Baylor is set to take on the Boise State Broncos in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, so here are some predictions and storylines for the Bears ahead of the game.
1. Lack of Discipline Will Continue Haunting Bears
One of the hidden issues that vexed Baylor throughout the season was a lack of discipline in the form of penalties. Lots and lots of costly penalties. And miscues will be particularly problematic against Boise State, which doesn’t make many unforced errors. The Broncos are No. 12 nationally in penalties. The Bears? Dead last at almost 10 infractions per game. They’ll be sloppy again, jumping offside over the prospect of trying to contain the Boise State D-line and tugging on the jersey of WR Thomas Sperbeck out of sheer frustration.
2. Baylor Will Have Success on the Ground
The Bears were forced to rebuild along the O-line this season. And it showed at times, especially in the second half of the year. Even All-Big 12 C Kyle Fuller wasn’t firing off the ball in November, as the running game sputtered to snap off money plays. Now, Baylor must deal with a pair of terrific linemen, DE Sam McCaskill and NT David Moa. However, Fuller is almost 50 pounds heavier than Moa, so he’ll be able to control the all-league sophomore. Plus, RB Shock Linwood has something to prove to NFL scouts and Terence Williams has used this month to heal his injured knee.
3. The Bears Will Start Hot, Close Quietly
It’s been an agonizing year in Waco, on and off the field. And it’ll be brutally difficult for outgoing coach Jim Grobe to motivate a team riding a six-game losing streak and readying for its third head coach in the past seven months. Baylor will play with a lot of energy in the first 15 or 20 minutes, because the team has heard all month about its lack of motivation and brutal finish. But once Boise State begins to move the ball with balance and precision, led by sophomore QB Brett Rypien, it’ll rip the heart right out of the Bears. Baylor in a second-half hole is a recipe for an uneventful fourth quarter.
4. Rookie QB Zach Smith Will Flash For Matt Rhule
Rhule won’t be coaching the Bears at Chase Field, but he’ll be watching this game with particular interest, since he’ll be inheriting the holdovers, namely Smith. Especially Smith, the true freshman who replaced injured Seth Russell on Nov. 12. The rookie was predictably up-and-down in the final four games, but will benefit from this month’s practices to improve his timing with top receivers KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora. Smith will throw for 250 yards, two scores and a couple of picks, taking his first step toward becoming Rhule’s starting quarterback in 2017.
5. Baylor Will Be Trampled By RB Jeremy McNichols, the 2016 Citrus Bowl MVP
If the final six games of Baylor film unveiled anything, it’s that it has little chance of stopping the Boise State offense, namely McNichols. The Bears were trucked on the ground in the second half of the year, a trend that’ll continue in the Cactus Bowl. Twice in November, they surrendered six rushing touchdowns in a game. Here comes McNichols, who’ll revel at the chance to gash a Power Five opponent to finally earn some well-deserved recognition outside of Mountain West country. He’ll go for more than 200 rushing yards for the fourth time this season, adding three scores and helping make Rypien lethal on play-action.