Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM

West Virginia at Baylor

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Thursday night college football moves to the Big XII this week, a conference that was in the spotlight last week for a few notable upsets.

Baylor sits on top of the standings with an undefeated record and this will be the first chance for a national audience to view the Bears as they host West Virginia in prime time Halloween night.

West Virginia Mountaineers at Baylor Bears

Venue: At McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas
Time/TV: Thursday, October 31, 8:00 p.m. ET ESPN
Line: Baylor -17½, Over/Under 57
Last Meeting: 2018, at West Virginia (-14½) 58, Baylor 14

There has been good reason that Baylor hasn’t climbed too high in the national rankings despite a perfect start out of the Big XII, now 7-0 and ranked #12. The Bears played an incredible weak non-conference slate and even struggled in an eight-point win at Rice. Baylor narrowly slipped by Iowa State in the conference opener while also having just a three-point escape hosting Texas Tech but the road wins have been impressive with convincing results at Kansas State and at Oklahoma State. Both of those teams helped Baylor with upsets in the Big XII picture last week as the Bears are all alone on top of the standings.

Baylor is a heavy favorite this week but then will face a tough gauntlet in November playing TCU, Oklahoma, and Texas in succession before closing at Kansas. Next week’s game in Fort Worth will be a difficult road game but Oklahoma and Texas are visiting Waco. The Sooners are 4-1 in Big XII play but Baylor is in a great position to finish in the top two in the Big XII for a championship game spot with every other team in the conference with at least two losses and the Bears with wins over two of the remaining four two-loss teams.

Charlie Brewer has been a steady quarterback for Baylor with 66 percent completions and 9.5 yards per attempt. He has only three interceptions in nearly 200 attempts. Baylor has posted an average of more than 200 rushing yards per game on 5.4 yards per carry this season for good offensive balance. Baylor is in the third season under Matt Rhule who stepped into a mess in 2017 and went 1-11 before last season’s turnaround to 7-6.

The defense will be what separates Baylor in the Big XII should they stay in contention, allowing just 19.1 points per game overall and just 22.5 points per game in conference play in a league not known for quality defense. Baylor is 23rd nationally in yards per play allowed with good numbers against both the run and the pass. The Baylor schedule checks in ranking 73rd nationally by Sagarin compared to the 8th ranked slate for West Virginia as there are concerns about whether the Bears will be able to keep this pace going in November.

West Virginia was a serious Big XII and national contender much of last season, reaching 8-1 before losing the final two Big XII games narrowly to miss out on the Big XII Championship game. West Virginia lost to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl last December with star quarterback Will Grier opting not to play and then head coach Dana Holgorsen surprised many by departing for Houston after eight relatively successful seasons.

Neal Brown doesn’t have direct West Virginia ties but he did coach at Texas Tech for three years while also spending two years at Kentucky before becoming a head coach at Troy in 2015. He went 35-16 in four seasons at Troy including two 10-win seasons and an 11-2 2017 season, with three consecutive bowl wins as well. It was clear he was stepping into a bit of a rebuild with heavy personnel losses from last season for West Virginia and at 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Big XII a winning season will be a surprise through the remaining schedule.

West Virginia has been outscored 156-88 in Big XII play with the only win narrowly at Kansas. The Mountaineers did beat NC State in non-conference play and have already played Texas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma, the three teams most considered the top conference contenders ahead of the season.

Replacing Will Grier was going to be a challenge and junior quarterback Austin Kendall has adequate numbers for the Mountaineers though with a low 6.4 yards per attempt average and seven interceptions. He played minimally in the Iowa State game but was back for the team’s most recent game, a 52-14 loss at Oklahoma. Running the ball has been a challenge for the offense as Kennedy McKoy leads the team with only 188 rushing yards through seven games with the team averaging fewer than 100 yards per game on 3.1 yards per carry, 118th nationally.

Next on the schedule is a home game with Texas Tech for the Mountaineers, arguably the most favorable remaining opportunity on the season with three of the final five on the road. Baylor is at TCU next Saturday as while winning this week may not provide much of a boost in the rankings, the Bears will have an opportunity to get more attention in the coming weeks and potentially keep national playoff sleeper hopes alive. Cool windy conditions are possible for Thursday night which presumably would favor the home favorite’s superior rushing attack.

Last season:

Off a bye week and a close road loss in Austin Baylor went to Morgantown last October on a Thursday night vs. the #13 Mountaineers and fell behind 41-0 by halftime. The Bears would score twice in the third quarter to save some face but the 58-14 final was a convincing result for a West Virginia squad that entered the game off a bye week and the season’s first loss in the previous game at Iowa State. West Virginia had a 568-287 yardage edge and a 4-0 turnover edge. Quarterback Charlie Brewer had a terrible start and left the game early after just one completion while Will Grier kept his name in the Heisman race with a big game.

Series History:

West Virginia is 5-2 S/U but 2-5 ATS in this series since joining the Big XII in 2012. Baylor has covered in all three home meetings in the series with two S/U wins though West Virginia has won S/U in the past three meetings in this series including the 2017 meeting in Waco. Eight is the smallest spread in the seven meetings in this series with six spreads of 12 or more over the years with heavy favorite prices in both directions.

Historical Trends for Baylor:

Baylor is 24-19 as a home favorite since 2011 but the Bears had a huge run in that role from 2011 to 2014 and are only 10-17 ATS since 2015. Since 2011 Baylor is 27-22 as a double-digit favorite but is just 3-13 ATS in the past 16 instances since October 2015. Matt Rhule is a bit of an ATS legend with a 35-16 ATS mark in his four seasons at Temple and he is 16-16 ATS at Baylor since 2017 even with a rough start in a very difficult transition.

Historical Trends for West Virginia:

Since 1980 West Virginia is 48-38-1 ATS as a road underdog but only 5-9 ATS since 2012, the year the program joined the Big XII. West Virginia has just two outright road underdog wins in conference play since joining the Big XII. West Virginia has gone 3-4 ATS with one S/U upset (at home) as an underdog of 17 or more points since 2012. In four seasons at Troy Neal Brown posted a 27-21-3 ATS record going 9-3-2 ATS as an underdog and 17-6-2 ATS in road games.

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