Another week for No. 7 Baylor offers another opportunity to climb in the College Football Playoff rankings in pursuit of a berth in the postseason bracket.
The Bears (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) have not backtracked in the weekly rankings since they made their Oct. 26 debut at No. 13. But they have yet to climb into the projected four-team playoff pool, which will be finalized Dec. 7.
Coupled with the right results from other games involving rivalry matchups, Baylor could take a step (maybe more) in the right direction Saturday by knocking off Texas Tech (4-7, 2-6) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
At the very least, a Baylor victory would keep the Bears in control of their destiny in efforts to win a second consecutive Big 12 championship.
The league has not produced a repeat champion since Oklahoma claimed the crown in 2010 and shared it with Kansas State in 2011. The last team to win outright Big 12 titles in consecutive seasons was Oklahoma, which claimed three in a row from 2006-2008.
Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledged playoff chatter has limited the feedback he gets from fans in regard to winning back-to-back Big 12 titles. But he still considers that Job No. 1 in a two-step process toward a meaningful conclusion to the season.
“It is important,” Briles said of the opportunity to win consecutive conference football titles for the first time in school history. “The thing that we take pride in is that it’s hard to do. You can look across the nation and see how hard it is to repeat as a champion.
“We’re where we need to be. But we can’t touch it yet. We’ve got to take care of business.”
Baylor will get a chance to do that against a Tech team that will be playing its final game of the season. Because the Red Raiders are not bowl-eligible, coach Kliff Kingsbury called Saturday’s matchup “our bowl game” and said he expects an inspired effort from players.
“If you can’t get up knowing it’s the last time you’re going to play football for the next eight or nine months, or for the rest of your lifetime for some of our seniors, then you’re probably in the wrong sport,” Kingsbury said. “You should be highly motivated to play in this one and play your best.”
Whether the bowl-game analogy registers with players is open to debate. Tech’s leading tackler, linebacker Pete Robertson, said: “At the end of the day, it’s just another Big 12 opponent. But we’re going to come out ready to play ball.”
Baylor, meanwhile, has ample reason to be motivated to win impressively as a 24-point favorite. Jeff Long, chairman of the CFP selection committee, said the margin of difference is “very close” between No. 4 Mississippi State (10-1) and Baylor in this week’s rankings. But the Bulldogs, at this point, project as a playoff team while the Bears do not.
CFP officials have cited several variables, including strength of schedule and “game control,” as factors used to separate playoff hopefuls that will not meet on the field this season. Although the “game control” measure is subjective, Baylor researchers worked this week to quantify some measurable traits for CFP committee members.
Their efforts showed the Bears ahead of fellow playoff candidates in two interesting areas. Baylor has maintained fourth-quarter leads of 14 points or more in eight of its 10 games. No other team ranked among the CFP’s top seven has more than seven. Also, Baylor has held a double-digit lead 62.3 percent of the time in its games. The next closest percentage among playoff hopefuls belongs to Mississippi State (53.1).
But the Bears know the surest way to get attention from committee members is to continue winning big. Asked if style points matter, running back Shock Linwood said: “Yes, sir. It just depends on who we’re playing at the time. If you score a lot of points on a top-ranked team, it shows how good your team is. It does help.”
How much it helps is up to committee members, not Baylor players and coaches. That is why Linwood and his teammates seek only to post an 11-1 record and secure at least a share of the Big 12 title. If that happens, they can live with their final ranking in the CFP playoff chase.
“All we want to do is win, if it’s by 10 points or by 45,” left tackle Spencer Drango said. “We don’t try to blow them out, but our offense is kind of conducive to scoring a lot of points. If we score a lot, that’s great. If we win by one, that’s also a win. That’s all that matters to us.”
With two more victories, Baylor will secure at least a share of its second consecutive Big 12 championship. For Briles, that remains the primary focus.
“If we were sitting here in August and someone said you’ll be deep into November and still have a chance to do it, we’d have said, ‘That’d be outstanding,’ ” Briles said. “Ultimately, that’s what you’re shooting for. If you don’t take care of this week, next week doesn’t exist.”
Controlling their environment
Statistical analysis shows Baylor fares well in areas related to “game control,” which College Football Playoff officials have identified as an area they discuss when determining the weekly rankings. How No. 7 Baylor (9-1) ranks in comparison to other top teams in the CFP rankings in two statistical areas:
|Team||Games with 14-pt lead in 4th quarter||Percentage of time with double-digit lead|
|Baylor||8 of 10||62.3|
|TCU||7 of 11||52.3|
|Alabama||6 of 11||46.0|
|Oregon||6 of 11||51.8|
|Mississippi St.||5 of 11||53.1|
|Ohio State||5 of 11||49.8|
|Florida State||4 of 11||28.1|