Defying all expectations in coach Matt Rhule’s third year on the job, Baylor stunned everybody by getting through October as the Big 12’s only unbeaten team.
The No. 12 Bears have a leg up on the rest of the league to reach the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 7, but first they must get through a brutal November.
It starts Saturday against bitter rival TCU in Fort Worth, followed by a Nov. 16 date against No. 10 Oklahoma at McLane Stadium that could be college football’s game of the week.
Next up after that is Texas on Nov. 23 at McLane Stadium in a game that could go a long way toward deciding a berth in the Big 12 championship game. The Bears end the regular season Nov. 30 against an improved Kansas team up in the cold north in Lawrence.
The Bears know they’ll have to play better all-around football than they did in Thursday night’s 17-14 win over West Virginia at McLane Stadium where an inconsistent offense and uncharacteristic shabby special teams play nearly resulted in their first loss.
“We have to improve, especially heading to TCU next week,” Rhule said. “But as I told the guys, don’t apologize for going 8-0 and winning this game. We just have to improve as we try to move forward. We turned the ball over too much. We had the ball 36 minutes, but obviously couldn’t get a lot of points.”
If the Bears (8-0, 5-0) sweep all four remaining regular season games and win the Big 12 championship game, they could at least jump into the conversation for the four-team College Football Playoff. But they would still likely be on the outside looking in due to a soft nonconference schedule that included SFA, UTSA and Rice.
But even if the Bears go 2-2 in November, they could still have a shot to make the Big 12 championship game. A key game Baylor will likely be watching is the Texas-Iowa State matchup in Ames on Nov. 16, since both teams are now 3-2 in the Big 12 and could be in the running for a Big 12 championship game berth if either sweeps their remaining games.
Any Big 12 championship game aspirations will be moot for the Bears if they don’t clean up the mistakes that nearly cost them against the Mountaineers, who have dropped their last four games.
The Bears had three fumbles, including R.J. Sneed’s muffed punt that gave the Mountaineers a chance to win the game at Baylor’s 34 with 4:43 remaining. Baylor got a break when Casey Legg’s 43-yard game-tying field goal was erased due to a delay of game penalty, which led to Baylor’s Bravvion Roy blocking Legg’s second attempt from 48 yards to save the win.
While that blocked kick and John Mayers’ 36-yard go-ahead field goal early in the fourth quarter were critical, a breakdown in kick coverage led to Winston Wright’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Mountaineers a 14-14 tie with 4:22 left in the third quarter.