The Baylor Bears are currently the top team in the Big 12, amassing an undefeated record with just five games to go in the regular season.
This year’s team is a far cry from head coach Matt Rhule’s first year at the helm in 2017. He took the lead of a program that was coming off one of the biggest scandals in recent college football history, hoping to build a new Baylor team. The Bears earned just a single victory that year, even taking losses to Group of Five schools Liberty and UTSA.
“Coach Rhule and his staff, they’re to be commended. They’ve done an excellent job in year three.” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “If you look at where they were when they took over the program to where they’re at now, it’s incredible.”
In the short time since, Rhule and his staff have developed a balanced football team that has yet to lose a game, hoping for their first Big 12 championship since they were made to share the title with TCU in 2014.
Now that they’ve perched themselves on the top, there are some different challenges the Bears face every week.
“Part of being a good team, a decent team, is that you’re going to see different things and you have to adjust,” Rhule said. “What we say is we prepare all the way through the game. You don’t know how the game is gonna go until the end of the game.”
Having faced two halftime deficits and survived a pair of second half surges, Baylor has had their fair share of scares so far this season. The worst probably came in week three against Rice, when the Bears staved off a 10-0 second half for the Owls to survive 21-13.
Regardless of how close they’ve gotten, Baylor still remains unbeaten, and they have played some of the best football in the country to get themselves to that point. Seven victories in, they boast the 14th-ranked offense in the country, led by sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer.
“He’s tough, a winner,” Brown said. “I think the team really plays to his personality,”
So far, Brewer has 1866.6 passing yards (an average of 266.6 per game), and is second in the Big 12 in passing efficiency. He can run, too, notching 145 yards on the ground this year.
Rhule has a lot of other weapons to play with, including a loaded backfield with a trio of capable running backs, led by John Lovett. Even without him, though, the Bears are threats on the ground — JaMycal Hasty and Tresten Ebner combine for 512 yards so far on the year, with an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
Baylor hasn’t gotten the top spot in the Big 12 just because of their offense, though. The Bears boast the top scoring defense in the league so far this year, allowing just 19.1 points every outing.
One of the most valuable assets Baylor has on defense is experience — Brown noted in his weekly press conference that the Bears could have 10 upperclassmen starting on defense.
“They’ve completely changed their schematics, and they’re playing at a high level over there,” Brown said.
Baylor’s defense is anchored by a strong front seven which leads the conference in sacks with 25, with defensive tackle James Lynch leading the way in that category.
In watching other college games over the weekend, Rhule says he came to a simple realization.
“If you want to win games, you’ve gotta play well, and that’s the only thing you can control,” he said. “I think our team’s a team that’s focused on hopefully trying to play as well as we possibly can Thursday night, because we’ll have to.”
With seven games under their belt, the Bears have played well — and their undefeated record can speak to that.