Big 12 Mailbag: Baylor schedule, Strong, more

How far will the Baylor Bears go this season?

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Let’s get right to your questions.

Stephen Lopez asks: I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Baylor’s lack of interest in scheduling stronger non-conference opponents is perplexing.

Several people have commented that if Baylor goes undefeated they will make the playoffs because they will have beaten Big 12 teams that have beaten teams from other Power 5 conferences.  It seems to me like they are convinced (and rightfully so) that their fellow conference members will continue to schedule Power 5 opponents, and as long as that happens they will continue to play the worst teams in the FBS and FCS. To me this seems like a gamble.  Why doesn’t Baylor schedule a high caliber (or heck a medium caliber opponent would double their non-conference strength of schedule) non-conference opponent that will give them a boost so that if they do lose a conference game they won’t be in such bad shape and possibly still have a chance to make the playoffs? Here’s a hypothetical:

Baylor plays their usual non-conference schedule (Incarnate Word is the highlight) and loses to a 9-3 TCU team but beats Oklahoma.

Oklahoma defeats #5 LSU who finishes 10-2 in a non-conference showdown and loses to Baylor but beats a 9-3 TCU team.

At the end of the season: Oklahoma is 11-1 and Baylor is 11-1

Who makes the playoffs?

David Ubben: It’s a frustrating issue, because from the Big 12’s perspective, Baylor gives the league one of its best chances for a major nonconference victory to earn respect for the league as a whole, but the Bears are essentially sitting out that portion of the season.

The flip side of that argument is Baylor’s goal is to win a national title, not help the Big 12’s reputation. Those goals are in many ways intertwined, but Briles has a point in playing a top 10 team not helping Baylor reach that goal. Still, the Bears have taken their future schedules too far the opposite direction. As a fan of college football, I like seeing big games and it gets old seeing Baylor beat up on overmatched teams.

The schedule complaints are legitimate. When they come up, they’re not really about just this season, they’re about Baylor’s entire philosophy. Art Briles and Ian McCaw have been very honest when they’ve been asked about it over the past couple years: They believe if they win the Big 12, they’ll be in the playoff. The nonconference schedule isn’t changing until that’s proven untrue.

If they’re undefeated, I agree, but the Big 12 champion has been undefeated just five times in league history, which dates back to 1996. Yes, games are scheduled years in advance, but Duke is the proudest program on Baylor’s schedule looking ahead as far as 2019. The idea that Baylor can’t convince people to play them is one of the most laughable things I’ve ever heard. Alabama has gotten nonconference games against Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Michigan in recent years. Baylor can find somebody to play if they try hard enough.

As for the scenario you described, it gets sticky. That would be very, very close and my guess is the team who would get in the playoff (or at least more highly regarded by the committee) is the one who lost last. We saw in 2008 that head-to-head matchups don’t necessarily influence human voters and certainly don’t do much for computers.

If you’re the last team to lose, you’re at a natural disadvantage because people want to see teams perceived to be playing the best football at the end of the season. Additionally, Oklahoma would have more quality wins than Baylor and a better loss (even if that loss came to Baylor itself). You could talk yourself in circles with this scenario, but I’m confident the committee would give the nod to Oklahoma.

Robert Fetterly asks: Is Charlie Strong how he appears in the media? Seems a little too good of a guy… or am I being pessimistic?

David Ubben: I don’t know Charlie personally, but in my limited interactions with him, he truly is relentlessly positive. In working on this story over the offseason, I got an inside account of just how much he values the foundation of his program. The whole "no one is above the rules" thing has been proven true this season.  You know what Texas could really use right now (and in the last two games)? A couple of experienced offensive tackles and more depth and explosiveness at receiver. They don’t have it because those guys (Estelle, Harrison, Johnson) haven’t abided by Strong’s rules.

These are necessary messages he’s sending to his team that will pay off down the road. It’s obvious he hasn’t changed much about his program between his time at Louisville and his first year at Texas.

I also find it interesting that Strong refuses to criticize players in public settings. He almost sounds out of touch or uninformed sometimes, but if you pay attention on the larger scale, it’s an admirable trait. I like honesty, too, but sometimes it comes off as scapegoating when you’re willing to discuss players’ shortcomings and mistakes too often and too candidly. (Hello, Charlie Weis.)

Even with last week’s coin toss flap, Strong refused to name Tank Jackson as the guy who made the mistake.

When you’re trying to understand the team a little better, that kind of thing can be frustrating from a media standpoint, but I bet it plays well where it counts: with high school coaches, players and their parents.

Sports have shown us time and time again that we never really know people, but in my experience with him and those close to him, Charlie Strong is as real of a deal as there is in sports.  

Thump8251 asks: Who will be missed more in the OU v WVU game: Keith Ford or Daryl Worley?

David Ubben: Worley for sure. Oklahoma has an underrated group of receivers and I’m not sure Terrell Chestnut and Ickey Banks will be able to slow down Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal.

Ford is Oklahoma’s best running back, but Alex Ross’ speed and Samaje Perine’s downhill power complement each other well. The Sooners will get it done in Morgantown.

Scott Bryan asks: Is Paul Dawson one of the top 2 Linebackers in the Big 12?

David Ubben: Not yet, but the season is young. Ben Heeney never gets enough credit because of Kansas’ struggles in the win-loss columns, but he’s a great player who’s all over the field every game.

Oklahoma’s Eric Striker gets my vote as the Big 12’s best overall linebacker, but Jordan Hicks has played really well for Texas now that’s he’s healthy. He’s leading the league with 37 tackles so far this season.

Chip Hanna asks: How long until TCU is ranked? What do they have to do to get there?

David Ubben: It has to happen in the next two weeks if it’s going to become reality. I don’t see TCU knocking off Oklahoma in Fort Worth or Baylor in Waco.

The Frogs are off this week before traveling to SMU, which will be a beatdown. Right now, there are six (AP) and four (Coaches) teams in between TCU and the top 25. Too often, fans who have never cast a top 25 ballot don’t realize your own play isn’t nearly as relevant to your ranking as the results of the team ahead of you. Unless you win a huge game, it’s hard to make a big jump in the poll.

If teams in the top 25 or near it like North Carolina, Duke or Clemson take losses, TCU will have a better shot to move up. Keep an eye on those teams at or near the bottom of the top 25 if you want to really predict if TCU will crack the top 25.

Granted, a win over Oklahoma and SMU would shoot the Frogs right up into the top 15-20.

Will Klose asks: If the Big 12 was a tree, what kind of tree would it be?

David Ubben: Deciduous, obviously. Not every tree loses a few leaves every year.

Justin Palatini asks: What are the chances WVU beats Oklahoma this weekend?

David Ubben: I picked Oklahoma to win, but you’ll know pretty quick if West Virginia can win it. The Mountaineers have a ton of depth and talent on offense and if Dana Holgorsen can move the ball consistently in the first couple quarters, he’ll have OU on its heels and be able to outscore OU.

They’ll need to score 40 to win. Mario Alford, Kevin White and Rushel Shell can get them there with Clint Trickett, but Oklahoma’s defense will decide this game. If it plays well, West Virginia’s got no shot. If WVU moves the ball consistently and fixes its red zone issues that have shown up in the first few games, I’d say the Mountaineers have a 50-60 percent shot to pull off the win.

Mulloy K asks: top 10 best/worst big 12 fan bases…ON TWITTER. Understandably this does not relate to fan bases in real life

David Ubben: I know better than to answer the best and worst. I’ll answer this question with a few superlatives from my experience the last few years.

Most Twitter users per capita: Baylor
Most passionate/relentless: Kansas State
Most reasonable (on matters not involving off-field violence): Oklahoma
Most unreasonably optimistic: Iowa State
Most pessimistic about their own team: Oklahoma State, Kansas
Smartest: Texas
Angriest: Texas Tech
Quietest: TCU
Loudest: West Virginia