The tendency for any football team, even No. 9 Baylor after emerging from Big 12 also-ran to qualify for the conference championship game, would be to take a last-place team lightly.
The Bears (10-1, 7-1 Big 12), who rebounded from a late collapse against Oklahoma to thump Texas last week, visit lowly Kansas (3-8, 1-7) on Saturday at Lawrence, Kan.
“We need to have a championship mindset this entire week to go 1-0 this week,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “The day of our guys thinking this is a big game because we are playing these guys, that’s gone. It has been gone all year. It’s a big game because we are playing in it.”
If the Bears happen to need extra motivation, it could come from the opportunity to tie their Big 12 championship teams of 2013 and ’14 for most wins (11) in program history.
“Going on the road,'” said Rhule, “and understanding the symmetry of being 1-11 the first year (as coach in 2017) and having a chance to be 11-1 is certainly not lost on me or our guys.”
Junior quarterback Charlie Brewer is expected to be among the participants. Brewer left the Texas game last week with 11:33 remaining after absorbing a blow to the head. Brewer averages 250.3 yards per game passing, with 19 touchdowns.
Brewer is dealing with a tender ankle, while offensive linemen Xavier Newman and Jake Fruhmorgen are questionable. Nonetheless, health appears to be on the Bears’ side as they prepare for their final regular-season game before a Dec. 7 rematch with Oklahoma crowns the Big 12 champion.
“We’re as healthy as any team in college football would be right now,” Rhule said.
Defensively, Baylor is the only Big 12 team to allow fewer than 20 points per game (19.5) and 5 yards per play (4.8).
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Junior defensive end James Lynch was named Big 12 defensive player of the week after recording two sacks against Texas. He leads the league with 10.5 sacks among a Baylor-record 19 in three seasons. Junior linebacker Terrel Bernard ranks third with 8.3 tackles on average.
Although first-year coach Les Miles declared Kansas would play meaningful games in November, the Jayhawks have lost three straight.
They are coming off a 41-31 defeat at Iowa State, their 49th consecutive Big 12 road defeat. With the decade closing, Kansas has just six conference wins in the 2010s.
Miles, nonetheless, continues to ooze positivity, citing sophomore Pooka Williams as one of the best running backs he has ever coached. Williams surpassed the 2,000-yard career mark with 154 yards on 19 carries at Iowa State.
“His change of direction is better than I have ever seen,” Miles said. “His strengths are speed and change of direction.”
Senior quarterback Carter Stanley balances the attack with a 233.5-yard passing average and 24 touchdowns, while spotting juniors Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson as primary targets.
The Jayhawks, however, rank last in the Big 12 in total defense (472.3 yards), scoring defense (33.8 points) and turnover margin (minus-7).
Pick: Over 48 -120