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Baylor's schedule about to get nasty

It is only slightly ironic that Baylor's nonconference scheduling is about to bite them.

Of course, the ones who set it up are elsewhere these days.

For years, Baylor was a proud graduate of The Bill Snyder Offensive School of NonConference Scheduling with the idea that playing nobody would pay off with a nice record and an upper-tier bowl invite.

Between 2011 and 2016, Baylor scored impressive nonconference wins against SWC rivals Rice and SMU. Against Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin. A scrappy Wofford squad. A game bunch from Louisiana-Monroe. The little team that could, Sam Houston State. Don't forget Lamar. Or Buffalo. And TCU, when the Frogs were in the last year as a member of the Mountain West, too.

This is not a bad philosophy. It worked for former coach Art Briles and Baylor as the Bears built a program through the dismembering of inferior teams.

The plan was fine until it blew up in the faces of Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw when Baylor just missed on an invite to the 2014 College Football Playoff, in part because of its commitment to playing Waste Of Time in its nonconference schedule.

In December 2015, the Big 12 put in a rule stating all teams had to play at least one Power 5 opponent or Notre Dame in its nonconference schedules.

Baylor got on the phone and dialed up ACC power Duke for a home-and-home. It was a great idea until the game actually arrived.

Baylor is a 14-point underdog at Duke (2-0) on Saturday. After opening the season with losses to Liberty and then to UT-San Antonio, 14 points feels about right.

The Big 12 has not felt this good about itself in years, as every team in the conference has a victory except the Bears.

"They have won one of their last nine games," first-year Coach Matt Rhule said of his team. "They are looking for something good to happen."

Maybe don't play a team coached by Turner Gil, like Liberty. Or UTSA. And whatever you do, don't play Duke on the road.

If you are looking for progress, great. Just be sure not to measure progress in victories. After Baylor's likely loss at Duke, the Bears will play Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State and then host West Virginia. Ohhh-no-and-seven is likely.

Rhule announced on the Big 12 coaches' conference call Monday that sophomore quarterback Zach Smith will start over Anu Solomon. Solomon was a one-year transfer from Arizona who has not looked great.

In fairness, no one right now at Baylor looks good. The lines are smaller-ish, and over-matched. They are playing more freshmen than any other team in the nation, not to mention several players who switched positions.

I asked Rhule if he saw of any of this coming out of fall practices.

"I am a positive person so I don't know if I thought we would be in the position we are right now," Rhule said. "We knew there were areas we were concerned about, and saying anything other than that would be taking shots at these kids. I won't do that. ... I would like to win and I like playing winning football more. Calling timeouts in the first half for too many men on the field is not winning football. I didn't see that coming in camp.

"I just err on the side of not making excuses. When you are leading the country in first-time starters, you are going to have first-time starter mistakes."

The idea that Rhule was going to walk into Waco and sprinkle some of that Tom Herman fairy dust on his players was absurd. The Bears lost too many quality players in the last few years for Rhule and the Bears to do anything other than struggle this season.

And now that nonconference scheduling change made years ago is going to bite them all the way to 0-3. The Bears are about to play mighty Duke.

Nov. 4 can't get here soon enough, because Baylor at Kansas promises to be an epic clash. ESPN Gameday, we know you'll be there.

Sports on 09/13/2017

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