The stage is set for Baylor. After enduring their toughest four-game stretch of the season, including three away games against ranked opponents, the Bears return home for their homecoming game against Oklahoma State. It will be the start of yet another four-game stretch that will determine if Baylor will go bowling or not. All four of the games are winnable, and there is only one true road game in this final stretch of the season. The importance of a bowl game is obvious for multiple reasons, including fan support, player development (extra practices), money, etc., but I believe its extra critical for our coaching staff.
Like most people predicted this summer, the Big 12 is down this year. There were major losses of key contributors now gone to the NFL, and there are still some realistic scenarios where only four Big 12 teams are bowl eligible at the end of the year. This Baylor coaching staff and team desperately need to take advantage of the variables that have worked in our favor this year. A down year for the conference, average teams coming to Waco to play (Duke, KSU, OSU, TCU) rather than us going to them, and all the returning production that made this Baylor team one of the more experienced in the conference. These variables were in our favor this year, but that is not something that will happen every year.
Every team goes through “down years,” and although I hope and believe that coach Rhule will have this Baylor program going in an upward trend for a while, we too will have to experience a year when we are playing a more difficult schedule with a young team. However, the key for coaches and programs is to have enough skins on the wall to survive those seasons, something to look back on to show everyone what you are capable of. It’s the reason Mack Brown survived a few subpar seasons late in his tenure, as opposed to his successor who was fired after just three years. It’s the reason why nobody in Fort Worth would dream of firing Gary Patterson, even if they are jeopardy of missing a bowl game. Finally, look no closer than our own situation just over a decade ago. Guy Morris’s 2005 and 2006 teams were much better than his predecessor’s ball clubs. They were actually competitive and swept the Northern division teams one year.
So why didn’t coach Morris get more time to turn around arguably the worst program in the country? I believe it’s because he didn’t have enough skins on the wall to survive his down year in 2007. All it took was one or two more wins in either 2005 or 2006, and I believe he would have survived the disastrous 2007 season. He was close, but he had nothing to show for it.
Again, I hope it’s not for a while, but our “down year” will inevitably come. The Big 12 won’t stay down forever. We won’t always have so much returning production coming into a season. And there will be a year where our schedule won’t be so advantageous. So, my hope is that Coach Rhule can get his skins on the wall early his tenure, and that we won’t look back at this season the same way we look at back at the ‘05 and ‘06 seasons as being close but with nothing to show for it.