Kansas returns to the friendly confines of World War I Kansas Memorial Stadium as the Jayhawks open conference play at home with the Bears of Baylor.
Kansas (1-1, 0-0) comes into the game off a rough (yet promising?) outing where they lost, 49-22, on the road to #17 Coastal Carolina. Meanwhile, Baylor (2-0, 0-0) enters the contest fresh off a 66-7 victory over Texas Southern.
Kansas has not defeated Baylor since the 2007 season, an 11-game losing streak against the Bears.
Last week, Jason Bean became the first Kansas quarterback to rush for 100 yards in a game since since Bill Whittemore in 2002.
KU’s Kenny Logan ranks fourth nationally in kickoff return yardage, averaging 39.8 yards.
Baylor has scored a defensive touchdown in each of its first two games so far this year.
Although I groan every time I remember that Baylor is still a member of the Big 12, I groan even more when I remember that KU is just 4-16 all-time against them, including 4-6 in Lawrence. The series in general has not been kind to KU, which has seen Baylor win the last 11 matchups by an average score of 48-12. Last year, a “down” year for Baylor that saw them go 4-7, the Bears still beat up on KU 47-14.
The Bears were picked to finish 8th in the Big 12 in the preseason media poll, so this is a bit of a barometer game for Kansas. After some encouraging signs in the first two weeks, will Kansas be competitive, maybe cover the spread (-17)? Or will they get rolled in yet another conference game by a team projected to finish in the bottom third of the league? If the Jayhawks want any fan support in their last four homes games this year, they better make sure it’s the former and not the latter.
Kansas is clearly trying to establish itself as a run-first team through the first two games of this year. Pass defense is definitely Baylor’s strength, as they were second the Big 12 last year in pass yards per game and currently lead the Big 12 this year in that category. Texas Southern actually found a modicum of success running the ball last week despite the lopsided score, picking up 4.0 ypc on 40 carries.
Once again, a big key for Kansas will be keeping the Baylor offense off the field by controlling the ball and therefore the clock. KU will need to see improvement out of the offensive line every week these first few games, because the schedule really gets daunting after the calendar flips to October.
Like most college football teams, Baylor returns a majority of its starters from last year, but one glaring missing piece is QB Charlie Brewer, who transferred to Utah. In his place is JR Gerry Bohanon, who was a four-star QB recruit and the top recruit out of Arkansas coming out of high school. The Baylor offense hasn’t seemed to miss a beat, and Bohanon is another college QB who can beat you with his arm or his legs.
One glaring problem that Kansas had last year that came back last week against Coastal was the inability to get off the field on third down. Even if the Jayhawks could find a way to do cliché things like “make Baylor one dimensional” or “play assignment sound football” or “have a positive turnover margin” - it probably won’t matter if the Bears convert third downs at a 50% or better clip. KU has to get better on third down, and honestly, that probably means getting better on first and second down.
ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor is right there as well, giving Baylor an 88.5% chance at victory.
Meanwhile, Sagarin prefers the Bears by a slightly more favorable number, giving Baylor an 81% chance to come away victorious (same as Coastal last week, fyi). Sagarin has Kansas ranked #114 and Baylor ranked #44 (out of 258).
Oh boy. I’m really not ready for conference play yet. KU’s struggles over the past 10 years with Baylor - and the Big 12 in general - have been well-documented, so it’s really, REALLY hard to predict anything other than a 40-point blowout, isn’t it?
As we’ve seen through the first two weeks, KU is obviously a work in progress. Complicating that is we don’t know exactly what to make of Baylor so far, either. Texas State is a program ranked similarly to Kansas in both S&P+ and Sagarin, and while that game was never really in doubt in the fourth quarter, the Bears only beat the Bobcats by single digits. Texas State lost the turnover battle 3-1, too, so there’s that.
So, can KU win the turnover battle, get off the field on third down, and maybe convert a few fourth downs of their own? Sure... they can... I’m not sure I’m ready to drink the kool-aid though. After the last 11 years, I’m in full “see it to believe it” mode. Baylor 41, Kansas 17.
Last season (9 games) KU had just 16 offensive plays that went for 20 yards or more. Last week against Coastal Carolina, the Jayhawks had seven such plays.