WACO, Texas — So much for WVU beating Oklahoma State. So much for Baylor beating a consortium of marching bands in helmets.
Las Vegas giggles at this matchup.
West Virginia was still feeling pretty saucy about taking down the Big 12 preseason favorites when linebacker Jared Barber caught wind the Mountaineers were 27-point underdogs to Baylor. He was bruised and confused by a point spread that made even less sense than Condoleezza Rice appearing on a football playoff committee.
“We beat the 11th-ranked team last week and to come back Sunday and still be four-touchdown underdog just keeps us hungry,” Barber said. “A lot of people are mad about it, but to me, it’s fueling us.”
Fuel is currency this week, especially as Dana Holgorsen implores his guys to “empty the tank” against a No. 17 Baylor bunch that has proven nothing but proven it in spectacular fashion.
Carving through Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe at a surreal clip of 69.7 points per game, the Bears seemingly have fused offensive football with an Olympic 4×400 relay team. And instead of gold medals they’ll be sporting golden helmets Saturday night upon hosting the nary-a-chance Mountaineers at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Understand, it’s an absolute prerequisite to mock Baylor’s nonconference schedule—because no team allegedly capable of winning the Big 12 should wade such a flimsy string of warmups. (Yes, Wofford was a late fill-in after SMU canceled this year’s game; but Baylor’s future nonconference schedules don’t hold much meat.)
The lack of competition makes it difficult to gauge these Bears and their first-string offense scoring on 22 of 26 drives. (Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said he had trouble building a profile because those starters haven’t played three games, but rather three halves.) The execution, however, has been virtually flawless, with Bryce Petty hitting receivers spread sideline to sideline and Lache Seastrunk averaging more than a first down per carry.
“Your help is so far away from you, and the running back is so explosive, that if you don’t fit in the right gap he’s gone,” said WVU linebacker Doug Rigg. “If they break it through a seam, we’re not going to catch them, no matter what the angle is. Oklahoma State was more bruisers, bigger guys. These guys are blazers.”
Forced into only one punt through three games, Baylor’s starters have yet to experience the indignity of a three-and-out.
“Instead, they’re seeing one-and-outs,” said West Virginia nose guard Shaq Rowell, “and it’s them throwing one play and scoring a touchdown.”
It has been too easy for Baylor so far, and easy games tend to disappear once league play begins. WVU has two Big 12 games to draw upon—against two of the league’s top teams—and both times the Mountaineers exceeded expectations.
“But nobody still gives us any respect,” said Barber.
There will be respect gained Saturday night, just not quite enough to pull off a second straight upset.
Pick: Baylor 33-28
Ranking the other Big 12 games:
1. No. 11 Oklahoma 23, TCU 20: (Sooners -9) Coming off a big win in front of Touchdown Jesus, the Sooners get the bejeezus scared out of them at home.
2. No. 21 Oklahoma State 37, Kansas State 27: (Cowboys -13.5) Man, what would Mike Gundy give for a do-over at the 1-yard line against West Virginia. His team will see better results against a K-State defense allowing 49 percent on third-down conversions.
3. No. 20 Texas Tech 24, Kansas 17: (Red Raiders -16) Twice during their 21-game Big 12 losing streak, the Jayhawks had Texas Tech on the ropes. This looks like another near-miss.