For the first time in eight seasons, Baylor won’t go into the final game of the regular season debating which bowl it will reach.

Nobody is pleased with the Bears’ 1-10 debut season under Matt Rhule, and that starts with the head coach himself. But he has liked the way his team has continued to fight as the losses have stacked up and the character the Bears have shown throughout a difficult season as they prepare for Friday’s 11 a.m. kickoff against No. 10 TCU in Fort Worth.

“You might not believe it, but it’s been a good experience for me,” Rhule said. “Certainly I hate to lose, and so that part is bothersome to me, but I think I’ve enjoyed the interactions and relationships I’ve built with the players. I’ve enjoyed the way the team has come together. I’ve enjoyed the way that they’ve continued to fight week in and week out. I’ve seen the progress that they’re making to get better. I don’t think there’s a guy in that building that doesn’t feel like we’re setting the stage to become a really good football team.”

Rhule believes some of the seniors would like to have another year of eligibility because they expect the Bears to begin their turnaround next season.

“I think the seniors, if you were to ask them, a lot of them would say, ‘Boy, I wish I could come back and play another year,’ because I think they see the improvement,” Rhule said. “They see the way the team is coming together. It’s not tangible in the results, but I think there’s been a lot of sort of building of a foundation.”

One senior could return next season since Baylor plans to apply for a sixth-year medical redshirt for preseason all-Big 12 defensive lineman K.J. Smith who has been out since the second game with shin splints.

“I think the fact that K.J. would like to come back and play for us is such a significant statement by him,” Rhule said. “I think he was grateful that we wanted him back. I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ K.J. Smith is a good student, he’s a really good person. We’ve never really seen K.J. healthy. But when he’s healthy, he’s a really, really good football player.”

While the Bears hope to end the season on a positive note, the Horned Frogs (9-2, 6-2) can clinch a spot in the Dec. 2 Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma with a win against the Bears.

TCU coach Gary Patterson said in his Tuesday press conference that both starting senior quarterback Kenny Hill and freshman quarterback Shawn Robinson are questionable for the game with injuries. With Hill missing TCU’s 27-3 win over Texas Tech in Lubbock last weekend with an unspecified injury, Robinson stepped in and hit six of 17 passes for 85 yards and ran for a team-high 84 yards on 10 carries.

If Hill and Robinson can’t play, junior Grayson Muehlstein will start for the Horned Frogs. But regardless of who plays quarterback, the Bears will be without four-year starting linebacker Taylor Young who suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury in the early minutes of a 23-13 loss to Iowa State last weekend at McLane Stadium.

Sophomore Lenoy Jones has moved in at middle linebacker and will be flanked by freshman Jalen Pitre and sophomore Jordan Williams at outside linebacker. Baylor has moved freshman D.J.Artis from end to outside linebacker to provide some depth.

“We’re going to count on some guys that haven’t played a ton, but they’re ready,” Rhule said. “They’re playing in the Big 12, and they have a green and gold uniform so they have to go play. For some guys it’s an opportunity. You might wait until the last game to get your chance, but if you go out and do some good things, then you have positive momentum going into the offseason.”

Baylor freshman Charlie Brewer will get his fourth straight start after hitting 26 of 36 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown against the Cyclones. Brewer will try to cut down on turnovers after throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice in the last two losses to Iowa State and Texas Tech.

Brewer’s interception against the Cyclones was critical since the Bears were threatening to score in the fourth quarter of a tight game.

“Obviously I’d love to have that last one back, but he was kind of in that two minute mode, pushing the ball down the field,” Rhule said. “Their kid made a nice play, but I thought he took what the defense gave him. They were bound and determined not to let us get behind them. I thought he did a nice job with his feet. For a young player, I think he’s continuing to develop and play better and better.”

If Brewer and TCU’s Robinson both start, the game would match up last year’s two Texas Class 6A championship quarterbacks. Brewer led Lake Travis to a 41-13 win over The Woodlands in the Division I title game while Robinson guided DeSoto to a 38-29 win over Cibolo Steele in the Division II final.

“I think that those guys have been in big environments, but more importantly they’ve played for tremendous coaches,” Rhule said. “They’ve played in real systems. Playing at DeSoto, playing at Lake Travis, you’re going to walk in extremely prepared to play college football. I think it’s also a credit to those two guys. They’re competitors. They’re winners.”

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