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The Big 12 Is There For Baylor’s Taking. It Starts With Beating Texas

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NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Bye Week!

Mid-season bye-weeks can be a nice catharsis from the stresses of week-to-week fandom. For this past weekend’s games, my buddy Deonte put it best:

Coaches always think that bye-weeks come at good times in the season, but I think this was a great time for Baylor. The team has been getting progressively better throughout the season, but by midseason there are always fundamental issues that need to be addressed that are very difficult to fix in the grind of weekly game preparation. One thing most coaches use bye weeks for is to get back to the fundamentals. They might realize, “every time we try and defend [X] scheme, we make this same mistake.” or “A lot of the time when playing against this one type of block, we consistently play it wrong.” It’s these kind of things that you can drill down on in a bye week and get back to playing sound football.

Another major thing most staffs do during bye weeks is self-scout. In-season (and during the off-season), coaches will have their graduate assistants and others breaking down opposing teams to get a sort-of “raw data” on them. What I mean by that is they’ll look at what formations they run and how often they run different schemes from different formations. So maybe when Baylor plays in nub trips (one tight end attached to the OL on one side of the formation, 3 WRs split out on the opposite side of the formation) they run play X 30% of the time, play Y 20%, and so on. Bye weeks give the coaching staff the opportunity to run this analysis on themselves so that they can ensure they don’t stick to the same tendencies the remainder of the year.

The other aspect of self-scouting is just writing up a scouting report of your own team, including strengths and weaknesses. It’s imperative that these are brutally honest; i.e., “when we see this guy is in on defense, we are gonna go after him every time with these types of plays.” Every year there are players you think are gonna be big parts of your team preseason, get a lot of playing time, but by mid-year you realize these guys aren’t as good as somebody else you can use in their place.

So with all of that said, that’s what Baylor has been doing this past week. Healing up, getting back to the fundamentals, and self-scouting to ensure that they put the best team forth the remainder of the year. Hopefully this was a successful venture for Baylor.

The Big 12 Title Race

I wrote a post this past week breaking down the Big 12 title race and semi-previewing a critical matchup between 3-0 Oklahoma State and 2-1 Iowa State in which ISU eeked out a win in a really physical, hard-fought game. For Baylor’s Big 12 title hopes, Oklahoma State losing that game was rather important (to make getting to 3 losses much more likely) so that was a good result to see.

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

The reason why OSU taking a loss against ISU was so important was because 1) if you assume that OU finishes with one or fewer losses then you need either 2a) Baylor to win out or 2b) Baylor to only take one more loss while Oklahoma State loses at least 3 since they hold the tiebreaker over Baylor. Again, there are more scenarios to consider here but these are the big ones at the forefront.

Well, it seems like my point (1) is a lot more up in the air. Oklahoma simply looked awful against Kansas. It’s understandable for a very good team to sleepwalk through an 11 AM kick in front of 5k fans in Lawrence, but that level of poor performance was inexcusable. If it wasn’t for a simply miraculous and dumbfounding play by Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams on a 4th and 1 with a few minutes left, KU very well might have won the game. Yes, OU won, and some will respond, “Just win baby!” but it’s simply the truth that great teams don’t play bad teams like OU just did. Oklahoma is still probably very good, but the odds that they lose 2 games just went way up. I very well might be favoring both Baylor and Iowa State against them.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The flip side of OU looking worse is it makes Baylor winning out a good deal more likely (though it still is very hard to do). Many fans are comparing this year to 2019, a year in which Baylor didn’t have a great team but were an extremely well-coached, veteran unit that was able to take advantage of middling play from the rest of the conference. I think this comparison is relatively apt.

However, the Big 12 is better in 2021 than it was in 2019. The current league has 5 teams who are safely top 30 nationally (OU, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State, and Texas) and a few more who aren’t quite that good but definitely aren’t pushovers (like Kansas State, West Virginia, and who knows with TCU.) The 2019 Big 12 was much closer to one top 10 team (OU), a top 20 team (Baylor), and a bunch of others in that 30-50 range.

The Stage Is Set Before Baylor

Given that OU looks susceptible, Baylor has already beaten Iowa State, Oklahoma State just took a needed loss, and Texas already has two losses, Baylor can really say that they control their own destiny. If you have 1 or fewer losses, you’re in. And historically, if you finish with 2 or fewer losses, you’re in. All of that starts this week against Texas. I’ll dig into that game later this week. This post is about how Aranda can show his worth.

One thing about that 2019 season is that Baylor wasn’t necessarily more talented than everyone else, and they certainly didn’t have one of the best QBs in the Big 12 (like Baylor has now). But they were tough SOBs, they played with savvy, and you knew that to beat them you’d have to execute on every down or Baylor would simply outlast you in a 4 quarter game. It was a really fun team to be a fan of because the talent was being maximized by the coaching staff.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the league being overall better in 2021 than it was in 2019, there are only two teams who play with any sort of balance on both sides of the ball: Baylor and Iowa State. By every advanced metric, Oklahoma is a top 10 team but they’re there due to a top 5 offense and a ~50th ranked defense. Oklahoma State is a top 5 defense but their offense is ~50th. Texas is similar to Oklahoma but a little worse on offense and defense.

Baylor and Iowa State are much more balanced. By any metric, Iowa State has a top 25 offense and defense. Baylor has been creeping up there and is solidly top 30 in both. You don’t HAVE to be balanced to win the league, but it certainly helps you stay more consistent from game to game. Oklahoma was able to win the league several times with defenses as bad as the one they have now, but they also had much better offenses than the one they are currently sporting. I think it’ll be hard for them to win the league without markedly improving on either offense or defense.

Anyway, to Baylor. One thing I love about this team is that Aranda clearly has a great staff around him and they are getting close to maximizing their roster. Baylor has consistently been recruiting at a top 3 or 4 level in the Big 12 for a while now, and a top 30 level or so nationally, and the coaching staff is elevating that talent even further and looks to be producing a top ~15 or so team.

The other contenders in the Big 12 have major weaknesses (and strengths). Baylor wasn’t able to overcome Oklahoma State’s dominant defense to take advantage of their poor offense. Against Oklahoma and Texas, they’ll have the opportunity to take advantage of their bad defenses but will have to survive against their very good offenses. Not to mention other games that are not even close to givens, such as a very tough matchup at Kansas State.

I hesitate to write articles like this because it really is one game at a time, and I guarantee that the team itself is only focusing on Texas (as they should). But let’s be real, the league is wide open this year, and a talented, competent, and well-coached team like Baylor has the opportunity to seize that opportunity this year. After a crucial bye week where Aranda and his staff had the opportunity to iron out their weaknesses and set themselves up for the best finish possible,

I think Baylor (and Iowa State’s) balance will show out the remainder of the season. OU is fixing to play 3 very close games (at Baylor, home vs ISU, at OSU). OSU still has bedlam and some other easier matchups. Maybe OU’s offense and OSU’s defense are good enough so that they both handle their business from here on out (other than their head to head in Bedlam, of course), but I think being a half-team causes a lot of problems for putting teams away.

For Baylor, it all starts this week against Texas. Texas has struggled the past few weeks, but still features a very good offense. They can be had defensively, though, and Baylor should be able to move the ball consistently against a D that has struggled to consistently tackle and play sound. Despite Texas being unranked and already having 2 losses, they remain a very solid team that Baylor will have to cleanly execute to beat. How Baylor comes out this week after a bye week will tell us a lot about this team and what we can expect going forward.