Baylor is a team that gives every middling football program in the power conferences hope. If you're Minnesota you just need to look a long way down Interstate 35 to see that any member of the Big Five is one or two hires away from "turning it around".
The Bears had a 16 year bowl drought and were considered the absolute punching bag in the Big 12. The first time they rolled into Amherst back in 2008 UB kept the game to within a score for most of the contest. That was when Turner Gill started to build UB into a winner.
Contrast that with last season, when Baylor effortlessly threw up 70 points on the Bulls and Buffalo managed just 13 points. Baylor went on to win the Big 12, at one point looking like possible national title contenders. They lost the Fiesta Bowl to UCF but look once again to be a team that could win the Big 12.
Bryce Petty is supposed to lead Baylor in their effort to repeat but the quarterback will have to overcome two broken transverse processes in his back which he sustained against SMU. The injury causes a decreased range of motion but also can't be made worse and won't heal any faster with any intervention, so Petty still suited up as a backup for Baylor's last game against Northwestern State.
If Petty can't go this week, Baylor's next option Seth Russell put up more than 400 yards and five touchdowns last week. The Baylor offense enough is deep and polished enough for any good quarterback to put up 70 points.
If there is one challenge for Baylor it's replacing Lache Seastrunk. Right now they have three backs who are carrying similar workloads. Johnny Jefferson, Silas Nacita, and Shock Linwood have 164, 124, and 122 yards respectively in their first two games.
For Buffalo's defense, which has looked silly for long stretches of the season, this game will present the biggest challenge of 2014. If Army can drop 47 and the Dukes can throw up 28 it's hard to imagine what Baylor could do, and this season they seem in a mood to keep their foot on the gas.
The team needs to apply pressure in the backfield. We're all scared of what one on one coverage in the secondary might turn into but the only prayer UB has in this game is to try to contain the run and apply pressure on the offense.
The Buffalo offense might be better than they were last season. This year Joe Licata looks to have three or four equivalent passing options and the Bulls backfield is both deeper and has a more diverse running style. Granted none of our backs is as good as Oliver and I don't see an Alex Neutz-type receiver on the field but as a unit each has more potential to play 60 minutes against Baylor without getting worn out.
But let's not fool ourselves. If UB were to upend Baylor it would easily be the biggest upset that either team has ever been a part of. It would make the 2008 throttling of then-#12 Ball State look like a scrimmage. This would have to be the finest hour for both players and coaches for Buffalo coupled with a flat effort by Baylor.
So where would I set my "happy bar" for this game?
That's a hard question, it's moved quite a bit since our hairball at West Point. Had our defense showed up against Army I would have been happy coming out of Baylor healthy regardless of anything else. But now this is a team that needs to show that the coaches can do something, anything, without a #5 NFL draft pick prowling the defensive front seven.
I'd honestly be happy if UB kept Baylor under 50 and manged to score more than 20 points. That score, a healthy game atmosphere, and no injuries make me a happy UB fan.