How did Baylor transform itself from a program that didn’t win more than five games from 1996-2010 to one that posted double-digit wins three of the last four years?
Though the hiring of Art Briles for the 2008 season is the most obvious answer, the Bears’ schedule has changed alongside their success.
While some of these tweaks were inherent to the Big 12’s shift from a two-division entity to one with only ten teams, others come down to a different approach to selecting opponents.
Take a look at five of the biggest differences in Baylor’s schedule as it was from 2006-09 vs. its 2010-15 version. Again, this is a program that went 4-8 in 2006, 3-9 in 2007, 4-8 in 2008, 4-8 again in 2009, 7-6 in 2010, 10-3 in 2011, 8-5 in 2012, 11-2 in 2013 and 11-2 again last season.
Drop in Number of Non-Conference Opponents
The Big 12 played its final championship game in 2010, when Oklahoma beat Nebraska 23-20 in Arlington. After that, the Cornhuskers and Colorado defected and the shrunken 10-member conference scrapped the division format.
Now every team would play every other team once, meaning league games rose from eight to nine. On the flip side, the number of non-conference games dropped from four to three. This left Big 12 schedulers with one fewer game that they could effectively control.
For Baylor, it’s one of the factors that signaled the end of it playing Power teams outside of league play.
Before the change, the Bears generally played one FCS foe, two teams from non-Power leagues and then one, or sometimes two, Power teams. Afterwards, they kept up with the FCS game and pair of non-Power opponents, but dropped the game with a bigger foe.
Elimination of Power Opponents Outside of Big 12 Play
Is it any coincidence that Baylor’s “breakthrough” campaign, its 7-6 run in 2010 which included its first bowl bid since 1994, was also the first of five-consecutive seasons that it didn’t play a Power team?
As mentioned above, this was helped along, in 2011, when the number of non-league games dropped from three to four, but despite that Baylor is the only Big 12 member that hasn’t played a Power team outside of conference play since 2009.
In 2008, the Bears went 4-8 with a slate that included games with Wake Forest (a loss) and Washington State (a win). While these weren’t heavy hitters, they were and are Power clubs. The balance of the non-conference schedule that year was FCS Northwestern State (a win) and UConn (a loss).
In 2009, it was a road trip to Wake Forest (a win), UConn (a loss), FCS Northwestern State (a win) and Kent State (a win).
Since then, Baylor hasn’t played a team from a Power conference out of Big 12 play. It also hasn’t fallen under .500 again.
It’s only fair to mention that the Bears had a home-and-home with TCU in 2010-2011. Even though the Horned Frogs were ranked in the Top 15 for both games, they were Mountain West members. So while it represented a high-quality opponent, it did not count as a Power foe.
Departure of Nebraska in 2011
For Baylor, the exit of Nebraska to the Big Ten meant it no longer had to face a team it was 1-11 all-time against.
The Bears were 0-8 against the Huskers when both were Big 12 foes. The way the schedule worked the two schools played home-and-home games and then took the following two years off from 1996-2009.
Baylor’s only win over Nebraska came way back in 1956, part of a 9-2 season that included a No. 11 rank in the final AP and a win over No. 2 Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.
Departure of Texas A&M and Missouri in 2012
Texas A&M and Missouri’s defection to the SEC had a similar effect for Baylor—it didn’t have to play programs it had struggled against in the Big 12 era.
Though the Bears beat Mizzou in 2009 and 2011, they dropped the other seven Big 12 meetings, played from 1996-2008. All-time, they are 4-10 all-time vs. the Tigers and 2-7 in Big 12 action.
The Aggies’ move was even more significant because Baylor had to face them annually, both teams hailing from the South division of the conference. The Bears only managed two wins over A&M in the Big 12 era, in 2004 and 2008, both in Waco. The last time Baylor won in College Station was a 20-16 triumph in 1984.
Overall, the Bears are 31-68-9 vs. the Aggies and 2-14 in Big 12 action.
Drop in Number of Ranked Opponents
Since 2006, the number of Big 12 members included among the Top 25 teams has decreased.
On the one hand it’s a matter of numbers, fewer teams means fewer opportunities to place programs in the rankings. On the flip side, losing teams and gaining others means that the output teams produce can’t have remained the same.
On top of that, the members that have remained in the league have experienced peaks and valleys. Think Texas and Texas Tech, both hitting Big 12 era highs and lows during the time span.
The net effect for Baylor is that they’ve faced fewer ranked teams. Where the 2008 team (it finished 4-8) faced six regular-season opponents that were ranked when they squared off, the 2010 team (the 7-6 product) faced only four.
Is it any coincidence that the two 11-2 teams, those in 2013 and 2014, both played just three ranked foes?
Did Scheduling Provide a Boost for the Bears?
Baylor has absolutely benefited from scheduling modifications, both those it had control over and those it didn’t.
The Bears did, for whatever reason, stop scheduling Power teams outside of conference play after the 2009 season. It’s no accident that this occurred at the same time as the beginning of the epic turnaround in results.
The next time a Power opponent is on the books outside of conference play is a home-and-home with Duke in 2017 and 2018. After that, it’s Utah in 2023/2024.
Next, Baylor benefited from, but had no control over, the changes in the Big 12. This included the exit of opponents it struggled against historically and the shift in the overall quality of the conference.
Though it’s all rock-solid evidence of scheduling changes resulting in more wins, the Bears have still had to play better against stiff opposition. To illustrate, take a look at what they’ve achieved vs. league heavy-hitters Texas and Oklahoma.
Before 2010, the Bears had lost 12 straight to the Longhorns, last winning 23-21 in 1997. Since then, they’ve won four of five, the only loss coming in a 56-50 defensive juggernaut in 2012.
As for Oklahoma, before 2011 Baylor had never beaten the Sooners, dropping 20 straight all-time and 15 in Big 12 action. Since then, it has won three of the last four, the only loss coming, again, in 2012.
So while yes, scheduling has helped fuel the Bears’ epic rise to the top, it’s not the entire story.
Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.