I used to believe that the greatest thing about a rivalry is that it doesn’t matter how good your team is, or how good your rival is, you just know it’s going to be a good game.
You can be winless. Your starting quarterback can be injured. Vegas has you as a 20 point underdog. But headed into rivalry week, none of that matters. Coaches get more creative, players give that extra 1%, and fans become even more crazed. As Ty Hildenbrandt and Dan Rubenstein say on the Solid Verbal podcast, “throw the record books out”.
In a perverse way, the worse you are, and the better your rival is, makes the game even more exciting. You get to be the team that ruins your rival’s season. You get to be the reason your rival misses out on the playoffs.
TCU knows the drill. In 2013, Baylor was 9-1 and ranked #9 in the country. TCU was 4-7 and looking to play spoiler. Baylor needed two pick-sixes to walk away with a 41-38 win. In 2019, Baylor was 8-0 and ranked #13. TCU was 4-4 and took Baylor to triple overtime before conceding a 29-23 BU victory. And you can’t forget 2021 (unless your therapist helped you repress the memory). 7-1 Baylor, #5 in the country, lost a nail biter to 3-5 TCU, 28-30.
Baylor is still learning how this works. In 2017, a 9-2 TCU, ranked #9 in the country, needed to beat a 1-10 Baylor to clinch a Big 12 championship game appearance. The Bears rolled over in the second half and lost 45-22. 2022 was a much better showing. 10-0 TCU, ranked #4 in the country, needed a last-second 40-yard field goal to go up 29-28 and remain undefeated against a 6-4 Baylor.
So what excitement is in store for us this year?
Later today, Baylor travels to Amon G. Carter Stadium for a meaningless three-and-a-half hour programming slot on ESPN+. Baylor is 3-7 with nothing to play for. TCU is 4-6 and could conceivably still make a bowl with a win today and next week over 8-2 Oklahoma.
The Horned Frogs are a two-touchdown favorite. Of the major advanced stats, SP+ is the most bullish on Baylor, giving them a 20% chance of winning. FEI says 19%. FPI, 15%. I think all three are generous.
Baylor is ranked 115th among FBS teams in allowing a 45% success rate against the run. When playing Iowa State, who is ranked 129th with a rushing success rate of 35%, the Bears allowed a 41% success rate. TCU comes into this game with a 43% success rate running the ball. The Horned Frogs could likely run the ball on almost every play and win this game.
What about when Baylor has the ball? The Bears have a slightly below average 40% success rate when passing and 40% success rate when rushing. TCU is fairly average when it comes to defending both the pass and the run.
Here’s the kicker — while success rate is useful for describing how well a team can move the ball downfield, it doesn’t reflect how well the team converts those yards to points. For this game, that matters a lot.
Baylor’s 73% scoring rate (TDs and FGs) in the red zone is 122nd in the country. TCU is somehow worse with a 69% scoring rate, “good” for 128th in the country. On defense, Baylor allows an 81% scoring rate, 53rd in the country, while TCU allows an 85% scoring rate, 74th in the country.
If Baylor wins this game, an excessive amount of turnover and special teams luck aside, it’s because TCU overthinks it and passes the ball more than they need to, and Baylor takes advantage of a better red zone scoring differential.
For the sake of the players on the team who work hard day in and day out, risking their bodies to provide entertainment for the rest of us, I hope we win. They deserve something positive to validate their commitment.
But the sad reality is, I personally don’t care who wins this game. If the OurDailyBears discord is any indication, most of you don’t either. The coaching staff and athletics department have managed this season so poorly that the majority of fans are apathetic. Even a resounding win means nothing when the trajectory of the program still looks so bleak.
If you subscribe to SicEm365, you may have seen Colt Barber argue that the best football decision might not be the best business decision. I’ve thought a similar thing for a few weeks now. This coaching staff, collectively, may give Baylor the best chance of winning football games going forward; however, something, anything, has to be done to get the fans excited again.