A pair of future Big 12 foes will clash in a Top 25 showdown when BYU hosts Baylor on Saturday night.
Baylor (1-0) heads to Provo looking like it picked up where it left off last season. The defending Big 12 champions destroyed FCS UAlbany 69-10 in Week 1 — the most points they had scored in a season opener since 2013. Eight different players scored touchdowns to help the No. 9 Bears maul the Great Danes. Baylor rolled up 573 total yards on offense, averaging 8.4 yards per play, and rushed for seven touchdowns — one shy of matching a school record set in 1969 against LSU.
BYU (1-0) also looked sharp in its opener. The No. 21 Cougars scored 38 unanswered points in the first half on their way to a 50-21 victory over USF. Both teams endured a weather delay that lasted two and a half hours before finally kicking off. BYU scored a touchdown on its first play from scrimmage and never looked back. The Cougars averaged 8.3 yards per play, had 27 first downs, and totaled 573 yards. They held the Bulls to 12 first downs and 293 yards.
Baylor beat BYU 38-24 in Waco last season to take a 2-1 series lead. The Cougars' lone win came in Provo in 1984, when they dismantled Baylor 47-13.
No. 9 Baylor at No. 21 BYU
When Baylor Has the Ball
Blake Shapen had a strong season debut after winning the quarterback job in the spring. The sophomore threw for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns — all in the first half — against UAlbany. He made a name for himself late last season when he set a Big 12 Championship Game record by completing 17 straight passes in the first half against Oklahoma State. Shapen threw for 596 yards and five touchdowns last season while completing 72 percent of his attempts.
Baylor's backfield has a much different look from when the Bears faced BYU last season. The Bears replaced their top three rushers from 2021. A running back by committee approach served Baylor well in the opener. Four different backs rushed for 45 or more yards against the Great Danes, led by Richard Reese with 62 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.
Baylor also is replacing its top two receivers from 2021. Monaray Baldwin showed flashes of being a game-changer in Week 1. Baldwin racked up 84 yards on four receptions and 46 yards on two runs. He had a 47-yard touchdown reception and a 50-yard run for another score. Ben Sims, who led the way with five catches, is a player on the rise. Sims was fourth in receiving yardage for Baylor last season.
BYU is skilled at forcing opponents to make mistakes and will test Baylor's inexperience at the skill positions. The Cougars were plus-eight in turnover margin last season, which ranked in the top 20 nationally. Nine different BYU players had at least one interception a year ago.
When BYU Has the Ball
Jaren Hall was electric against USF. The junior quarterback turned in one of his most efficient performances to date in his career. Hall completed 78 percent of his passes against the Bulls and finished with a 161.0 pass efficiency rating. He threw for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His completion percentage was the best of his career against an FBS opponent, and it was the seventh time he finished with a passer efficiency rating better than 150.
Until he left with a sprained ankle late in the first quarter, Puka Nacua could not be stopped. Nacua raced 75 yards on a jet sweep on BYU's first play to put the Cougars on the board. He accounted for 102 of BYU's first 140 yards on offense. If his ankle is healthy enough for him to go on Saturday, Nacua's speed and good hands will force Baylor's defense to keep an eye on him at all times.
Christopher Brooks is also bound to draw some extra attention after a strong debut. The California transfer ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Brooks led California in rushing two of his three seasons in that program and showed early signs he can have a similar impact filling Tyler Allgeier's shoes in BYU's backfield.
Putting points up against Baylor will be far from a simple task. Last season, the Bears led the Big 12 in turnovers forced (27), interceptions (19), and fewest touchdown passes allowed (13). They also ranked second in the league in scoring defense (18.3 ppg) and pass efficiency defense (121.5).
BYU struggled to keep up with Baylor last season after injury attrition ahead of the game took away some of the Cougars' better run defenders. The good news for BYU is the defense is healthy and showing the same form it showed early in the 2021 season. The Bears are seemingly as tough as a year ago, but it's hard to truly judge their status after a game against an overmatched FCS foe. This is a much much tougher test for Baylor. Provo is a brutal road environment when BYU is a Top-25 caliber team. The Cougars have an offense able to match the Bears in production, so defensive improvement should close the gap for BYU from a year ago.
Prediction: BYU 27, Baylor 24
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
*Price as of publication.