On Saturday night Baylor will either be 5-1 halfway through the season and in good shape to be a part of the conference title game discussion, or will be 4-2 and studying the schedule to figure out how they can get to bowl eligibility. I think Saturday’s game will be telling for head coach Dave Aranda, specifically, I believe fans will get a good idea of the program trajectory as well as his in-game coaching ability.
For the first time in his tenure (besides Kansas), coach Aranda will lead a team that is expected to win a conference game. Last year the Bears were breaking in a new coaching scheme and several new starters—factor that in with all the COVID delays and the season never felt like normal. As such, nobody was really all that shocked when Baylor lost, with the one possible exception being Texas Tech. That won’t be the case if Baylor loses on Saturday and for that reason I think the West Virginia game is coach Aranda’s biggest game as a head coach to date. Sure, the Bears have played against ranked teams the past two weeks, but in both of those games Baylor was not the favored team and nobody will call a possible win against the Mountaineers an “upset” like some did with Iowa State. No, this is a home game where your team is favored and your opponent does have some talent, but did lose at home to Texas Tech last week. I think a mature program handles their business in that type of scenario.
Next, it’s no secret that Baylor has looked relatively bad on the offensive side of the ball the past 6 quarters. Gerry carved up a 3-man front against Iowa State with his arm in the first half a couple of weeks ago—nobody can deny that. However, the Cyclones adjusted their game plan at halftime and Oklahoma State didn’t even give the Bears a chance to get in rhythm with stretch-runs or bootleg passes. Put simply, the Cyclones and Cowboys found ways to slow down the Baylor offensive attack. Conventional wisdom says other Big 12 teams will follow their lead. And this why college football coaches get paid the big bucks. Coach Aranda and his staff will have the opportunity to put together the X’s and O’s that can withstand anything that is thrown at them. You go with your base offense as long as it’s effective, but hopefully there is a plan B this time around if it starts to stall.
Obviously, in year 2 coach Aranda is not on the hot seat. A loss doesn’t mean he is isn’t a good coach and the program can’t recover, but he would lose some of the built in benifit of the doubt mentality with some fans that is built in for new coaches. The last time I felt this way was against Kansas State in 2018. I wrote about it on this website and I think even called it a “must win”—it just felt like a pivotal game for fans to see that the program was indeed trending upward. Let’s hope we Baylor fans will get a similar result this Saturday.