The Baylor Bears have taken significant steps forward this season, that much is obvious.
The Bears (4-3, 2-2 Big 12) have rebounded from a 1-11 campaign a year ago and have a chance to get bowl eligible with five games left this season.
But how much better are they, really?
In four Big 12 games, Baylor has been blown out just once — a 66-33 loss at Oklahoma. The Bears defeated Kansas and Kansas State at home and lost last time out at Texas.
However, Baylor was competitive in three of its first four Big 12 games last year too.
Of course, this week might not be a great barometer for Baylor. The Bears travel to play West Virginia on Thursday night. Baylor has lost all three of its previous visits to Morgantown, W.Va., and has given up an average of 45 points.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule said this will be another challenge to slow down the Mountaineers offense.
“I think keeping them off the field is key,” Rhule said. “But that's not really our strength. Our strength has been playing in tempo and getting ourselves going. Can we put two first downs together and eventually get a drive going?”
On the flip side, West Virginia has a physical defense that ranks fourth in the Big 12 in allowing 391 yards per conference game. The Mountaineers will certainly try to rattle Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer.
A big factor will be how well Brewer handles the environment and the pass rush.
“Every week is a little bit different, but we ask Charlie and (center) Sam Tecklenburg to handle the protections,” Rhule said. “That will be big this week. This team brings pressure from everywhere, so we need to do a good job of picking up the guys they bring. Charlie is a smart guy and has worked hard on the mental side of the game.”