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Kansas Football: Campanile Crystal Ball – Baylor

The last time a top-5 opponent found itself in Lawrence, the Jayhawks nearly did the unthinkable.

The Jayhawks had built a shocking 27-17 lead late in the game over the fifth-ranked TCU Horned Frogs before ultimately losing 34-30. Kansas used bad weather, a few lucky bounces and a “nothing to lose” attitude to put on one of the greatest shows Jayhawk fans have seen in years.

This year the Jayhawks get a shot at the the number three team in the nation, the Baylor Bears. However, the strengths that the Jayhawks possessed last year and allowed them to nearly upset TCU are gone. The weather will be in the mid-70’s, key components of the defense have been replaced by newcomers, and the emotional high the team was riding during the short lived Bowen-era has been replaced by head coach David Beaty’s “Earn it” mentality.

Currently, Baylor is the biggest favorite in college football this weekend with a -44 point spread. But upsets happen all the time, right? In 2007 the Stanford Cardinals, using a back up quarterback that had only officially thrown three total passes before the start, entered their game against the USC Trojans as 41 point underdogs. The Stanford backup threw a game winning, fourth-and-goal touchdown with 49 seconds left to upset USC 24-23. That same year, the fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines were such huge favorites against FCS team Appalachian State that Vegas didn’t even bother putting a betting line on the game. Appalachian State won that game 34-32.

Goliath can go down but it takes an A+ game, and a little luck, from David to pull it off. If Kansas wants to incorporate the  Royals’ “unfinished business” mantra and turn last year’s “almost was” into this year’s “can’t believe it happened”, they’ll have to teach an old underdog quite a few new tricks and hope a little luck falls their way.

The Opponent

Baylor head coach Art Briles with his team during last year's game against Texas (Louis DeLuca - The Dallas Morning News)

Baylor head coach Art Briles with his team during last year’s game against Texas (Louis DeLuca – The Dallas Morning News)

This Saturday the Jayhawks get to face one of the most dangerous teams in the nation. While KU almost upset a top-5 team last year, Baylor is a completely different beast. TCU wasn’t nearly as prolific on offense as the Baylor Bears have been so far this season.

In only four games, the Bears have been destroying opponents while averaging 63 points per game, well above the FBS record of 56 points per game done by the Army Black Knights in 1944. The Bears have a very balanced attack and can score both in the air and on the ground with ease.

Starting QB Seth Russell is putting up record numbers. With 1,281 passing yards and 19 touchdowns through four games, Russell is on pace to finish the regular season with 3,841 passing yards and 57 passing touchdowns, which would place him one touchdown shy of the FBS record for passing touchdowns in a season

Meanwhile, running back Shock Linwood is picking up right where he left off last year. After rushing for 16 touchdowns and totaling 1,252 yards rushing last season, Linwood already has 584 yards rushing and 6 rushing touchdowns through four games this season.

The Kansas defense has allowed 535 yards per game to opponents, none of which were nearly the level of the Baylor Bears offense, which has been averaging 745 yards per game. If the Jayhawks defense doesn’t bring everything they’ve got, it’ll be a long day in Memorial Stadium.

Defensively, the Bears haven’t been as powerful as their offensive counterparts, but they haven’t needed to be. They’ve given up nearly 400 yards per game to opponents while holding them to 26 points per game. Not incredible defensive numbers but when your offense is putting up 60+ points every game, you have some room to work with.

5 Players To Watch

No. 17: QB Seth Russell (6’3, 220, Jr.)

Baylor QB Seth Russell (17) scrambles away from an Iowa State defender (Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports)

Baylor QB Seth Russell (17) scrambles away from an Iowa State defender (Jerome Miron – USA TODAY Sports)

After playing backup to QB Bryce Petty all of last season, Russell is proving he is no downgrade. Russell is averaging 12.44 yards per passing attempt this season and already has 19 passing touchdowns on the year. While his passing game is solid, he can also tuck it in and run the ball, as he has 172 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 22 attempts.

Dual threat quarterbacks are always dangerous, but Russell will be exceptionally dangerous as his wide receiver corp is just as talented. KU will have their hands full trying to stop this dangerous passing offense that’s averaging 368.5 yards passing a game.

No. 32: RB Shock Linwood (5’9, 200, Jr.)

Even if the Jayhawks defense manages to slow down Russell and company they aren’t out of the woods yet as they’ll have to also find a way to slow down RB Shock Linwood. Baylor is only a third of the way through this season, but Linwood is already nearly half way to his to total yards rushing mark of last season. He’s on pace to both out rush and out score his last season totals, which were great numbers to begin with.

The rush defense of the Kansas Jayhawks has struggled immensely so far this season and are now facing the task of stopping one of the better running backs in the Big 12. KU will need to find a solution to their defensive problems if they wish to remain competitive in this game.

No. 1: WR Corey Coleman (5’11, 190, Jr.)

Corey Coleman is putting up Madden type numbers so far this season. In just four games, Coleman already has 570 yards receiving and 11 receiving touchdowns. That’s already as many receiving touchdowns as he had all of last season. Coleman has been unstoppable so far this season and will be looking to give the KU secondary trouble all day long.

No. 2: DE Shawn Oakman (6’9, 275, Sr.)

You may remember Shawn Oakman from the popular image that circulated around the internet last year. At 6’9, 275, Oakman is a monster of a man. Last season he used every bit of that mountain of a body to torment opposing offenses by registering 52 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, and a Baylor record 11 sacks. After being forced to sit out the season opener for a violation of team rules, Oakman is back on his destructive track, tallying 14 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks through three games.

No. 4: CB Xavien Howard (6’2, 200, Jr.)

CB Xavien Howard (4) (Justin K. Aller - Getty Images North America)

CB Xavien Howard (4) (Justin K. Aller – Getty Images North America)

Howard is a disruptive cornerback that led the Baylor team in both passes defended (13) and interceptions (4) last season. So far this season he’s leading the team again in both stats with 4 passes defended and 2 interceptions. Howard could be a nightmare for the Jayhawks’ passing offense, especially since KU will be starting freshman QB Ryan Willis after injuries to both QB Montell Cozart and QB Deondre Ford.

Wave The Wheat If…

The offensive line gives freshman Ryan Willis enough time in the pocket to perform. This will be the best defense Kansas has seen yet, so major adjustments will need to be made by Kansas if it wishes to keep Baylor from teeing off on Willis. The offensive line so far has allowed 8 sacks and 16 quarterback hits this season, and so far two quarterbacks have had to leave games with injuries. With someone as dangerous as Shawn Oakman on the opposing defensive line, Willis could be in for a rough debut if the offensive line doesn’t perform to the best of their ability.

Plough The Field If…

Baylor beats the spread. The Jayhawks main goal for this season was to be competitive and show the fan base that improvements are being made. Even against one of the best teams in the nation, losing by 45+ points would be a step in the wrong direction. If the Jayhawks can, at the very least, get a few stops and put some points on the board, it’ll be a positive sign in a season full of moral victories.

Prediction

66-24 Baylor

KU has struggled against teams that will be no where near the playoff race at the end of this season. Now they have the task of handling one of the lead horses in that race, one that is making a case for best team in the nation. Baylor has yet to score less than 56 points in a game and has scored more than 63 points in their last three contests. Corey Coleman pulls in three touchdowns and the point streak continues for Baylor.