The college football season is over for the Baylor Bears, winners of the 2018 Texas Bowl. It is also over for the Big 12 conference who saw a 4-3 record overall in their 7-bowl games. What are some of the key takeaways from this bowl season for Baylor and the Big 12?
—The Big 12 conference was setup for a poor 2018 Bowl Season. They were the underdog in all 7 match ups, and on paper, it looked to be a hard task to win more than 2-3 games. However, the Big 12 won 4-games and had a surprisingly strong bowl season.
—Add in that three of those victories came against SEC schools, and that is a nice feather in the cap. Baylor defeated Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State beat Missouri, and Texas upset Georgia Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl for the feather in the cap.
—Yes, the one loss to the SEC is the one that mattered the most, and maybe the only one that mattered. The Oklahoma Sooners advanced to the college football playoff for the second time in a row, but lost to an SEC team both years. Their 45-34 loss to the Crimson Tide means there will not be a Big 12 national champion for the 13th straight season, going back to the 2005 title won by Texas.
—The Big 12’s success against the SEC is a very good thing though. The offenses of the Big 12 did very well against the all-powerful SEC defenses. In all, the Big 12 schools averaged 36.2 points and 499 yards of offense through the four games. Baylor carried the way in both marks, scoring 45 points and putting up 668 yards of total offense. In four matchups that Vegas and the experts all picked the SEC schools, the Big 12 did what it does, and put points on the board.
—The biggest victory of the bowl season for the Big 12 was easily Texas, who beat 5th ranked Georgia in Atlanta. That is an impressive victory, and I am sure the reactions will be measured and in control after the Texas victory.
—Of course, QB Sam Ehlinger helped the cause, saying ““Longhorn Nation, we’re baaaaaaaack!” Expect the national experts to have Texas not only in the Top-10 for the national preseason polls, but possibly in the Top-5, and a common “sleeper” pick for the College Football Playoff.
—Speaking of over-reacting to bowl games, my thought on bowl games is there is not much to learn from them. The Texas victory could be a statement win and put them back on the national map. It could also be like the Sooners 2014 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, setting the Sooners up for high expectations in 2015. That game was keyed by a career performance from Trevor Knight, who simply could not maintain anything close to that level of play. Sam Ehlinger is a much better quarterback than Knight has ever been, and with him returning, the Longhorns have a better shot. But can Texas rebuild their defense again (especially if someone grabs Todd Orlando)?
—Bowl games are a unique entity. The better team does not always win, but the team that is more focused and motivated does. That Sooner team in 2014 was not better than Oklahoma. The Baylor Bears of 2016 were not better than Boise State when they beat them in the Cactus Bowl. Same for UCF in the Fiesta Bowl a few years earlier. It happens. Distractions come into the fold and can wreck havoc on a program. Is the coaching staff building a strong game-plan or interviewing for jobs? Did you have a key voice hired away and is no longer there, players sitting out the game is also causing issues as well. These things are weird, and a lot of players/coaches are seeing them for what they are; glorified exhibitions.
—To me, Todd Orlando is the second most important coach in the Big 12, trailing only Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley. Yes, he is more important than Tom Herman. Orlando has put together two very good defenses, and is the best coordinator in the Big 12. Without Orlando rebuilding that defense, does Texas win 10-games this year? I highly doubt it.
—It was very big for Baylor to win, mainly to get to a 7-6 record and on the plus side of .500. That is a necessary step for Matt Rhule and his staff, and they should be proud they got the win over a very game Vanderbilt team.
—Baylor is a better team now than they were at the beginning of the season. That is the second year in a row they can make that statement. They are also better than they were in 2017. Now the question is, can they take another large step in 2019? They improved by an incredible 6-games from ’17 to ’18. Doubtful that another 6-game improvement is coming, but could a 2 or 3 game step be possible? For that to happen, it has to start with a much improved defense.