Let’s face it, relative to most of college football, Baylor has a very easy start to the season. We don’t know how good Texas State will end up being, but they were one of the worst teams in FBS last year. Texas Southern is probably the worst team I’ve ever seen Baylor play since I arrived at Baylor in 2011. Baylor’s next game is at Kansas, who has perennially been one of the worst teams in FBS over the past decade and has a brand new coach who wasn’t hired until after Spring ball.
Kansas is no doubt better than they were last year. Their new coach Lance Liepold is the same level of upgrade over Les Miles as Jeff Grimes has been over Fedora/Munoz for Baylor. They simply don’t have the depth, talent, and experience to be a significant threat this year. However, they’re already better coached and will be “plucky” in the sense that you can’t expect them to just roll over. You’ll have to execute to beat them. They’re like a worse version of the Baylor 2017 team in Matt Rhule’s first year.
But just because you’re playing a bad opponent doesn’t mean there is nothing to prove. As Bill Connelly, once of SBNation and now of ESPN, was fond of saying, “You can still learn a lot when you play bad teams because good teams beat bad teams handily.” A win is a win in the record book, but the actual performance of the team is more important for predicting the future.
You may remember that, after a slew of cancellations in 2020, Baylor’s first game of the season was at home vs Kansas. Purely by the final score of 47-14, the game was a route. But when you looked under the surface, Baylor’s offense performed quite poorly and showed signs for how they’d struggle the remainder of the season. Against Kansas, Baylor finished with an offensive success rate of 39% (success rate is a measure of what percentage of your plays were “successful” as defined by meeting different criteria depending on the down and distance). The FBS average is usually around 41%, so you’d want to be far closer to 50% against bad teams like Kansas. They also finished with a yards per play of 5.2, another extremely meager number. The score, bolstered by special teams and defensive scores, masked Baylor’s clear offensive problems. This is the inverse of Baylor’s game against Texas State in which Baylor beat them much more handily than the score showed on the surface.
Through two games, Baylor’s new offense looks like they have serious top 40 national potential. With their defense, they’re becoming more and more of a threat to make the Big 12 title game. If Baylor’s gonna be that good, they probably need to beat Kansas handily.
Baylor should have some guys they’re counting on in 2021, like WR Drew Estrada, RB Sqwirl Williams, and JACK Garmon Randolph, play for the first time all year. Defensive lineman Siaki Ika is returning from a one game suspension and needs to play much better than he did against Texas State. The offense needs to continue to build on its momentum and demonstrate that they can continue to run the ball against better DL and LBs.
This doesn’t mean that if the game is tight or Baylor is disappointing in any way that the season is doomed. Every team is liable to lay an egg or two, even good teams. But college football is notorious for its short season and thus small sample size. Baylor handling Kansas would go a long way to prove that Baylor’s potential is beyond “middle of the pack Big 12 team.”
I’ve been told by some to pump the breaks and wait for Baylor to play some better teams before I make any pronouncements. But there is no point in doing evaluations if you’re unable to predict how things will change from playing bad opponents to good opponents. Baylor, particularly on offense, has demonstrated enough to me in the first two games to know that their offense is going to be at least “good” this year with the potential to be even better. I think Baylor continues their positive momentum and does very well against Kansas this week.