Matt Rhule’s inaugural season was rough one in Waco. Despite a schedule that seemed to be fairly forgiving, an 0-3 start was a portent of the 1-11 campaign that would follow. Entering his second season, he’ll hope to improve on that win total and try to get his team to a bowl. His chances to make such a leap, though, will likely depend on the Bears getting some help from their schedule.
What can we expect from Baylor in 2018 based on their schedule? Below we take an early look at next season’s lineup for the Bears and offer some thoughts on how many wins and losses are likely for Rhule’s bunch next season.
Here wins and losses are broken down into “Highly Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner should be favored by more than two possessions – and “Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner will probably be favored by about two possessions. A “Toss Up” is any game that has a good chance of being decided by one possession.
2018 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SEP 1 – Abilene Christian
SEP 8 – at UTSA
SEP 15 – Duke
SEP 22 – Kansas
SEP 29 – at Oklahoma
OCT 6 – Kansas State
OCT 13 – at Texas
OCT 25 – at West Virginia
NOV 3 – Oklahoma State
NOV 10 – at Iowa State
NOV 17 – TCU
NOV 24 – Texas Tech*
*Neutral Site Game
Highly Likely Wins: Abilene Christian
This is a game that Baylor should win fairly comfortably. Abilene Christian is an FCS team who went 2-9 last season, and while the Bears themselves didn’t have a pretty record either, this is the most winnable game on Baylor’s 2018 schedule.
For some added context, consider this: ACU lost 34-18 to the New Mexico Lobos from the Mountain West Conference in 2017. The Lobos, like Baylor, didn’t make the postseason because the won only two more contests the rest of the year and finished 3-9. When Baylor takes the field in their home opener, it’s reasonable to expect at least around a 20 point win here.
Likely Wins: UTSA, Kansas
The Bears will almost certainly be favored to win at home against UTSA, despite the fact that the Roadrunners beat them last year. The bad news for Baylor is that this one will be played away from McClane Stadium, as the Bears travel to San Antonio this time around. That home field advantage might not matter, however, for a Roadrunner team that is losing its entire offensive line and its quarterback.
If Matt Rhule and his bunch want to get bowl eligibility, the Kansas game will be circled on their calendar as a must win. Given last year’s comfortable win, Baylor’s first conference test will probably have them favored by more than ten points and, knowing that wins will be harder to come by, they will likely play up to that expectation coming out of the gate.
Toss-Ups: Duke, Texas Tech
These two games will almost certainly be pivotal in determining Baylor’s bowl fate.
The Blue Devils won this contest by two touchdowns last season, so expect them to be favored again next season. What makes this one a toss-up, though, is that the Bears will play this game at home. The early season matchup will tell us a lot about whether Rhule can get his team to six wins.
Texas Tech is projected to be around six win team in 2018, so that game is also certainly winnable for the Bears. The difference will likely be whether Baylor can put up enough points on an improving Red Raider defense.
Likely Losses: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, TCU
It’s difficult to see the Bears winning these games, even though they get three of them at home. The Cyclones are the only team Baylor has to travel to play. In years past, this would have been a game in which the Bears were actually the ones favored, but things seem to have changed in Ames with Matt Campbell at the helm.
If Baylor is going to pull off the upset, look for it to most likely come in one of the home games they play. In Matt Rhule’s first season, his team was much more competitive when playing off the banks of the Brazos,
where they played all four of their single possession losses.
Both TCU and Oklahoma State have offensive issues to work out, so the Bears might catch them on a day when they’re struggling there. The Pokes and Horned Frogs will each probably be favored by double digits, though.
Kansas State is a bit of a wildcard right now, with some outlets seeing them as a conference dark horse and others considering the Wildcats an above average squad.
Still, this is a game where Kansas State’s physical, disciplined style should win the day.
ESPN’s FPI gives Baylor a 60 percent chance of winning that game, however, so maybe the numbers see something the rest of us don’t. If you ask me whether I have more faith in a computer or Bill Snyder, though, give me the old guy.
Highly Likely Losses: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia
The most likely losses for the Bears are those games that they play against teams projected to be in the top half of the conference next season. It doesn’t help Baylor that all of these are road games, nor that they are all played within a single five game stretch from late September all the way through October.
In addition, the Bears only play one home game through that early season stretch.
Granted, there are some upsets possible here. After all, Baylor came within one possession of beating both the Sooners and the Mountaineers last season. There has, additionally, been somewhat of a “rivalry” brewing between the Bears and the Longhorns over the past few seasons. The Bears are on a three game losing streak in this series.
PROJECTED WINS: 4-5
If the Bears make massive strides along both lines of scrimmage, it would seem more feasible to think they’ll go bowling next season. As things stand right now, however, there’s not much indication that they will make that kind of a leap. If the Bears win both of their Toss Ups and the other three they should win, they’ll need to upset somebody to get to bowl eligibility.
That sounds easy in theory, but this is still a team that only won one game last season. Winning even one of the Toss Up games could prove difficult for the Bears. Duke returns a lot of production and could be a Top 40 team, while Texas Tech could very well need another late season win to get to a bowl themselves.
At the same time, the Bears came very close to upsetting a couple of teams that were supposed to blow them out of the water, so in Rhule’s second year you have to think he’ll be able to grab a victory at home that Baylor should lose. Given all of those factors, it is reasonable to say that this team improves to 4 or 5 wins in 2018, but just misses out on a bowl game.