Kansas is off to its best start since 2009 despite a season-opening loss to Nicholls State. The Jayhawks are coming off back-to-back huge wins over Central Michigan and Rutgers, having forced six turnovers in each of those games. They will hit the road to face a Baylor program that is still trying to recover from the Art Briles scandal.
Baylor returned a ton of players on both sides of the ball from 2017 to the tune of 93% of their offensive production and 82% of their defensive production. So far in 2018, Baylor has 47/53 run/pass ratio. This matches their run/pass ratio from 2017 exactly.
vs Abilene Christian, W, 55-27
at UTSA, W, 37-20
vs Duke, L, 40-27
How They Rank
Following the conclusion of all the games from Week 3, Kansas is ranked #82 overall in S&P+ (out of 130). However, the offense is rated #123, while the defense is #25. I guess that’s what 12 turnovers in two games will do for you!
Baylor is ranked #68 overall. Their offense is rated #32 but their defense is rated #98.
In the preseason, Baylor was given an 80% chance to beat KU by S&P+. That number is down to 67.3%. S&P predicts an 8-point Baylor win, 31-23.
F/+ has a less rosy outlook for KU fans, predicting a 17-point Baylor win and giving the Bears an 83.1% chance for victory.
ESPN’s FPI gives Baylor a 74.3% chance of victory.
Players to Watch
Much like Kansas, Baylor can’t decide who their quarterback should be. Charlie Brewer and Jalen McClendon have similar per attempt stat lines in both passing and rushing, but Brewer has taken twice as many snaps than McClendon. I expect to see a lot more of Brewer than McClendon.
Additionally, Baylor has two running backs averaging over 5.0 yards per carry in John Lovett (6.7 on 26 attempts) and JaMycal Hasty (5.1 on 24 attempts). When they pass, Baylor will rely on Jalen Hurd (18 rec, 13.9 av) and Denzel Mims (11 rec, 19.4 av).
Linebacker Clay Johnston is tied for the team lead for the Bears in tackles with safety Chris Miller. In fact, two of Baylor’s top four tacklers so far this year are the two safeties, which could bode well for the KU running game.
Keys to the Game
I’m guessing these keys will be pretty typical for any team trying to win a football game, but hear me out.
- Run the ball. Kansas hit 400 rushing yards against Rutgers, and RB is where most of KU’s skill talent lies. Baylor’s defensive line hasn’t been able to consistently pressure the backfield, and the back seven has struggled tackling this year against UTSA and Duke. KU backs, especially Pooka Williams, could have a field day.
- Win the turnover battle. If KU gets six turnovers again, stick a fork in Baylor. However, that’s not very likely to happen; I would wager that it’s statistically surprising that it’s happened for KU three times now in three years (Texas, CMU, Rutgers). But if the Jayhawks can manage a +2 differential, be it 2-0 or 3-1 or 4-2, they might be able to hang around long enough to make the home fans sweat it out.
- Who’s the quarterback? Beaty has committed to Peyton Bender as the starter, but also hedged by saying that it could be for one play or fifty plays. If Miles Kendrick’s legs can help open up the offense, put him in and let him go. Enough of the back-and-forth!
Kansas hasn’t won a conference road game since October 4, 2008, at Iowa State. However, through three games of 2018, this appears to be a different KU team, especially on defense.
So far in 2018, Baylor has had issues with missed tackles on defense, so I’m excited to see what Khalil Herbert and especially Pooka Williams can do. Keep in mind, though, that Baylor returned a LOT of starters and brought in the #32-ranked recruiting class. Kansas shouldn’t look as inept as it did on the road in 2017, but I don’t see any reason to think that KU will be able to hang with its Big 12 brethren, especially on the road.
Baylor likely feels like this is a must-win game; heaven knows their fan base feels that way. You could make logical arguments either way as to whether or not KU will get Baylor’s best shot.
We should get a few Pooka highlights, but in the end I expect a comfortable Baylor win. I’m still in “see-it-to-believe-it” mode. Win this one and I’ll drink the kool-aid again, but for now, Baylor 34, Kansas 20.