Baylor Football: Bears' Road to College Football Playoff

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterNovember 4, 2015

Oct 24, 2015; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Jarrett Stidham (3) is tackled by Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Darian Cotton (23) during the second half at McLane Stadium. Baylor won 45-27. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Let the controversy begin.

Tuesday evening, the College Football Playoff released its first Top 25 of 2015, and the Big 12 is well-represented in the top 15. Leading the pack is Baylor at No. 6., TCU is No. 8, Oklahoma State is No. 14, and Oklahoma is No. 15. 

What do the initial rankings say about the Bears and their path to the playoff? It's probably about what most expected. Baylor has dominated its less than stellar schedule, winning games by an average of 36 points per game, but it's also been slightly punished for lacking a marquee win. 

But November gets dicey not just for Baylor but for the entire top of the Big 12. Here's how Baylor's path to the playoff shakes out. 

Where the Bears Stand

ESPN.com's Heather Dinich proved to be correct when she anticipated zero Big 12 teams would make the initial top four. 

The good news for Baylor is it's already a step ahead of where it was this time last year. When the inaugural playoff rankings were released in 2014, the Bears were 13th thanks to a loss at West Virginia. While Baylor was able to creep its way up the CFP standings throughout November, a weak nonconference schedule prevented it from cracking the top four. 

Despite a similar schedule so far this year, the Bears are just outside the top four, squeezed between one-loss Notre Dame and undefeated Michigan State. If the committee did punish the Bears for being without injured star quarterback Seth Russell, it didn't show up much at all. 

Baylor's Playoff Standing
RecordPlayoff RankingSagarin Strength of Schedule
7-0 (4-0)6th104th
CollegeFootballPlayoff.com, Sagarin

It's also understood Baylor's toughest stretch lies ahead, so it's not a huge deal that the strength of schedule is rated so low, according to Sagarin. It's going to improve, quickly and drastically. In a 13-day span, Baylor plays Oklahoma and then travels to Oklahoma State—where it hasn't won since 1939—before heading to TCU on a short week. Those teams are a combined 23-1. If Baylor wins those games, the committee will forget about teams such as SMU and Lamar. 

  

Help Needed

As ESPN's Mark Schalbach tweeted, if Baylor is able to win out, it should be able to rise two spots. Why? No other team in college football has a harder November than the Bears.

And, ultimately, rising two spots is all that matters. In a year when there are no great teams in college football, just get to No. 4. That's something Ohio State was able to prove last year. 

Baylor is in good position to do just that. 

What remains to be seen is if Baylor somehow gets hurt by 1) a nonconference slate that featured a bunch of nobodies and/or 2) the lack of a 13th game in a conference championship that would, presumably, add one more quality win to the resume. 

If Baylor wins out, it may not be ranked ahead of an undefeated LSU or undefeated Clemson, assuming both of those things pan out, but it should have done enough in November to get to No. 4. 

Final Bowl Prediction

Baylor has been the most impressive Big 12 team, but it also has the toughest road to the playoff—and not just in the conference but in major college football. 

The reaction to true freshman Jarrett Stidham's taking over at quarterback has been overwhelmingly positive. And why not, right? Stidham immediately ascended up the depth chart and has looked good in mop-up duty. Plus, Baylor's offense is quarterback-friendly, and few programs have shown the capacity to plug-and-play like this one. The supporting cast is excellent, too. 

Baylor has every reason to be confident it can win with Stidham, and it may in fact keep on winning. However, the idea of starting a true freshman quarterback in the toughest part of the schedule with so much on the line can't be dismissed as nothing, either. How does he respond if things don't go as perfectly right away? This can be the difference between someone who's been in the program for multiple years and someone who's still in his first year. 

The possibility of Baylor's slipping up somewhere in the next five games is real. It doesn't mean it'll happen for sure, but know this: The margin for error is zero. 

Prediction: Sugar Bowl

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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