Baylor Rice sounds like a character in He Got Game or maybe White Men Can’t Jump, but it’s actually a Friday night college football matchup in the Lone Star State. This is one of three games on the Friday night slate and the one with the biggest spread, as the road Bears are looking to polish off another impressive non-conference schedule with a blowout win. The Bears have scored 95 points in two games and have a +75 point differential, but they are 0-2 against the spread this season.
Baylor vs. Rice College Football Preview
Date/Time: Friday September 16, 8:00 p.m. ET
College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes
College Football Betting Favorite: Baylor -31
The tumultuous offseason for Baylor hasn’t offset their ability to beat up on powerhouses like Northwestern State and SMU during the non-conference gauntlet on the schedule before Big 12 play begins. The knock on the Bears for the last several seasons has been the quality of their non-conference opponents and that certainly applies once again this season. Jim Grobe took over for Art Briles (in a story that hasn’t gone away), but coordinators Kendal Briles and Phil Bennett are really the ones driving the Baylor bus. Rice head coach David Baliff has the unenviable task of recruiting at a middling Group of 5 Conference school in a land of Power 5 Conference giants. In his previous nine seasons, Rice had amassed a 53-60 straight up mark and a 58-50-4 ATS record. One of their 2007 games was unlined. Rice is 0-2 straight up and against the spread with a -49 point differential.
The key cogs in this Baylor offense machine stayed through the sexual assault scandal that ravaged the city of Waco and the University. Depth is where Baylor took heavy losses, which could be part and parcel as to why they haven’t covered the number yet this season. Seth Russell is off to a great start with a 40-of-67 line for 424 yards and six touchdowns against two picks. Shock Linwood has ripped off nearly six yards per carry, even though he hasn’t found the end zone yet. Baylor, as a team, is rushing for 5.6 yards per attempt with four rushing touchdowns. Everybody can put up numbers in this offense, but junior KD Cannon is the one outshining the other receivers with 15 balls for 139 yards and two scores. Baylor did have to replace four of its five starting linemen from last season, so the success of the run game, even against weak competition, is big.
On the defensive side, Baylor hasn’t been challenged yet. Phil Bennett’s defense lost a significant amount in the trenches from last year and we’ll see if Rice can exploit that more than the other two teams did. Andrew Billings, Jamal Palmer, and Shawn Oakman were all very large and talented men that helped Baylor allow less than four yards per carry each of the last three seasons. SMU ran for 4.6 yards per carry and actually hit overtime tied 6-6 with Baylor before all hell broke loose in the second half. David Baliff’s team is very run-heavy, as Rice ran the ball at least 30 times in every single game last season. That will be the focus for this inexperienced defensive front.
Offensively, the Rice Owls have a lot of experience, but they don’t have a lot of upside. Seven starters returned on offense, but quarterback Driphus Jackson was not among them. Senior starter Tyler Stehling is not off to a good start. He’s completed 39 of 68 tosses for just 383 yards, a touchdown, and three picks. Rice’s inability to move the football is concerning, given that neither Western Kentucky nor Army is known for defensive prowess. Stehling is also the leading rusher. Darik Dillard is the leading rusher among non-quarterbacks at 4.2 yards per carry and he has taken the bulk of the carries over Jowan Davis and Austin Walter. Last year’s leading receiver, Zach Wright, only has three catches this year and nobody has more than six catches this season. If Rice covers, it’ll be because of the defense and their tempo.
Speaking of that defense, they’ll certainly be battle-tested once conference play rolls around. The high-octane Western Kentucky offense hung 46 points and 649 yards in Week 1. Mike White threw for 517 of those yards. The following week, Rice faced a dramatically different offense in the Army Black Knights. The triple-option ran up 348 yards on 69 plays. Army held the ball for over 40 minutes, so Rice only ran 61 offensive snaps. It’s a marvel that the Owls didn’t give up more points. So, this up-tempo Baylor offense presents some challenges, but this young Rice defense has seen just about everything that you can throw at it.
College Football Pick: Rice Owls +31
Baylor has Oklahoma State on deck and not a whole lot of depth, so this looks like a game where the backdoor cover will be wide open. It’s also possible that Rice outright hangs within the number based on their slow tempo and chance to compete at the line of scrimmage. Baylor hung 70 and won by 53 in this game last season, so expect the public to keep pounding the Bears, like they have already this week.