Schedule analysis: Baylor Bears

With the 2014 season arriving in the not too distant future, we’ve been breaking down every Big 12 team’s complete schedule.

We finish this series with the Baylor Bears:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)

Aug. 31: SMU (5-7)

Sept. 6: Northwestern State (6-6)

Sept. 13: at Buffalo (8-5)

Big 12 home games

Oct. 11: TCU

Nov. 1: Kansas

No. 22: Oklahoma State

Dec. 6: Kansas State

Big 12 road games

Sept. 27: at Iowa State

Oct. 4: at Texas

Oct. 18: at West Virginia

Nov. 8: at Oklahoma

Big 12 neutral site games

Nov. 29: Texas Tech (Arlington, Texas)

Gut-check time: Last season, Baylor went on the road in a titanic November clash with a chance to solidify its status as a legitimate national title contender. Instead, the Bears got whacked in Stillwater, and fell out of the national championship picture for good. This season, the Bears could have a similar opportunity, when they travel to Oklahoma. The Bears and Sooners are regarded as Big 12 co-favorites by virtually everyone going into the season, meaning this game could decide the conference race, and which team from the league advances to the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Bears have never won in Norman. But if they finally broke the streak, it would be a monumental and historical win for the program.

Trap game: Northwestern State. Just kidding. The Bears completely obliterated West Virginia in Waco last season after jumping to a 56-14 halftime lead. Baylor will be coming off three difficult games (at Iowa State, at Texas and TCU) when it sees the Mountaineers this year. The game is in Morgantown, which is not an easy trip from Waco. And the Bears will have the Oklahoma game looming. The Mountaineers have a chance to be one of the league’s more improved teams, with 14 returning starters and tremendous depth at the offensive skill positions. Considering how easily the Bears demolished West Virginia last year, they could be susceptible to overlooking the Mountaineers this time.

Snoozer: The Bears are the only team in the Big 12 without a power five conference team on its non-league schedule. The SMU game will be cool, due mostly to the unveiling of McLane Stadium. Otherwise, the entire non-conference slate is snooze-worthy.

Telltale stretch: Given their returning offensive firepower, the Bears have a reasonably good chance of getting past Nov. 1 with a record of 8-0. But the rest of the month will determine whether Baylor is a College Football Playoff contender. Even if they vanquish the Sooners, the Bears still have three tough games afterward they’ll have to finish off. Baylor has struggled mightily with Oklahoma State; the Bears have lost 16 of the last 18 meetings, which includes a 32-point meltdown in Stillwater last year. Texas Tech is one of the few teams in the league equipped to score with Baylor, thanks to the development of QB Davis Webb. And Kansas State will be out for revenge, after Baylor knocked the Wildcats out of the national title game in Waco two seasons ago. If the Bears win all four games, they will be worthy challengers for the playoff.

Final analysis: In 2013, Baylor had a soft non-conference schedule, and Oklahoma and Texas at home, which helped fuel the Bears to their first Big 12 title. While the out-of-conference schedule is soft again, the rest of the slate is not. The Bears have to go to Austin, where they’ve prevailed only once since 1991, and to Norman, where they are winless. Road trips to Iowa State and West Virginia could become perilous. And the backstretch against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State is rife with potential potholes. Then again, Baylor will also be a problem for everyone else. Bryce Petty and Antwan Goodley form one, of if not the best, quarterback-receiver tandem in the country. The offense should be prolific again, and the defensive line figures to be the best of the Art Briles era. Baylor is more than equipped to defend its Big 12 crown, even if accomplishing that goal will be more challenging this time around.