By Daniel Hill
Seven games into the season, the Baylor Bears (3-4, 0-4) are still looking for their first Big 12 Conference win.
Luckily, the football schedule brings the Kansas Jayhawks (1-7, 0-5) to Waco for homecoming. The Jayhawks, like Baylor, are also looking for their first Big 12 Conference win.
The Bears are in a rut, but with five games left to play, there’s still plenty of time for the Bears to find their identity and play their best football down the stretch.
Sure, Baylor has had a tough time in conference to date, but there’s still plenty of football to be played this season.
“It means getting a win,” head coach Art Briles said. “You can go from laying down flat to up straight in a hurry. The great thing is we have another opportunity this weekend. I am forever grateful and thankful that we still have opportunities. That is what keeps you going.”
Baylor has struggled in conference play, mainly with turnovers. The defense has forced a mere two takeaways in four games.
Meanwhile, the Bears have been on the wrong end of turnovers by giving the ball away 11 times in four Big 12 contests.
Quarterback Nick Florence has thrown 22 touchdowns this season to go along with 11 interceptions. Florence understands the team has to do a better job of protecting the football.
“We focus on it at practice every day,” Florence said. “We work on protecting the ball and me making good decisions throwing the ball. We just have to do better protecting the ball. It seemed like things didn’t go our way the other night. We just have to put a complete game together. That’s our biggest thing; we still haven’t put a complete game together.”
Aside from having problems taking care of the football, Baylor’s offense has been the highlight of the season so far.
Baylor is seventh in the nation in scoring and first in the nation in passing yards, averaging 395.7 passing yards per game.
Florence leads the nation in total offense per game by averaging 414.1 yards per game.
The high-octane Baylor offense also possesses quick-strike scoring ability.
The Bears have had five touchdown drives this year that consisted of only one play.
In nine of the last 11 games, Baylor has scored at least 45 points.
When it comes to this 2012 Bears team, offense is not the problem.
The Baylor defense has had a particularly tough time this season by allowing an average of 42.7 points per game. That ranks 122nd in the nation. In four Big 12 games so far, Baylor is allowing 52.5 points per game.
“The Big 12, I think, is the strongest top to bottom conference in the nation,” Florence said. “There is not a lot that separates the top from the bottom. It just goes to show the type of caliber of players that are playing and the type of coaches that are coaching. You have one bad week and it will cost you. You make one mistake and it will cost you.”
The Kansas Jayhawks are arguably one of the worst teams in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Kansas’ only win this season came against South Dakota State, which is in the Football Championship Subdivision and plays in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Despite their struggles, the Jayhawks are showing signs of improvement under first-year head coach Charlie Weis.
Kansas’ junior running back James Sims is one of the bright spots on the team and has plenty of talent.
Sims has rushed for 622 yards this season on only 129 carries. Kansas also has a varied rushing attack as they have six players who average more than five yards per carry.
“He [James Sims] is a really good back,” Briles said. “He didn’t play the first two or three games this year, but he has been a huge part of their offense ever since. He is a tough runner and has great balance. He is a good runner and has a lot of experience.”
While Kansas does have talent at the running back position, it has struggled to produce much offense this season. Much of this is due to the quarterback shuffle that Kansas has endured. Dayne Crist started the season as the Jayhawks starter and now Michael Cummings has earned the role as starting quarterback. Still, the Kansas offense averages a mere 17.3 points per game, which is 121st nationally.
Kansas starting quarterback, Michael Cummings of Killeen, has been seeing action for four consecutive games. Last week against Texas he started and played the entire game for the first time in his young Kansas career. He almost led Kansas to victory over the Longhorns, but Texas made a clutch fourth-quarter comeback to snatch the victory from Kansas.
“He played really well the other day against Texas,” Briles said. “He protected the ball well and ran the offense well. He made some critical plays at critical times. They were one play away from winning that football game. He is a good football player.”
Baylor is only a couple of plays away from having a vastly improved record this season.
Of Baylor’s four losses, two of them have come by less than one touchdown. A single play can be the difference between winning and losing.
“We are just one or two plays away it feels like, and it’s been the same thing the past couple weeks,” junior tight end Jordan Najvar said. “If we can make the play it’s a totally different game. In this conference, in order to be a good team you have to make those plays. We are going to work hard to fix that, and we will fix that for the upcoming weeks.”
For Baylor, it will also be homecoming in Waco. Four of Baylor’s last five games have all been on the road. The Bears have not enjoyed a home game since Oct. 13, against TCU.
“It will be real good with homecoming and everything going on,” Florence said. “There will be a lot of hype, and it’s a must-win situation. We have to get this bad taste out of our mouth and get the win. We are at home, so we have a great chance to do it.”