The Baylor Bears will head to Morgantown on Thursday night to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. Both teams are coming off of bye weeks preceded by losses. Baylor (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) lost 36-25 at home to Oklahoma State two weeks ago, while West Virginia suffered a 38-20 road loss at Texas on the same day.
They'll both look to get back in the win column this week, with West Virginia (2-3, 0-2) still seeking its first Big 12 win of the season.
This is a game between two underrated teams. All five of Baylor and West Virginia's combined losses have come to teams that were either ranked in the Top 25 at the time or are currently ranked. This means it takes a quality opponent to log a win over either of these programs. This could end up being one of the more exciting matchups of the week.
Baylor at West Virginia
When Baylor Has the Ball
Quarterback Blake Shapen can make most throws and takes relatively good care of the football (3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio). He doesn't run often, but when he does take off, he has the speed to make big plays with his feet. His favorite target is fifth-year senior tight end Ben Sims, who is effective at getting open but not as great after that catch. Baylor's most explosive target in the receiving game is Monary Baldwin, who is averaging 21.8 yards on his 12 receptions this season.
Baylor's rushing attack is led by Richard Reese. The freshman back is slightly undersized but makes up for it with game-breaking speed. He only needs a small crease to make a house call to the end zone. Craig Williams has a similar build and skill set as Reese, and he will see his share of carries as well.
West Virginia has one of the better defenses in the Big 12 against both the pass and the run. Look for Baylor to feel out the Mountaineers early to get a sense of where they might have more success.
When West Virginia Has the Ball
JT Daniels has been steady and effective at quarterback for the Mountaineers this season. A strong trio of receivers in Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James, and Kaden Prather has helped Daniels in producing one of the better passing attacks in the Big 12 this season. Those receivers have combined to catch eight of West Virginia's 10 touchdown passes this season.
When the Mountaineers run, they do so by committee. CJ Donaldson, Tony Mathis Jr., and Justin Johnson Jr. have combined for 872 yards and 11 scores on the ground this season. West Virginia would prefer to pass the ball, but its stable of backs is capable of carrying the load if necessary.
These teams are very similar, both on paper and personnel-wise. Both have offenses that can explode and keep scoreboard operators busy. At the same time, both teams are led by head coaches (Dave Aranda and Neal Brown) who pride themselves on fielding respectable defensive units. This could be considered a toss-up game. It might come down to the travel for Baylor and the home atmosphere and energy under the lights in Morgantown being the differences in this one.
Prediction: West Virginia 28, Baylor 24
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— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
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