Baylor coach Matt Rhule walks off the field following the team’s 17-10 loss to UTSA in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Waco, Texas. The Bears are 0-2 and will play at noted football power Duke on Saturday. Jerry Larson AP
Baylor coach Matt Rhule walks off the field following the team’s 17-10 loss to UTSA in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Waco, Texas. The Bears are 0-2 and will play at noted football power Duke on Saturday. Jerry Larson AP

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The Big Mac Blog

Baylor’s mess was coming — and now the schedule turns nasty

September 11, 2017 4:23 PM

It is only slightly ironic that Baylor’s nonconference scheduling is about to bite them.

Of course, the ones who set it up are elsewhere these days.

For years, Baylor was a proud graduate of The Bill Snyder Offensive School of Non-Conference Scheduling with the idea that playing nobody would pay off with a nice record and an upper-tier bowl invite.

Between 2011 and 2016, Baylor scored impressive nonconference wins against SWC rivals Rice and SMU. Against Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin. A scrappy Wofford squad. A game bunch from Louisiana-Monroe. The little team that could, Sam Houston State. Don’t forget Lamar. Or Buffalo. And TCU, when the Frogs were in the last year as a member of the Mountain West, too.

This is not a bad philosophy. It worked for former coach Art Briles and Baylor as the Bears built a program through the dismembering of inferior teams.

The plan was fine until it blew up in the faces of Briles and AD athletic director Ian McCaw when Baylor just missed on an invite to the 2014 College Football Playoff, in part because of its commitment to playing Waste Of Time in its nonconference schedule.

In December 2015, the Big 12 put in a rule stating all teams had to play at least one Power 5 opponent or Notre Dame in its non-conference schedules.

Baylor got on the phone and dialed up ACC power Duke for a home-and-home. It was a great idea until the game actually arrived.

Baylor is a 14-point underdog at Duke (2-0) on Saturday. After opening the season with losses to Liberty and then to UT San Antonio, 14 points feels about right.

The Big 12 has not felt this good about itself in years, as every team in the conference has a win except for the Bears.

“They have won one of of their last nine games,” first-year coach Matt Rhule said of his team. “They are looking for something good to happen.”

Maybe don’t play a team coached by Turner Gill, like Liberty. Or UTSA. And whatever you do, don’t play Duke on the road. Teams don’t win at Cameron Indoor Arena.

If you are looking for progress, great. Just be sure not to measure progress in wins. After Baylor’s loss at Duke, the Bears will play Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State and then host West Virginia. Ohhh-no-and-seven is likely.

Baylor-haters are calling the start of this season karma, but it feels like a young team caught in the middle of a major transition. Baylor’s last regular-season win was Oct. 15 against — you are not going to believe this — Kansas, that team from the north that took down Texas.

Rhule announced on the Big 12 coaches’ conference call Monday that sophomore quarterback Zach Smith will start over Anu Solomon. Solomon was a one-year transfer from Arizona who has not looked great.

In fairness, no one right now at Baylor looks good. The lines are smaller-ish, and overmatched. They are playing more freshmen than any other team in the nation, not to mention several players who switched positions.

I asked Rhule if he saw of any of this coming out of fall practices.

“I am a positive person so I don’t know if I thought we would be in the position we are right now,” Rhule said. “We knew there were areas we were concerned about, and saying anything other than that would be taking shots at these kids. I won’t do that. ... I would like to win and I like playing winning football more. Calling timeouts in the first half for too many men on the field is not winning football. I didn’t see that coming in camp.

“I just err on the side of not making excuses. When you are leading the country in first-time starters you are going to have first-time starter mistakes.”

That’s not an excuse but an ugly reality. This does not mean Baylor is set to return to the Kevin Steele Era.

Rhule inherited a hard job but he’s not trying to win and recruit to Floyd Casey Stadium. A head coach can sell Baylor to a good high school player.

The idea that Rhule was going to walk into Waco and sprinkle some of that Tom Herman fairy dust on his players was absurd. The Bears lost too many quality players in the last few years for Rhule and the Bears to do anything other than struggle this season.

And now that nonconference scheduling change made years ago is going to bite them all the way to 0-3. The Bears are about to play mighty Duke.

November 4 can’t get here soon enough, because Baylor at Kansas promises to be an epic clash. ESPN Gameday, we know you’ll be there.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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