Cougars, Bears set to finally open their seasons after multiple delays
Editor's note: Baylor announced on Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before expected kickoff, that its scheduled game with Houston had been postponed "as a result of Baylor not meeting the Big 12 Conference COVID-19 game cancellation thresholds," according to Baylor's Web site.
The Baylor Bears and Houston Cougars had their season openers wiped out at the same time. So what better time to revive a series that has not been played since the sunset on the old Southwestern Conference? Maybe there is some good to come out of 2020 after all?
Baylor and Houston scrambled to get this game together on short notice. Baylor lost an opponent in Louisiana Tech, and Houston had to push back a game against Memphis. With both teams getting some extra practice time in this week before playing a game, perhaps the teams can avoid some of the early-season jitters that have been seen across the nation the past two weekends.
But the real fun comes in the coaching matchup. Houston's Dana Holgorsen is ready to test his Air Raid system against defensive master Dave Aranda, who is making his head coaching debut with the Bears after winning a national title as defensive coordinator at LSU.
Houston at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 19 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Baylor -6
When Houston Has the Ball
Houston has one of the best wide receivers in the AAC with Marquez Stevenson, and tight end Christian Trahan is a nice compliment to the passing game. Clayton Tune will be back to lead the offense at quarterback, a job he continues to hold after taking over for D'Eriq King last season (King has since transferred at Miami and is starting for the Hurricanes). The hope is that Tune can continue to develop and take advantage of his arm in the Air Raid style of offense that Holgorsen prefers. The good news for Tune is the Houston offensive line heads into the new season full of starting experience
Matt Rhule built a solid defensive foundation for Aranda to continue developing. One of the key anchors on defense for the Bears will be linebacker Terrel Bernard, who recorded 112 tackles last season.
When Baylor Has the Ball
Baylor returns starting quarterback Charlie Brewer, who is the only active returning player this season to have passed for at least 20 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more in 2019 (Ohio State's Justin Fields would have been the other). So if nothing else, Aranda knows he can rely on his quarterback to make some plays either way if needed. The Bears also return experienced John Lovett at running back. He has been the team's leading rusher each of the past two seasons. Brewer and Lovett have an offensive line light on returning starters but heavy on upperclassmen.
Brewer also has some solid targets to throw to. Tyquan Thornton, R.J. Sneed, and Josh Fleeks all return this season and will be able to contribute to the passing attack. With pass defense not particularly Houston's strong suit, the Bears should be able to thrive through the air if they can avoid any offseason rust.
With this being the delayed season opener for both schools, it remains to be seen just how crisp either team will be. The trend of the first couple of weeks of the season has been choppy starts, especially for Big 12 programs in Week 2. This is also a solid first test for Aranda, who is finally in charge of his own program. What he does in crunch time will be something to monitor in the event this game is close in the fourth quarter. And it could very well be.
Baylor was not a fluke last season, and many of the key players are back for another run to a Big 12 title shot. Nobody seems to be giving them much of a chance, so they will be looking to make a bit of a statement in their opener a week after the Big 12 was roasted by the Sun Belt. Houston will not be a pushover, and they will hang around. If the Baylor defense can force a couple of turnovers, the Bears should clamp down on a solid win for Arranda in his debut.
Prediction: Baylor 32, Houston 24
Podcast: The Big Ten Returns & Week 3 Preview