Big 12 rivals meet in Waco
Think back to 2014. Oh, how we took for granted unrestricted access to things like restaurants, gyms, and football games.
It was also the first year of the College Football Playoff. Both the Baylor Bears and TCU Horned Frogs factored into the race, but eventual national champion Ohio State leap-frogged both in the final poll. The Horned Frogs were victims of a loss to the Bears, in a 61-58 shootout indicative of the very essence of Big 12 football in the 21st century.
The playoff implications of that game, and a "coincidence" a year later in which Baylor linemen wearing the Nos. 61 and 58 sat side-by-side in the team photo, grew this series with roots in the old Southwest Conference into a bonafide Big 12 rivalry.
Things have changed, completely unrelated to the pandemic, among them the structural make-up of TCU and Baylor in 2020. Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs have returned more to the defensively aggressive identity that defined the program's rise in the late 2000s. The hire of defensive guru Dave Aranda as head coach at Baylor has continued the Bears on a path Matt Rhule led them previously.
All this is to say, don't expect a redux of the 61-58 shootout seen six years ago. But you should expect another hotly contested installment in this burgeoning rivalry. Not everything has changed in the era of COVID-19.
TCU at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: TCU -2.5
When TCU Has the Ball
Although the first half of TCU's season has been rocky, the play of dual-threat quarterback Max Duggan has at times been electric. He's averaging a hair below 70 percent as a passer, has four touchdowns against one pick, and leads the Horned Frogs in both rushing yards and rushing scores.
More help is a necessity, however. TCU has used three primary ball carriers behind Duggan; that all three are freshmen is telling. As a team, TCU is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, and that's right in the ballpark of what Baylor is allowing opponents in its off-and-on season.
The Bears have a somewhat limited sample size in Aranda's first season, the result of various postponements and cancellations due to COVID-19 protocols. With holdovers from last season's outstanding defense like linebackers Terrel Bernard and William Bradley-King, however, it's not a reach to suggest yardage (and thus points) will come at a premium.
When Baylor Has the Ball
Trestan Ebnar put on one of the most impressive individual shows of the season in Baylor's belated season opener at Kansas. He scored four touchdowns three ways: rushing, receiving and doubled up on kickoff returns. His production has been much more muted in the Bears' last two outings, and Baylor as a team has been far less explosive.
That's partially the result of playing opponents other than struggling Kansas, but arguably a byproduct of an unanticipated, three-week layoff between the overtime loss to West Virginia and last week's defeat against Texas.
The Bears managed just three points through three quarters, certainly a suggestion of field rust. Regardless of the reason, Baylor will need a more sustained effort from quarterback Charlie Brewer to close out drives. Garret Wallow and freshman phenom Khari Coleman should offer no shortage of pressure in the backfield.
No, another 61-58 game isn't likely. The shootout of yesteryear gives way to a rock fight, the result of a variety of factors. Baylor hasn't found an offensive rhythm, and TCU is wildly inexperienced. That, combined with the playmakers both sides feature on defense, should make for some sloppy offensive football.
The key to a win Saturday may come down to avoiding a critical mistake. To that end, this could be a coin-flip. Max Duggan's dual-threat playmaking may be the difference, however.
Prediction: TCU 20, Baylor 17
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.