Thursday, December 29, 2011

Washington vs. Baylor: Closer Than You Think

A 9.5 favorite against Washington (7-5), No. 16 Baylor (9-3) should win what promises to be an offensive explosion in tonight's Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. When the offenses are on the field, the defenses will be clearly overmatched. To put it mildly, both defenses stink.

Which defense is worse? Probably Baylor's, but not by much. Among 120 teams, Baylor's defense is ranked No. 114. Only twice has this defense given up less than 400 yards. The key Washington stat:  its pass defense is nearly bottom of the barrell--No.116, surrendering an average of 283.8 yards per game. Certainly Baylor QB and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III can't wait to attack that lousy Washington secondary. He's looking to beef up stats that are already gaudy--72% completions, nearly 4,000 passing yards, 36 TD passes and only six picks.

Washington has weapons to take advantage of Baylor's bad defense, mainly RB Chris Polk (1,341 yards) and QB Keith Price, who broke the school single-season record for TD passes with 29. On the down side, though, both tailed off in the second half.

Common sense says favor a Baylor team that beat Oklahoma, Texas and TCU, fueled by an offense led by a Heisman winner that averages nearly 44 points a game. But Washington, isn't that bad. Remember three of its five losses were to Top Ten teams--Stanford, Oregon and USC.

Everyone keeps pointing out that Baylor finished with a five-game-win streak. But that's not necessarily a plus. In bowl games, momentum isn't that much of a factor since teams have nearly a month off between games. Playing in a bowl game is almost like starting a new season.

Something else to keep in mind about RG III. After a month of making the celebrity rounds as the new Heisman winner, he might not be his usual, highly-focused self. Quite possibly a razor-sharp RG III might not show up at the Alamo Bowl.

Being a big bowl-game underdog shouldn't bother Washington. Remember, in last year's Holiday Bowl, as a 14-point dog, Washington whipped Nebraska 19-7, with RB Polk running for 177 yards. Look for Baylor to win a shootout but Washington, which has a clear edge in special teams, should beat that 9.5 spread.