Baylor’s late November road trip at TCU was supposed to be one of the biggest matchups in college football this preseason. Fast forward to November and the Friday night showdown in Fort Worth is still a big game, but this matchup has lost some of its appeal with TCU losing two out of its last three games and Baylor just outside of the playoff picture. The Bears still have Big 12 title hopes but need a win on Friday and a loss by Oklahoma on Saturday night against Oklahoma State.
Injuries – including ones to starting quarterbacks Trevone Boykin (TCU) and Seth Russell (Baylor) – have hit both teams hard this season. Boykin was sidelined for most of the win against Kansas and missed last week’s game against Oklahoma due to an ankle injury. Boykin’s ankle problem is just the beginning of TCU’s injury report. Receiver Josh Doctson is sidelined for the rest of the year, while two key members of the offensive line – center Joey Hunt and guard Jamelle Naff – are also sidelined. Hunt could return in a bowl game, but Naff is out for the rest of the year. The Horned Frogs’ defense has also suffered through some key injuries, as well as a turnover on the depth chart after returning five starters from last year’s group. Baylor’s injury report isn’t as extensive as TCU’s this season, but the Bears have lost some key players in November. Starting quarterback Seth Russell suffered a season-ending neck injury on Oct. 24, and top backup Jarrett Stidham is likely out for Friday night’s game with a leg injury. Additionally, running back Shock Linwood and key defenders Beau Blackshear (DT), Byron Bonds (DT) and Orion Stewart (starting safety) are questionable.
Baylor holds a 52-51-7 all-time series edge over TCU. The Bears are 3-2 against the Horned Frogs under coach Art Briles, including a thrilling 61-58 victory last season.
Baylor at TCU
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Baylor -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Quarterbacks
As mentioned above, both teams have been hit hard by injuries at the quarterback position. Who will get the nod for both teams under center on Friday night? TCU's Trevone Boykin is practicing this week and could be ready to go against the Bears. Boykin’s ankle may not be at full strength, but he’s still the team’s best option if he can start (and throw effectively) with limited mobility. If Boykin can’t go, Bram Kohlhausen is expected to get the nod over Foster Sawyer. Kohlhausen completed 5 of 11 passes for 122 yards and two scores in relief of Sawyer last week against Oklahoma. For Baylor, all indications point to Chris Johnson making his first career start at quarterback. Freshman Jarrett Stidham is dealing with an ankle/leg injury and is out indefinitely. Johnson came to Baylor as a quarterback but converted to receiver in the offseason. The sophomore is more of a dual-threat option than Stidham or Seth Russell and played well in limited snaps against Oklahoma State (5 for 10 for 138 yards and two scores and 42 rushing yards and one touchdown on six attempts). How will Johnson handle the pressure of his first start in a difficult environment? How far along is Boykin in his recovery from an ankle injury?
2. Stopping the Run and Big-Play Threats at Receiver
Although both teams have explosive passing attacks, the ground attack is still a key cog in the offensive gameplan. Baylor leads the Big 12 with an average of 293.4 rushing yards per game, while TCU ranks fourth at 224.7 per contest. With Chris Johnson expected to start for Baylor, along with Boykin’s ankle injury, the performance of the supporting cast will be even more critical for both offenses. The Bears could be without starter Shock Linwood due to a knee and ankle injury, but there’s depth in the form of Johnny Jefferson (461 yards) and Devin Chafin (265 yards and six scores). As evidenced by his 42 yards last week, Johnson is also a threat to run. Aaron Green (1,100 yards and 10 scores) leads the way for TCU’s ground attack, but Boykin (596 yards) and Trevorris Johnson (6.2 ypc) also chip in. Even though the Horned Frogs won’t have Josh Doctson, there’s still plenty of weapons for Boykin. Kolby Listenbee (21.2 ypc and five scores), KaVontae Turpin and Shaun Nixon are three big-play threats in the passing attack. Baylor counters with the nation’s best receiving corps, including Corey Coleman (19.8 ypc and 20 scores) and KD Cannon (19.85 ypc). The bottom line about the skill talent for both teams is pretty simple. With the injuries at quarterback, there’s extra emphasis on the supporting cast to step up. Which one of the skill players will deliver on Friday night?
3. Limiting the Big Plays Allowed on Defense
Baylor or TCU’s defense won’t be considered elite this season, but both teams are holding opponents to 5.5 yards per play. That’s not bad. While both defenses are going to give up their share of yards, the Bears and Horned Frogs want to put the clamps on opposing offenses in the red zone, on third downs and create havoc plays. TCU leads the Big 12 in third-down defense, while Baylor ranks third. The Bears have struggled in the red zone on defense (ninth in the Big 12), but the Horned Frogs are third in the conference. While those totals are critical, keep an eye on the big plays allowed by both defenses. Baylor has allowed 27 plays of 30 yards or more and TCU has surrendered 31. Which defense will limit the big plays allowed and force the opposing offense to drive the length of the field?
This matchup lost some of its appeal due to injuries and losses by both teams, but there’s still plenty at stake in this rivalry. Baylor can keep its Big 12 title and playoff hopes alive with a win, while TCU can improve its postseason destination by defeating the Bears. Revenge should be on the Horned Frogs’ mind after last year’s loss in Waco. However, with all of the injuries TCU has suffered this season, and potentially Boykin at less than full strength, Baylor is a slight favorite by the Vegas odds. While Chris Johnson is making his first career start, Briles and his staff have a strong track record of developing quarterbacks and there’s a strong supporting cast in place. This one is a coin flip, but Baylor's offense makes one big play in the fourth quarter to keep the Bears' playoff and Big 12 title hopes alive.