Texas Bowl (Houston): Vanderbilt (6-6) vs Baylor (6-6)
Date: December 27th, 2018
Time and Location: 9:00 PM on ESPN, NRG Stadium
For the eighteenth consecutive year, the college football postseason is coming to Houston. One of the many solid ‘mid-tier’ bowl games, the Texas Bowl has earned a reputation for providing exciting matchups between Power Five programs. This year is no different, and while two .500 teams might make up the matchup, it should, at the very least, be an even, entertaining matchup.
How They Got Here: Baylor
Ever since the massive scandal that rocked the college football world three years ago, the Bears have never been the same. The program lost most of their talent, had a complete overhaul with their coaching staff, and went through three head coaches in three years. After Jim Grobe let Baylor to a 7-6 record in 2016, new boss Matt Rhule has undertaken a massive rebuilding job in Waco. Since 2017, the Bears are 7-17, after only losing fifteen from 2011-2015. Despite the steep decline of the program, if 2018 is any indication, Baylor is back on the right track.
Charlie Brewer has galvanized the Baylor offense this season, and his dynamic play is a major reason why the Bears are bowling. Brewer has had his bad days -like a dreadful performance against West Virginia where he threw three interceptions – but overall has played very well. He was instrumental in defeating Texas Tech during the last week of the season, tossing three touchdowns and punching their bowl ticket. The Bears rank 57th in the offensive S&P plus ratings according to Bill Connelly, with Brewer leading the charge. The ground game hasn’t been great; only one Baylor player has ran for over 500 yards; but they still have multiple playmakers at running back. John Lovett leads the team in yards with 546, and is second in attempts, behind only Brewer.
On defense, Baylor isn’t great. They currently rank 90th in the S&P, and let up 31.5 points per game. They are led by junior Clayton Johnston, who has over 100 tackles on the season despite playing in only ten games. Johnston was an all-conference honoree, as was James Lynch, who led the team with 5.5 sacks. He also led the team in tackles-for-loss, with eight. If Baylor wants to beat Vandy, they will need to do a much better job over defending the pass in the Texas Bowl.
How they got here: Vanderbilt
After the departure of James Franklin in 2014, the Commodores have come down from the historic success under Franklin. Still, head coach Derek Mason has brought the ‘Dores to a bowl game twice in the past five seasons, including three straight wins over rival Tennessee. After starting out this season 3-5, Mason rallied Vandy behind the arm of Kyle Shurmur, and they went 3-1 down the stretch to get to only the ninth bowl game in school history.
One of the highest rated recruits in school history, quarterback Kyle Shurmur will leave Nashville as one of Vandy’s best quarterbacks. After a rough first two seasons, the last two years have seen Shurmur live up to his lofty expectations. He has thrown for 23 touchdowns this season, which made him Vanderbilt’s all-time leader in touchdown passes with 63.. Shurmur has been especially good as of late. In the last six games of the season, he threw for 14 touchdowns against just one interception. He’s been extremely efficient as well, completing over 64% of his passes in the last five contests, including an astounding 88% completing percentage against Tennessee.
Thanks to the maturity and efficiency of Shurmur, Vanderbilt is ranked 45th in the country in the offensive S&P ratings. The dynamic offense also has a solid ground game, led by junior Keyshawn Helton. The Illinois transfer won the starting job for the ‘Dores in the offseason and has run for 1,001 yards this season, good for sixth in the SEC. He also ranks first yards-per-carry in the conference. Helton is currently listed as questionable for the bowl game, and if he doesn’t play, it would be a severe blow for Vanderbilt.
On defense, Vandy is not as impressive. They are currently ranked as 70th in the country in defensive S&P plus ratings. Despite this, Vanderbilt’s defense only gives up 24 points-a-game, good enough for 44th in the country. They are led by the only all-conference player on the team in defensive back Joejuan Williams. He currently leads the team with four interceptions, and has 56 tackles on the season. Senior linebacker Jordan Griffin leads the team with 110 total tackles, and will be instrumental in keeping quarterback Charlie Brewer in check.
Player to Watch: Kyle Shurmur
Shurmur is arguably the best quarterback in Vanderbilt history (sorry Jay Cutler), and if Vaughn is injured, will need to carry the Commodores to a win. He does have a good receiving core, which includes the sure-handed Kalija Lipscomb, but without Vaughn, the running game will not be as reliable. If the Baylor defense can apply pressure and disrupt Shurmur, as Florida did earlier this year, the Bears could win this game comfortably. However, Shurmur has proven extremely efficient during the season, and another great game from him could be the difference.
For you degenerates out there, the current line is Vanderbilt -4 with an o/u of 56. Despite a possible absence of Vaughn, I would take Vandy to cover at -4 behind the arm of Shurmur.
Despite a dynamic player at the QB position, I don’t think Baylor has enough on defense to stop Vanderbilt, even without their starting runningback. I like the Commodores 34-24.