Following the Oklahoma Sooners' loss last week to the Kansas State Wildcats, the Bears now find themselves all alone in first place in the Big 12 standings. The 3-4 Mountaineers don't look like the team to hand Baylor its first loss of the season – but tell that to K-State and the Sooners.
Here's what to watch as the Bears risk their unblemished record in a rare Thursday night game versus WVU.
West Virginia at Baylor
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Baylor -17.5
When West Virginia Has the Ball
Last week's open date gave the Mountaineers an opportunity to smooth some of the rough edges on their offense. That should start with trying to rev up one of the worst running games in the country. At 2.9 yards per rushing attempt, WVU ranks 126th nationally.
Unfortunately for the Eers, the Bears don't give up much on the ground: They allow 3.6 yards per attempt, ranking 34th overall. Not the best opportunity to spark an ailing rushing attack.
Assuming WVU can't get anything going on the ground, the Mountaineers have to protect quarterback Austin Kendall against a Baylor pass rush that has sacked opposing QBs 25 times in seven games. That works out to an average of nearly four sacks per contest. WVU can't afford that many negative plays in this matchup.
When Baylor Has the Ball
The Bears' embrace of the spread offense under head coach Matt Rhule has led to a potent attack keyed by QB Charlie Brewer. Formidable backfield mates John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty are averaging 6.9 and 6.5 yards per carry, respectively. Meanwhile, Brewer is targeting one of the more underrated receiving duos in college football, burners Denzel Mims and Tyquan Thornton.
What can WVU do about it? The track record this season says not much.
Teams are having little trouble moving the ball by ground or by air against the Mountaineers this year. Consequently, Baylor will have its choice regarding how it wants to attack WVU's overmatched defense. If things go according to plan, the Bears may have a chance to work on some new plays for the stretch run in the second half of the game.
Frankly, it's hard to find a reason to think West Virginia can win this game. The Bears may come out of the gate out of sync after taking last week off. If so, the Mountaineers will need to capitalize early to get points on the board before Baylor gets on track. Of course, they will be dealing with potential issues with the layoff, so it seems just as likely that WVU will need time to shake off the rust.
Look for Baylor to put its running game to work right away against a defense that will offer little resistance. Once WVU adjusts to get a handle on the ground assault, the Bears will see clear skies open up for their aerial attack.
Surrounded by a raucous Thursday night crowd, the Bears should finish off the Mountaineers quickly. They may even finish up in time to enjoy Waco's famous trick-or-treating scene.
Prediction: Baylor 41, West Virginia 17
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.