Baylor’s 2016 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start looking at the schedule.
Because of a weak nonconference schedule, the Bears will once again have to be nearly flawless in the Big 12 to have a shot at the College Football Playoff. The schedule will once again be difficult, with multiple games against conference title contenders.
Here are three make-or-break games Baylor will play in fall 2016.
vs. Oklahoma State
Sept. 24 at McLane Stadium in Waco
Baylor kicks off Big 12 play with a tough game against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were the Big 12’s representatives in the Sugar Bowl last season after finishing No. 2 in the Big 12. With a relatively young rotation, Baylor will need to find consistency quick against a talented OSU squad.
The Bears beat Oklahoma State on the road for the first time since 1939 last season, behind a standout performance from third-string quarterback Chris Johnson. The win helped keep Baylor’s Big 12 title hopes alive.
OSU comes back with quarterback Mason Rudolph at the helm, with wide receiver James Washington on the outside. That combination will assuredly be one of the most dynamic in the Big 12. Baylor’s secondary and defensive line will need to adjust quickly for the Bears to stay competitive in this game.
Nov. 12 at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla.
Oklahoma is the reigning Big 12 champion and should come in again as the favorite. Quarterback Baker Mayfield starred in his first season after transferring from Texas Tech, and should be even better in 2016. Beating Oklahoma is always a tall order, and that should be even truer this year.
The Sooners beat Baylor 44-34 in Waco last season behind a starring performance from Mayfield and wide receiver Sterling Shepherd. The Sooners got revenge after a string of strong Baylor performances — the Bears had won three of the last four games dating back to 2012.
OU is still very talented, and will have the advantage of playing in Norman this time around. The game will be an absolute must-win for the Bears to stay competitive in the national title race.
at West Virginia
Dec. 3 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
The Bears might have only played two road games against West Virginia, but Milan Puskar Stadium is the only Big 12 venue the Bears have still never won. WVU wrecked the Bears’ chances of going undefeated during Baylor’s Big 12 championship 2014 season, and eventually kept them out of the College Football Playoff.
The last time these two teams played, quarterback Seth Russell passed for 380 yards and rushed for another 160 as the Bears won 62-38 in Waco. Russell will once again be relied on for a big performance next season.
While West Virginia’s defense will take a step back next season, this could be an incredibly difficult game. Morgantown is a difficult location to play in itself, but the Bears will also need to adjust to potentially freezing temperatures. This game could also easily have Big 12 or national championship ramifications, which will make the pressure that much greater.