By Jeffrey Swindoll
No. 6 Baylor football was thrown into a whirlwind after Tuesday night’s announcement of the latest College Football Playoff rankings. With just one game left in the regular season, the odds are stacked against the Bears to make it into the new four-team playoff system this year. Regardless of any other result, the Bears must win to be in the College Football Playoff.
On top of Baylor’s shot at playing for a national title, the Bears have the opportunity to win their second-ever Big 12 title. All of this will take place on national television with the famed College GameDay show preceding the 6:45 p.m. kickoff to be broadcast on ESPN.
All eyes will be on Waco for the season finale, which will essentially decide the Big 12 Conference title and prove the Bears’ worth to the selection committee in possibly the biggest game in Baylor history. Quite the mouthwatering fixture.
None of it will come easy though. The Bears play the notoriously disciplined No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats (9-2) tomorrow night at McLane Stadium. The Wildcats’ only losses this season were against No. 19 Auburn (8-4) and No. 3 TCU (10-1).
“[Kansas State] has done an outstanding job for decades and does it in a unique way,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “They believe in what they do and they have tremendous support from the Wildcat community that is almost unparalleled, if you have ever been up to Manhattan. I certainly think they are a program and he is a coach that if you are looking for a flaw or dent in the armor, you are not going to find one.”
Baylor offense vs. Kansas State defense
Baylor leads the country in total offense (581.1 yards per game) and scoring offense (49.8 points per game). With the amount of talent and sheer numbers, Baylor arguably has the best offense in the country. The Bears rank No. 1 nationally in first downs per game (30.2), and have three of top individual offensive players in the Big 12 — senior quarterback Bryce Petty, sophomore running back Shock Linwood, sophomore wide receiver Corey Coleman.
“Our running game has been going well, so we have to be able to hit some short routes as well,” Coleman said. “Once we hit those, the defense won’t play 30 yards back like they have been playing. After we hit those short routes and they come up, we can get them long.”
Overall, Baylor’s attack is balanced with both running and passing. Baylor is third in the nation by averaging 3.5 rushing touchdowns per game and is one of just two teams in the FBS, along with Oregon, that has 30 passing touchdowns and 30 rushing touchdowns. Kansas State’s defense is no easy task, though.
“They are about as sound of a defense as you could ever find,” Petty said. “They don’t make mistakes or very rarely do.”
The Bears have the 20th best running game in the country on the back of Linwood’s 1,135 yards this season. The running corps took a blow, though, after sophomore running back Devin Chafin suffered a dislocated elbow against Texas Tech last week. Chafin has been the Bears’ best short-yardage, hard-nosed running back this season, Briles said.
Baylor defense vs. Kansas State offense
In terms of offensive production, the similarities between Baylor and K-State are striking. Quarterback Jake Waters has had an outstanding season with 18 touchdowns, 2863 total yards, and just five interceptions in 11 games f, all of which are almost identical to Petty’s numbers. The only major difference is in touchdowns, Petty has 25 compared to Waters’ 18.
The similarities don’t stop at the quarterback position. They spill over into receiving as well. The Wildcats have two top-notch receivers, Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton, leading the team in receiving. Baylor freshman receiver KD Cannon and Coleman combine for, again, nearly identical numbers in yards per game. Lockett and Sexton average 14.55 yards per reception and are responsible for 2,133 receiving yards this season. Lockett and Sexton are threats that have the ability to break the Bears’ secondary on Saturday night.
“[Lockett] is a very dangerous player, and Waters does a great job,” Briles said. “Their scheme makes you cover the field interior and exterior. They do a great job of making you cover all of the eligible receivers with run-pass options. They have some guys they can go to and Waters to me has had a phenomenal year.”
One thing the Bears specifically had going for them last week, and the whole season, was forced turnovers. Baylor has forced at least one turnover in all 11 games of 2014, with three or more in four of the last seven.
After allowing the Texas Tech Red Raiders’ freshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes 598 passing yards in the Bears’ narrow 48-46 victory at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, Baylor’s defense is on red alert. The Bears’ pass defense ranks 100th in the nation. Against Waters and his receiving duo, the Bears’ secondary will have its hands full.
“Everything is motivating at this point,” senior nickelback Collin Brence said. “Our team put itself in a position to win another Big 12 Championship. That is big in itself. Then you add in the situation with the playoffs, and it makes this week pretty big. I was sitting on the couch yesterday, and I looked on Twitter to see that College GameDay is coming. That doesn’t happen every week. There’s a lot on the line, and it’s up to us not to let that be bigger than the game itself. We have to go out there and act like it is another Saturday. It’s a great day to play football and play against a great opponent.”
The game will be preceded by ESPN’s College GameDay from 8 to 11 a.m. in front of the South Endzone of McLane.