Just two weeks into the 2021 football season and my expectations have already started to shift for this years team. It doesn’t have as much to do with the Bears recent nine point victory over Texas State or the subsequent throttling of Texas Southern, but rather some observations from the other teams in the conference. I still think a bowl game appearance would be considered a successful year for the program as a whole, but I do now believe that other context will help determine just how happy fans are with the end result.
First, any blowout loss would not be acceptable at this point. In 2018, Baylor took a couple of blowout losses (OU & WVU) and that was fine. Coming off a 1-11 season, the Bears faced two upper-echelon Big 12 teams with a shaky defense and ended up getting blown-out against two experienced QBs on the road—-it happens and was not totally unexpected. It didn’t change the goals for the that season nor the trajectory of the program. I don’t think you can same thing in 2021. The team that has the most offensive firepower to get it done, Oklahoma, has to come to Waco this year, and if G-5 and FCS schools can hang with K-State and Oklahoma State on the road, then so can the Bears. Simply put, if Baylor gets demolished in a game this year, it’ll be because of lack of focus or preparation not because of a major talent deficiency. Obviously, I won’t necessarily be surprised if Baylor loses a games or so, but I’ll be disappointed if any of those is as a result of a blow out.
Next, if there was any doubt left that realistic expectations for Baylor does not necessarily have to include a bowl game, those should be shattered. I touched on the schedule in an earlier piece, but essentially you only have to win four more games, including, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and BYU at home, while winnable away games with the Kansas schools. All the teams mentioned have struggled in some form or fashion the first couple of weeks of the season. I think I would feel differently if multiple Big 12 teams had been dominant two games in a row, but that has not happened. Conventional wisdom says that those Baylor opponents will continue to get better, but so will the Bears.
It’s still really early in the season, but perhaps 2021 can be more similar to the 2019 than what previously thought. That year Baylor played every game close and was able to play their way into a Sugar Bowl appearance. Of course it’s way too soon to start suggesting that kind of success, but I think the same formula can be used this year—play solid defense, control the pace of the game, and take advantage of a league where there aren’t many teams separating themselves from the pack. The 2019 team wasn’t necessarily dominant, but found ways to win games. It’s still September but that seems like a possibility this year as well.