Every team in the Big 12 this year played a non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent, save for one.
Baylor, the defending conference champ, played Northwestern State and SMU in Waco. The Bears’ toughest test? A Friday night game at Buffalo.
Baylor’s preseason diet of cupcakes helped the Bears fatten up on easy Ws. Art Briles’ team won all three games by a combined score of 178-27. Quarterback Bryce Petty even missed a game during that stretch with a back injury; the Bears didn’t miss a beat.
However, Baylor’s soft early slate apparently didn’t wow the College Football Playoff’s selection committee. The panel’s second poll had the 7-1 Bears checking in at No. 12, one spot behind Ole Miss, which lost its second game last weekend.
If the Bears can win out, they’ll have at least a share of the Big 12 title. It might be enough to earn a playoff bid. Early indications from the selection committee, however, suggest that the path of least resistance will hurt the Bears’ case.
Briles and Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw have any number of reasons to stick with scheduling the Incarnate Words and the like. The blowouts look pretty on paper. Tangling with outgunned teams might keep Baylor players healthier for conference play. The more games Baylor wins, the more money there is to be gained in performance bonuses.
The Baylor brass would undoubtedly argue that how the school picks its opponents is no one else’s business. The Big 12 league office should disabuse the Bears of that notion real quick-like.
Baylor isn’t a homecoming team anymore. The Bears should now be in a position to beat other major conference teams, both at home and on the road.
Winning those kinds of games reflects well on the rest of your conference, as seen in the rankings. The SEC hype machine can trumpet wins over Wisconsin and West Virginia and Clemson and Kansas State. The league as a whole is 5-2 to this point versus Power 5 foes. Meanwhile, the Big 12, which is a combined 4-6 versus the rest of the Power 5, can offer up Oklahoma’s thrashing of a mediocre Tennessee team as its best non-conference win.
More importantly, though, it’s a problem for everyone else in the conference if Baylor is good enough beat the league’s best teams, but insists on a scheduling approach that diminishes its chances of making the playoff. Unless things change, the Bears will essentially play the role of potential spoiler for the conference’s actual playoff candidates year in and year out.
If the Bears need any convincing, just point them to TCU’s place in the latest rankings. Despite a head-to-head loss to Baylor, the Horned Frogs sit six spots ahead of their in-state rival in the committee’s new poll. The key difference in the two teams’ resumes: TCU played Minnesota in September.
Scheduling a middle-of-the-road Power 5 outfit like the Golden Gophers doesn’t sound like asking for much. It’s a request – if not a demand – that Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby should make soon.