By Shehan Jeyarajah
For the first time in school history, the Bears are ranked in the top 10 of the BCS Rankings at No. 8. The Associated Press poll has Baylor ranked sixth, while both the USA Today Coaches Poll and Harris Poll have Baylor ranked top five in the country.
Baylor sits tied for first in the Big 12 with a 3-0 conference record for the first time since joining the Big 12. Also for the first time, Baylor is the top-ranked Big 12 team in the conference this season.
The offense has been a thing of beauty so far for Baylor. The offense leads the nation in total offense with 714.3 yards per game. The next best team, Oregon, is more than 70 yards per game behind Baylor. The Bears also lead the nation in scoring offense by more than a touchdown.
Junior quarterback Bryce Petty leads the Big 12 in passing yards with 337.2 per game and completion percentage with 70.2 percent. Nationally, he ranks fifth and eighth in those two categories respectively.
Petty is starting to garner some Heisman attention nationally.
Junior running back Lache Seastrunk leads the Big 12 in rushing yards per game with 126.7 yards per game.
Last season, Baylor had a historically poor defense. In contrast, the Bears are 11th in the nation in total defense this season, and rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense. Baylor is also top 15 in turnover margin, and have forced six more turnovers than it’s given up.
Kansas comes into this game with major struggles on offense. The Jayhawks are currently 118th in the country in total offense with 287.7 yards per game. The Jayhawks are one of only six teams to be averaging under 300 yards per game of total offense, and are second worst in yardage from teams from automatic qualifying conferences.
The Jayhawks are 112th in the country in passing yards with only 157.8 yards per game. Junior quarterback Jake Heaps has thrown for more than 200 yards only once in six games. On the season, Heaps has 903 yards passing, six touchdowns and six interceptions on a 51.5 completion percentage.
The Kansas running game is better, but not much better. They currently average 129.8 yards per game to rank 99th in the country. Senior running back James Sims leads the Jayhawks with 519 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
The Kansas defense is 71st in total defense. Kansas allows opponents to gain 402.0 yards of total offense per game. The Jayhawks are 66th overall in scoring defense. They allow 27.0 points per game. Every team behind Kansas in the Big 12 has already played Baylor.
Kansas is a team that starts well, especially at home. Against No. 20 Texas Tech and No. 18 Oklahoma, the Jayhawks combined to score 17 points before either of the other teams scored. The Sooners and Red Raiders were both held scoreless in the first quarter against Kansas.
While the Jayhawks will look to get off to a quick start, Baylor has no problem in first quarters. The Bears have scored on their first drive in five of the first six games. In first quarters this season, the Bears outscore opponents 143-20.
Baylor has played only one road game so far this season.
“We really do try to keep everything as normal as possible on the road, but you just can’t do it because it’s not normal,” head football coach Art Briles said. “You can’t look at a shirt that’s red and say it’s green, because it’s not. It’s different. You have to be different and prepare differently and every situation is different.”
Baylor is playing in the state of Kansas for the second time this season. Against Kansas State, Baylor’s offense was held under 69 points for the first and only time this season in a 35-25 thriller. The Manhattan crowd was a big factor in Baylor’s struggles.
“I’m hoping for a loud, boisterous crowd to make it so easy on my team,” Kansas head coach Charlie Weis said. “That’s what I think they got at K-State. It was a loud, boisterous crowd. If they hadn’t given up a couple big plays in the fourth quarter, they might have beat Baylor.”
The Bears last played Kansas on Nov. 3, 2012, in Baylor’s homecoming game. Baylor blew out Kansas 41-14.
The year before, Baylor narrowly pulled out a win over Kansas in Lawrence during the Robert Griffin III Heisman year. Baylor was forced to overcome a massive 21-point hole to pull off a 31-30 victory in overtime behind four touchdowns from RG3.
“We came out a little flat two years ago,” senior nickelback Sam Holl said. “This week we have to focus on not doing that and coming out from the very beginning like we do at home every week.”
Baylor football will play Kansas at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.