean there will be a good home crowd to watch this game and I think this is another potential win for the Bears. West Virginia looks like it might be in a rebuilding year of sorts, after losing a ton of starters from last year on both sides of the ball. I think Baylor might be able to pressure Will Grier enough to force some mistakes and pull out a win. There’s two potential wins for the Bears.
We all know there is some very bad blood between Texas and Baylor. I don’t care what the records are going into this game, the Bears are going to be out to play. Combine that with inconsistent quarterback play from the Longhorns and Matt Rhule’s coaching history against Tom Herman and I think this home game could go the way of the Bears, especially if the defense is still improving week by week. There’s three wins.
Even in my extremely pessimistic projections of the season, it’s really hard for me to pick the Jayhawks in this match up. While Baylor has been slowly improving and showing some signs of life, Kansas has gotten functionally blown out in back to back weeks by G5 teams Central Michigan and Ohio. I think the Bears definitely nab this win in Lawrence. There’s the fourth win.
This game is still hard to predict at this point in the season since Texas Tech has only played two games. There just isn’t much to go off of. I do think that this will be one of the most challenging games for Baylor’s defense. But, this could also be a game where Baylor’s offense will get more open looks and big plays than they might otherwise. I think this is definitely a possible win, especially if the Bears can get some pressure on Tech’s new quarterback, Nic Shimonek. We’ll call that five wins.
Usually, Iowa State can be relied upon for a consistent win. This year, it’s much less of a given. Iowa State looks much better than in years past, being an overtime game away from sitting 3-0. Their offense is humming along with good production from Allen Lazard, Jacob Park, and David Montgomery. Additionally, Iowa State’s defense is actually #1 in the conference in sacks (Baylor is #2). Nevertheless, there are weaknesses. The offense has a tendency to freeze up for extended periods as was seen in the 4th quarter of their game against Iowa and the middle of their game against Akron. If Baylor can make Jacob Park feel uncomfortable, I think this could definitely be a home win. There’s six wins and bowl eligibility in this outlook.
I would love for this game to be a win. But, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to put this in the loss category. TCU’s defense looks really good this year, and I don’t think that’s going to help a Baylor offense that is still going to have holes even with improvement. BUT, out of the three losses I have listed (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU), I think this is the most winnable. So, if one of the needed wins doesn’t go Baylor’s way, this could be a spot to pick up a sixth win. If Baylor is sitting at five wins heading into this rivalry game, I definitely think Baylor could pull this one off. But, for this projection, I’ll still leave it at a loss.
All that being said, I think there’s still reason for optimism this year. A bowl game, while very, very difficult, is still definitely on the table for the Bears. And if you think this article is far too optimistic, you can look at last week’s “What If Wednesday” examining what happens in the worst case scenario of an 0-12 season. Regardless of how you think this season will end, Bears fans need to support this team now more than ever.
Sic ‘em! #MyTeam