For those not paying attention or those having been exiled on the Isle of Elba for the last 12 months, here is a special news flash. There is a big game on in Waco this weekend. It seems that every game in Waco is a big game these days especially given the home winning streak, but when TCU comes to town (for the second year in a row no less) the stakes are just a bit higher. There are a number of reasons for this, but a few stand out in my mind.
It is going to be a battle
First and foremost, this is going to be a battle. The home team is carrying a backup QB now starter line advantage, but to me that doesn’t mean a whole lot. The Baylor secondary gave up 21 points against WVU on passes that any 8th grade, B-team QB worth his salt could have completed. To be fair to our much-maligned defenders, they also gave up an additional 28 points on well defended, pinpoint strikes thrown by a Heisman contender. Bottom line is that while 70 points is clearly an anomaly, a respectable QB that has a respectable outing will be able to score some points. This does not negate the personnel issues faced by Coach Patterson and crew, but does water them down some.
Which brings us to the next, much more interesting dynamic for this game, which is the NCAA #2 Offense going against the NCAA #9 Defense. I already hear cries of, “Who have they played!” and “Just look at last week!” but this defense is pretty good by anyone’s standards. Now with that said, the Baylor offense is equally good if not considerably better than those same anyone’s standards. I expect St. Nick to put up some big numbers on a defense that has yet to be severely tested. Think back to the Texas game last year. If memory serves, their defense was around #9 or #10 in D1 as well. I still remember Kendall Wright streaking across the middle early and the rest was history.
The whole Big 12 vs. WAC/MWC/Big East/Big 12 deal
Everyone has seen the YouTube videos, heard the vitriol, endured journalists from Ft. Worth referring to Waco as the “butthole of the earth”, and generally felt the bad vibe rolling down I-35W. Lets be honest, Baylor fans could sit back and be a bit smug about having gotten selected to join the Big 12 and could stake claim to it justly without having to employ revisionist historians. To be equally honest, that was about the only thing that fans could be smug about for many years.
After almost 2 decades of being separated, the “nanny nanny boo boos” are over and TCU and Baylor are back in the same conference. How fitting is it that the centenarian rivalry stands at 50 wins apiece (with a few ties thrown in for good measure) to open up a new chapter in this storied rivalry.
National image and recognition
How badly does TCU need a signature win? The answer is badly. They have had salvo after salvo of bad public relations over the past several months culminating with losing their starting quarterback under ignominious circumstances, losing a game that everyone not on Elba expected them to win, and dropping from 15th in the nation to “others receiving votes”. You better believe they need it badly. If only to let everyone know that they are still for real.
Baylor is a team struggling to gain respect from the broader public and can only garner commentary the best of which is, “better than I thought they would be this year” from every sportswriter in America. Was last year a fluke? Maybe. Is this year a fluke? Maybe. Are they going to a bowl this year? Maybe. Are they Big 12 Contenders? Maybe. The answers to those questions move a bit more into focus this week. A win against a team that has been relatively highly ranked all season starts to turn some of the maybes into probably(s). 4-1 with a single loss to a top 5 program sounds pretty strong. Art Briles and co. will be all over that.
“We are taking it one week at a time.” If I had a nickel for every time I have heard that come out of a player’s or coach’s mouth, I would be writing blog entries for a living. It does make sense to think that way when you are ankle deep in mud standing in the proverbial trenches, but for the rest of us, we are keeping tally. We are counting the games we think we should win and counting the games that we are likely to lose (no matter how distasteful that exercise is) and making sure that the former is >= 6. Considering that the Big 12 has 2 teams in the top 10 and 4 in the top 15, that is a dicey proposition at best. The winner of this game takes a huge step toward making sure that their holidays are interrupted by football (playing, not watching on TV.)
Baylor would need two wins with several winnable matches still on the schedule and TCU would need only 1. As of today, TCU’s remaining strength of schedule is number 1 in the country by a fair margin. Wringing 2 wins out of that gauntlet will not be easy which is why this game is one of the ones that has circle around it on the TCU tally sheet.
Welcome back gentlemen
For those of us that grew up in the SWC era and were amazed, then shocked, then saddened (whether your team was in or out) when the conference broke up in 1994, this is a step toward normalcy. Two Texas teams that have been playing since 1892 are back on each other’s docket and ready to duke it out on the pitch.
Make no mistake Frog, I hope you lose this weekend. In fact I would prefer it to be by a comfortable if not borderline disgraceful margin. I don’t have the slightest expectation that will happen, but it is my preference. With that said, I am glad you are back. I am looking forward to the next 107 years as much as I am looking forward to next Saturday. Here’s to making it 51, whichever side you are on.
Sic ‘Em Bears…