This is the question on everybody’s mind. What direction is Baylor’s on the field football program heading compared to years past? Are we closer to the Kevin Steele years, or the Art Briles years? Or, are we headed somewhere in between, such as the Guy Morris era? This Saturday Matt Rhule has a chance to distinguish himself from past coaches of this century, and lead this Baylor team to an undefeated non- conference record within his first 2 years on the job; a scenario that based on years past should not be taken for granted.
Baylor has been in this position several times in the past 20 years. A position where our team is playing a non-conference game they should win, and indeed needs to win in order to build momentum for the remaining season. Each one of Baylor’s previous full time coaches this century including coach Rhule has taken losses in non-conference play that either eroded progress or in one case defined his coaching legacy. Kevin Steele’s tenure at Baylor is defined by the UNLV disaster. Not to be outdone, coach Guy Morris also had a heartbreaking loss to UAB in 2003 in his first season, and his 2006 team had two close non-conference play losses (Army and Washington State), that prevented that talented squad from making a bowl game. Coach Briles also left some non-conference games on the table early in his tenure. The 2008 University of Connecticut game created one more loss preventing the team from playing for a bowl birth to end the season against Texas Tech. This loss was repeated in the 2009 UCONN game. A game Baylor fans came with full expectations to win. Most obviously is last year’s Baylor team dropping games to both Liberty and UTSA under Coach Matt Rhule.
These are harsh memories to drag back into focus, but it is important to realize how vital some of these non-conference games can be. It is highly unlikely that Kevin Steele ever got over the UNLV debacle, and unfortunately, if Coach Rhule can’t turn the program around, he may very well be defined by the Liberty game. Fortunately, however, Coach Rhule has an opportunity to do something neither Steele, Morris, or Briles could do. None of them went undefeated in non-conference play in either of their first 2 seasons, a feat that might be accomplished for Coach Rhule come Sunday morning.
There will no doubt be plenty to play for regardless of the outcome on Saturday, but the Bears need to win the 2018 Duke game to change the narrative of a long list of “we should’ve won” non-conference games, or more importantly, helping to insure this is not the reason we are sitting home during the holiday season.