The Big 12 season begins for real in November when all the top teams play each other. Last night’s Baylor-Kansas State game didn’t meet that category—K-State came into the game at 3-4, but it represented an appetizer on the Baylor schedule. It was a nice road test before the Bears have to face Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. Baylor won the game 31-24, but I still have my doubts that this is one of the best four teams in the country, much less a prospective national champion.
Quarterback isn’t the problem. The injury to Seth Russell, lost for the year with a broken bone in his neck, was the focal point coming into the game. How would freshman Jarrett Stidham fare? The answer was that Baylor can replace quarterbacks as easily as Ohio State and Notre Dame have in the past year.
Stidham threw for over 400 yards, completed 23/33 of passes and rifled a beautiful deep strike on first down when the Bears got the ball with four minutes left and clinging to that 31-24 lead. So much for freshman nerves on the road.
The problem with Baylor continues to be their defense. Kansas State has about as limited an offense as you can possibly imagine. They can only run the ball. They can only run the ball between the tackles. They relied heavily on quarterback Joe Huebner to do the running. They still averaged better than five yards a pop. Huebner just took his time, picked his spots between the tackles and gained yardage, 153 yards on the night.
Baylor only had to defend in a phone booth and they were not effective. What happens when they play Trevone Boykin and TCU on Black Friday, the game most expect to decide the Big 12 title? If the Bears win that, what happens if they have to defend Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot between the tackles with
Braxton Miller J.T. Barnett able to stretch the field running the option and throwing the ball? What happens if Baylor has to deal with Leonard Fournette?
The Bears are going to be able to score their points. Stidham is fine and wide receiver Corey Coleman is nothing short of fantastic. He had over 200 yards receiving and can’t be covered one-on-one. Kansas State tried it once, and the next thing we saw was Coleman bolting down the sideline with the football, the recipient of a perfect 81-yard touchdown pass from Stidham. Coleman gets open deep, catches balls across the middle, and catches just about everything you throw his way.
But this has the look of a team that’s going to need score 40-50 points to survive against good teams. Even in today’s game, that’s not a formula for winning the five big games (the three Big 12 battles, plus two playoff games) needed to bring a national title to Waco.
I like the Baylor athletic program in general. I started to like the basketball team back in 2010, the days of Lardarius Dunn and when they almost made the Final Four before losing to Duke. I got into the football team with the rise of RG3, the welcome Heisman alternative to Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson in 2011.
RG3’s subsequent rookie heroics for my NFL team, the Redskins, only added to my affection. And by the way—reports on TV last night said RG3 visited the injured Russell in the hospital. This is part of a year where Griffin has also volunteered his services to the Redskins on the scout team defense. Can we finally bury the numerous cheap shots that have been taken at his character over the last 2 ½ years as his football fortunes have collapsed?
I also saw the Baylor baseball team play in Arizona State a couple years ago on vacation near Tempe, and liked the politeness of the Bears faithful. I like Art Briles and what he’s overcome in terms of personal tragedy—the death of his parents at a young age—and in purely football terms in building up a program that doesn’t have the resources of its well-heeled Big 12 brethren. I really hope they can do it.
But my personal affections won’t help Baylor keep a really good offensive team under 50 points. And that’s not the path to winning five straight big games. I felt at the start of the year that this Baylor team has the feel of an 11-1 type of squad. That’s hardly an insult. But combined with a soft non-conference schedule, it’s not a national championship resume either.