When the first College Football Playoff rankings are unveiled Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN, Baylor will find out how close it is to landing in the top four.
The Bears have stunned most observers by going 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12, moving up in the Top 25 the last four weeks after entering the polls for the first time on Oct. 6. They’re currently No. 10 in the coaches poll and No. 11 in the Associated Press poll.
But Baylor coach Matt Rhule doesn’t want his players to listen to what everybody’s saying about them now that they are back on the national radar.
He wants them to block out the noise surrounding them and stay focused on what they need to do to stay unbeaten as they prepare for Saturday’s game against fierce rival TCU at 11 a.m. at Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
“I am pretty sure they are not going to put us in the top four, so I’m just going to tell our guys, ‘Hey let’s just worry about this week and this game,’” Rhule said. “It is all unchartered territory for our team, so I keep going out and saying my way is to not pay attention to any of that. It is to just focus on this week and us. We have a lot of older guys who are doing that. They are saying ‘Hey, let’s just focus on what we can control and go out there and play.’ And thankfully we are playing TCU, because that is a team our players know.”
After last Thursday’s 17-14 win over West Virginia, the Baylor players heard and saw plenty of talk on TV and social media. While Baylor’s defense delivered a strong performance, offense and special teams struggled to play up to their usual standards.
But Rhule doesn’t want his players to get a negative opinion of themselves because it wasn’t their best all-around performance. He wants them to focus on fixing their problems and try to improve for TCU.
“The only thing I was disappointed with was that some of our players are starting to hear too much and they’re starting to think we have to win a certain way,” Rhule said. “So what happens is they get on the sideline, they start panicking. How about we just try to win each game and not listen to everybody saying ‘Hey you should win this way?’ ”
Rhule expects his players to see the first CFP rankings and hear a new round of conversations about Baylor’s odds of making the playoff. At the same time, he knows those conversations will end if the Bears lose to the Horned Frogs.
“They are fun to hear about, but the quickest way to get rid of all that stuff is to not focus on what you are doing,” Rhule said. “So we have got to improve. Thankfully, there are a lot of things to improve. If you sat in that special teams meeting yesterday, I promise you, you would not be thinking about anything outside of here. If you sat in that offensive line meeting or offensive meeting, you wouldn’t be worried about those things over here.”
The Horned Frogs (4-4, 2-3) are coming off a 34-27 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. They’ve improved offensively as freshman quarterback Max Duggan has gained more experience. Duggan appeared to injure his throwing hand in the final minutes against Oklahoma State, and Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson was mum on his status in his Monday press conference.
But there’s no question TCU’s defense will be a challenge for Baylor. The Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 in total defense by allowing 324 yards per game and rank fifth in scoring defense by allowing 26.1 points.
“I think it starts, first of all, with Coach Patterson, he does a masterful job of taking away the things that you do well,” Rhule said. “So you go into a game like he’s going to take away your top three runs in every formation, your top three passes. They’re going to take it away by scheme and then they have great players playing really aggressively. They don’t give you free stuff.”
Baylor’s offensive line needs to make a big improvement after West Virginia sacked Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer seven times. Brewer was still effective as he hit 20 of 26 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, but often had to scramble to escape the Mountaineers pass rush.
“They have one of the best players in college football in Ross Blacklock, a dominant defensive tackle who missed last year,” Rhule said. “He gave us fits two years ago and he’s back, and he’s better than ever. So it’ll be quite a challenge for our offensive line, especially coming off of a last game where we didn’t play very well up front.”
Rhule said Baylor defensive tackle Bravvion Roy, who saved the win over West Virginia with a blocked field goal, is questionable for the game. Backup defensive lineman Gabe Hall has already been out with an injury and won’t be back. Rhule said cornerback Jameson Houston is also questionable.
Offensive tackle Connor Galvin, who has been out with a knee injury since going down Oct. 5 against Kansas State, has been getting some practice time and could potentially return for the TCU game.
“He did some work last night, so we’ll see,” Rhule said. “It’s just a matter of how his knee kind of handles it. We would really love to have him. It’s just a matter of how it goes this week.”