One of the things I really wanted to do this offseason was a game-by-game ranking of the 2015 season. With our opener against SMU just one week away, what better time than the present?
The idea here is to rank the games in terms of overall difficulty, starting with #12 as the easiest (shocker: it's not Kansas!) and ending at #1. It's probably pretty obvious which game that will be, but we've got a long way to go before we get there. Also, I've organized the games into Tiers so I can have more hindsight reasonableness later on ("Yeah, I saw that nail-biter against KSU coming! They were in the fourth tier!").
Tier 1 -- 2 Kings 2:23-25 Seems Tame by Comparison
#12 -- 9/12/15 -- Baylor Bears vs. Lamar Cardinals
If you're looking for a titanic clash of evenly matched teams ... this probably won't be it. For those unaware, Lamar University is a relatively small FCS school in Beaumont, Texas, an area rich with high school talent that tries as hard as possible to get away from Beaumont, Texas. Baylor, on the other hand, is a preseason Top-5 team (higher than that in some places). And the game is in Waco, where Baylor is basically unstoppable.
SB Nation Preview: Uhhhhh ... this is a little embarrassing. Let's move on.
#11 -- 10/10/15 -- Baylor Bears @ Kansas Jayhawks
If you were expecting Kansas to be #1 on this list, I"m glad you didn't have to wait long. Let's get it out of the way: Kansas is going to be awful this year. Though they almost certainly added by subtraction by firing Charlie Weis, Kansas also spent the offseason kicking off or losing virtually everyone they had on their roster that was any good outside of QB Montez Cozart, who may not actually be that good, either. While it is on the road, this game is sandwiched between a neutral site contest with Texas Tech and a home game against WVU, and Baylor should absolutely destroy the Jayhawks in Lawrence. Kansas could be the worst team in FBS this season and still be better off as a program than when Weis was running the show.
SB Nation Preview: Kansas football won't win many games, but it'll get exercise and fresh air
#10 -- 9/4/15 -- Baylor Bears @ SMU Mustangs
I'm putting our season opener 10th on the list as far as games go this season, mostly because I expect that SMU will be better under Chad Morris than they were, particularly on offense, and we may have a few kinks to work out that could make the score closer than you'd think, otherwise. I really like Chad Morris as a head coach, by the way, and I think he'll do a wonderful job in the AAC eventually. Just maybe not this coming year.
SB Nation Preview: Chad Morris and way more fun
#9 -- 10/24/15 -- Baylor Bears vs. Iowa St. Cyclones
Iowa State fans are going to hate me for ranking them below Rice, but all the Sams Richardson can only take you so far. The problem for Iowa State is quite simply talent; though I think Paul Rhoads is probably a pretty big coach, Iowa State is one of the two or three least-talented teams in the Big 12 ... and they have to come to Waco again. The last time they were here, Baylor won 71-7 in our first Big 12 Championship season. I don't know that it will be that lopsided again this year, but maybe.
SB Nation Preview: If Iowa State football has any underdog magic left, now's the time
#8 -- 9/26/15 -- Baylor Bears vs. Rice Owls
Now that I've gone ahead and done it, I'll be honest and tell you that I really struggled with whether to rank Iowa State or Rice ahead of the other. Eventually, it came down to the fact that I like Rice better on offense, where Rice returns QB Driphus Jackson (who is >> than Matt Davis, at least so far) and all of their RBs. Unfortunately for them, Rice lost basically everyone in their secondary, and that's going to be a real problem. I could be proven wrong on this one pretty quickly, now that I really think about it.
SB Nation Preview: Exciting, glitchy, and pretty good (again)
Tier 2: A Neutral Site Game against Texas Tech
#7 -- 10/3/15 -- Baylor Bears vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (neutral site)
I had to put this one in its own tier because I really don't know what to make of Texas Tech. Though we of all people know QB Patrick Mahomes is pretty good, it's not set in stone that he'll start this coming season over Davis Webb, nor should it be. The real question for Texas Tech, as usual, comes on defense, where David Gibbs will try to install a defense predicated on generating as many turnovers as possible. While that could yield positive results against teams with less offensive talent, I'm not sure how that will go against the Baylors and TCUs of the world. Texas Tech will be better this coming season, but will they be good enough to pass one of the 7 ahead of them in the Big 12 pecking order? I just don't know.
SB Nation Preview: Texas Tech's air raid is firing again.
Tier 3 -- These Games Could be Ugly, but Baylor Will Win
6 -- 12/5/15 -- Baylor Bears vs. Texas Longhorns
I grappled with where to rank the next two games on this list, both of which involve teams that should have very good defenses. I settled on ranking WVU over Texas due to their offenses; though they could be a shade better than WVU on defense under Charlie Strong, the Longhorns look like they're going to be dreadful on offense this season behind Tyrone Swoopes. Think about it this way: who on UT's offense would start at Baylor or TCU this season?
#5 -- 10/17/15 -- Baylor Bears vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
If this game was later in the season (allowing WVU more time to grow on offense) or in Morgantown, it would definitely be higher on the list. As it stands, though I really like WVU's defense this coming season, especially in the secondary, I don't think they have enough firepower to keep up. If I'm wrong and they manage to put things together more quickly than expected, WVU could be a surprise team in the Big 12.
#4 -- 11/5/15 -- Baylor Bears @ Kansas State Wildcats
So Baylor gets to go to Manhattan to play the Snydercats after a bye week for both teams. Wonderful. I'm going to tell you how this game will go:
Kansas State, led by a former walk-on named Joe Hubener that will be surprisingly decent at QB, will run a ball-control offense designed to limit possessions and infuriate me on Twitter. They'll pull some weird wizard crap that never should work but does, and the game will be much closer than any of us would like. Because that's what happens at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
At least Tyler Lockett won't be there.
Tier 4 -- It's Getting Real Now
#3 -- 11/14/15 -- Baylor Bears vs. Oklahoma Sooners
I'm buying that the Sooners could be a resurgent threat in the Big 12 this year behind two-last-name Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine, the best RB in the Big 12, but they still have to come to Waco, where they haven't won this decade. And they still have Mike Stoops calling the plays on defense, though they replaced just about everybody around him.
SB Nation Preview: Oklahoma football is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma
#2 -- 11/21/15 -- Baylor Bears @ Oklahoma State Cowboys
I'm already dreading what I know is going to be a night game on ESPN or ABC in Stillwater, where we haven't won since the Wehrmacht was marching through Poland in 1939. I really like Mason Rudolph, another two-last-name (or first name, really) QB that we got to see up close last season in his first career start, and I think Oklahoma State's defense could be really, really good. That's what happens when your school grows quality corners in a vat somewhere and you have Emmanuel Ogbah at DE.
SB Nation Preview: Looking for a Big 12 dark horse? Oklahoma State has the pieces
Honestly, I really thought about going for the shock value and putting this game #1, because I really could see it going badly for us up there again. But I didn't, because the #1 games is...
Tier 5 -- BAYLOR VS. TCU!!!
#1 -- 11/27/15 -- Baylor Bears @ TCU Horned Frogs
No way, it's Baylor vs. TCU! The same game everybody has been talking about all offseason as potentially the best of the entire year, what with the 61-58s and the bear trap commercials and the insane fan rivalry and all that.
Baylor and TCU are basically bizarro mirrors of each other, and each has a weakness their head coach has proven himself particularly adept at curing. Baylor brings back almost everyone on defense but has to replace its QB. TCU brings back almost everyone on offense, but has to replace both of its starting linebackers and three of four starters in the secondary. How you see this game going is largely a function of two things: which coach you trust to fix his team's weaknesses, and how much emphasis you place on playing in Fort Worth.
SB Nation Preview: The TCU football bandwagon is a little too crowded right now
So there you have it, my personal ranking of this season's games from least to most difficult for your Baylor Bears. Since we can't do ranking-style poll questions, I'll do the next-best thing and ask you which game, other than TCU, will be Baylor's biggest test this season. Then you can give me your full lists in the comments!