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Just Two Years After 1-11, Baylor Has a Big 12 Championship In Its Sights

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NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor is, Incredibly, Undefeated In November

Baylor—five years since its last Big 12 championship; three years since a post-scandal year in limbo; two years since a solitary victory over Kansas—is undefeated in November.

Picked 6th in the preseason media poll, Baylor was obviously not expected to be 8-0. In a very good Big 12 conference, Baylor is 5-0.

Do not let this accomplishment be understated or undervalued. Baylor only finished with 4 conference wins last year. Five wins is often enough to place 4th or 5th in the conference standings. When you’re winning every game, every result and action comes under scrutiny while the accomplishment itself is forgotten.

If you’re undefeated, unless you are thoroughly smashing every opponent, you have to be at least somewhat lucky to be so. But Baylor hasn’t really been that lucky this year. Recently, much has been made of the fact that Baylor has played in 4 close games, which generally is a sign of luck. But for Baylor that hasn’t really been the case.

As shown in the above tweet, Baylor has only played in 2 games this year it conceivably could have lost—Iowa State and Texas Tech. Using post game win expectancy—a way of looking at the post game statistics and determining which team wins what percentage of the time—Baylor had a 62% post game win expectancy vs Iowa State and 85% vs Texas Tech. The probability of winning both of those games is 53%—a coin flip, essentially. This certainly entails some luck, but does not speak of a team that is performing well above its actual ability.

Narratives are volatile. If Baylor happened to be 7-1 the press would remain overwhelmingly positive and we’d be seeing more puff stories about the miraculous job Matt Rhule has done thus far. But because Baylor is 8-0 and thus a significant favorite to play in the Big 12 title game and remains in the playoff conversation, everything they’ve done is being put under the microscope. So it goes.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Due to its anemic 2019 non-conference schedule, Baylor almost assuredly has to go undefeated to make the College Football Playoff. The odds of this happening are very small—probably around 5%—because going undefeated in 13 games is incredibly difficult. Consider Ohio State, who is probably the best team we have seen in a decade or more, who only has a 56% chance of reaching the Big 10 title game undefeated. Plus, orbiting one’s fandom around the CFB Playoff sucks and makes one unhappy, so let’s focus on something extraordinary Baylor can do for the first time since 2014: win the Big 12.

What It Takes to Make the Big 12 Title Game

We have seven years of the Big 12 in its current iteration; i.e., a 9 game, full round robin schedule. This is not a ton of data, but enough to draw some basic, albeit limited, conclusions from. Here are the big takeaways:

  • Going Undefeated Is Really Hard. Since 2012, only one team has finished Big 12 play undefeated: 2016 Oklahoma. They were good.
NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Baylor Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  • The Title Game Will Probably Be a One-Loss vs Two-Loss. Only twice since 2012 have two teams finished with one loss (2012: K State & OU; 2014: Baylor & TCU). Because Baylor and OU are the only teams with one loss or fewer thus far, the only way that happens is if Baylor wins out except for the OU game. Otherwise, the standings have always had a one (or zero) loss team in first place with a two loss team in second place. Several times there have been multiple two loss teams, which means tie-breakers decide who enters the championship game.
  • A Three Loss Team Has Never Finished Second. But if ever there were a year that it happened, it would probably be this year since 8 out of the 10 teams already have 2 or more losses.

What Baylor Needs to Do to Make the Title Game

Taking the lessons learned from above, the operative question becomes “What are the odds that Baylor finishes 10-2 or better?”

A 10-2 Baylor team almost assuredly makes the Big 12 title game. As a matter of fact, the only way a 10-2 Baylor misses out is if Texas wins out. This is because of tie breakers; the other teams with 2 losses—Iowa State and Kansas State—Baylor has already beaten. Thus, Baylor must lose 3 out of their next 4 for ISU or KSU to get in above Baylor. But a two loss Texas—because that necessitates a win over Baylor—would hold the tiebreaker over a two loss Baylor.

Texas winning out is very unlikely—currently 2.6%—as they still have to play K State, at Iowa State, at Baylor, and at home vs Texas Tech.

https://www.reddit.com/r/CFB/comments/drgx9b/win_total_probability_distributions_per_sp/

As it turns out, with 4 games to go, Baylor’s odds of finishing 10-2 or better are quite good: 91%.

https://www.reddit.com/r/CFB/comments/drgx9b/win_total_probability_distributions_per_sp/

It is difficult to succinctly state situations where there are many possible permutations. Here’s the best I can do for Baylor and the Big 12 title game: If they finish with 1 loss of fewer, they’re in—full stop! If they finish 10-2, only Texas could jump them and it requires the unlikely event of Texas winning out. If Baylor loses 3 out of their next 4, things get much trickier but Baylor still has a shot.

Beat TCU!

Baylor’s current odds are good enough to where Baylor fans can wonder how they’re going to afford AT&T Stadium parking. Beat TCU tomorrow and you can safely begin perusing seats. If Texas loses to Kansas State AND Baylor beats TCU, go ahead and buy your tickets.

A 2019 Big 12 Title game appearance—let alone a championship—would be an incredible feat for Baylor. In the words of Kendall Kaut, what a time to be alive!

Look, “one week at a time,” I know, I know. But I’m not on the team. I’m not responsible for their psyche, and ignoring the reality is lame. Baylor is in an amazing position—if they miss out on a Big 12 title appearance because some players become overconfident after reading my dilettantish articles, well then I hope they at least comment, “Great article, Travis!”