\ Kevin Kinder

The Baylor Bears close the regular season against West Virginia

The 6-5 Baylor Bears hit the road to West Virginia to take on the 14th ranked Mountaineers (9-2), Can The Bears end their season on a high-note and avoid an 0-6 slide?

1. The road is almost over for the 2016 Baylor Bears.  A hopeful and promising 6-0 start has given way to the absolute worst case scenario.  Five straight losses, with just one game even being remotely competitive.  The Bears have not played a good game in 4-weeks, being blown out by TCU at home, then losses of 21, 21 and 19 points.  The Bears have allowed at least 42 points in the last 4 games and now face the second highest ranked team on their schedule in 14th ranked West Virginia. 

Right now, you can make a case that the Bears are the worst team in the Big 12.  Even Kansas defeated Texas at home, something the Bears could not do on the road.  Maybe they beat Kansas, but does any Baylor fan want to play Iowa State right now, especially since they destroyed a Texas Tech team that easily defeated the Bears. It is a stunning fall for a team that started 6-0 and was ranked 8th in the nation.  With a loss to WVU, the Bears will finish 8th in the Big 12, and limp to a bowl game probably in the stadium of their hated rival, TCU.  

2. West Virginia is one of the best teams in the Big 12, either 2nd or 3rd depending on where the Bedlam ends up.  In a league with only three really good team and then a bunch of meh, this trip to West Virginia to close the year was viewed by some as the Bears most difficult game.  It is a place they have never won at, though not many chances in limited games, and with the weather a factor in early December, it was a game that could hurt the Bears championship hopes.

Of course, those hopes went out the window about 4-losses ago. Now the hope is that the Bears can at least put up a fight.  Worst case, this is just a 4-hour event before the next season can start and Baylor can fully begin to move on from a devastating 2016 in many ways.  I can hope for the former, but fully expect the latter.

Dana Holgorsen  is in his 6th season as head coach at WVU, posting a 45-3 record.  This is his best team since his first year in Morgantown, a 10-3 team that won the Orange Bowl. That was way back in 2011, and we all know that 2012 brought the Big 12 into play. In the four years previous to this season in the Big 12, Holgorsen had just a 15-21 conference record.  He had never won more than 5 games and was firmly on the hot seat with a disappointing 2016 season. 

One 6-0 start later, and a 9-win season and the hot seat has cooled down significantly.  An upset loss to Oklahoma State on the road, and then an ugly 56-28 loss to Oklahoma are the only red marks on a strong season.  They have defeated 7-Power five teams and BYU so far this year. 

3. Known for an effective and explosive passing attack, the Mountaineers have taken advantage of a career year from senior quarterback Skyler Howard who is completing 62.5% of his passes compared to 54.8% in 2015.  His yards per attempt have also gone up by 1 yard (7.8 to 8.8) and his QB Rating has skyrocketed (134 to 153).  Simply put, Howard has been an excellent quarterback for WVU in 2016 after being too inaccurate and too turnover prone in previous seasons. 

He is finding a variety of weapons down the field, without a true #1 receiver.  Daikiel Shorts leads the team with 55 catches, but Ka"Raun White has 48, Shelton Gibson has 40 and a tea high 927 yards along with 8 touchdowns.  They use their receivers in specific roles, with Gibson being the big play threat down the field (team high 23.2 yards per catch) while White works the underneath along with Jovon Durante. 

With Justin Crawford leading the way in the backfield, the Mountaineers have a balance offensive attack. The junior is averaging 7.4 yards per carry, and is 41 yards away from a 1,000 yard campaign.  Former started Rushel Shell and backup Kennedy McKoy are also both capable and have combined for 970 yards themselves.  This is a solid rushing attack, along with Skyler Howard who is also capable with his legs.

4. Where the Mountaineers impressed earlier in the season was with a defense that ranked as one of college footballs best.  A 17-point effort against Texas Tech put them in focus as a good unit, and one possibly capable of winning the Big 12.  With a tremendous group of defensive backs, the Mountaineers rank 11th in the nation in defensive back havoc rate or negative plays created.  This is one of the best position groups in the Big 12, offense or defense.  Corners Rasul Douglas and Maurice Fleming along with safeties Jarrod Harper, Kyzir White and Jeremy Tyler provide a great mix of run and pass defense, with White playing in the Travon Blanchard role for West Virginia.  

Douglas is the big star, with 8 interceptions on the year, and is a true #1 corner capable of shutting down a receiver.  Those 8 picks are tied for the most in FBS, with Douglas having 1 more game to go. Along with Fleming, the cornerback duo has combined for 16 passes broken up and 9 interceptions.  

5. West Virginia has been hurt by running games in 2016 though, with Oklahoma gaining 316 yards and 5 touchdowns.  They are allowing over 173 yards per game on the ground and over 4.32 yards per carry. Both rank right around average in FBS. Even Iowa State was able to run on them, gaining 190 yards and 5.59 yards per carry but that was mainly due to the game situation and a 49-19 victory for WVU.

In the end though, does it really matter how the Bears match up with WVU? It didn't against Kansas State, TCU, or Texas Tech; three teams that are right around the same record as the Bears and yet beat Baylor by at least 3 scores.  It comes down to want, and the only thing we know for sure about this current Baylor team is that everyone associated with the program wants this season to be over with.  

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