Matt Rhule knew it would be a long rebuilding process when he took the job at Baylor. The problems off the field ran deep and the school’s image had been immeasurably tarnished. But while the future was murky, Baylor returned some talent this fall, so much so that one national analyst picked them to win the Big 12.
After two weeks, following losses to Liberty, a program that's making the transition from the FCS to FBS, and UTSA from Conference USA, the Bears' on-the-field product looks as bad as their off-the-field image. This week, Baylor hits the road for the first time, going to Durham, North Carolina, to play a Duke team that is as hot as Waco in July.
Duke won the only other meeting between the two schools back in 1958.
Baylor at Duke
When: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FSN/ACC Network
Spread: Duke -14
Three Things to Watch
1. New Baylor quarterback
Anu Solomon came to Baylor as a graduate transfer from Arizona and won the job in camp over sophomore Zach Smith. But Smith will lead the offense against Duke, in part because Solomon is banged up according to head coach Matt Rhule and partly because the team is 0-2 and Solomon has completed less than half (44 percent) of his throws. Smith played in 10 games last year, throwing for 1,526 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Unlike Solomon, Duke will not have to worry about Smith running the ball as he is a pure pocket-passer.
2. Slowing down Daniel Jones
There has been no sophomore slump for the Duke quarterback so far. Jones owned Northwestern last week, accumulating 413 total yards and accounting for four touchdowns. Despite playing Liberty and UTSA, Baylor is 110th in pass defense through two weeks. Plus, UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm rushed for 98 yards against the Bears last Saturday. The Baylor defense’s top priority should be to somehow contain Jones.
3. John Lovett vs. the Duke run defense
One bright spot for Baylor this season has been Lovett. Filling in for the injured Terence Williams, the freshman running back from Burlington, New Jersey, has averaged 80.5 rushing yards per game. However, this week he will be facing a rush defense that held Northwestern and Justin Jackson to just 22 total yards on the ground. Rhule does not want to rely on Smith throwing the ball around a lot in his first start of the season, so Lovett will need to continue to grind out yards.
Baylor could not have gotten off to a worse start. Beginning Matt Rhule's tenure 0-2 against subpar competition is not what the Bears had in mind. This week will certainly be no picnic either. Coming off their resounding victory over Northwestern, Duke is flying high. The Blue Devils have a quarterback that does all the things that Baylor has had trouble defending. With Brittain Brown and Shaun Wilson running the ball, the offense also has balance. Plus, though it’s very early in the year and statistics don’t mean a whole lot, Duke enters this game ranked seventh in the nation in total defense at just 174.5 yards per game. Adding it all up, it will probably be another long Saturday for Rhule and his Bears.
Prediction: Duke 34, Baylor 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.