Despite not meeting until West Virginia joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012, the Baylor Bears have proven to be a formidable foe and have provided some of the most exciting games in recent memory for Mountaineer fans.
With the old gold and blue averaging 43 points per game in their seven meetings with the Bears, this series has seen offensive fireworks and record-breaking performances from some of West Virginia’s finest.
Baylor traveled to Morgantown for the first time in school history for the Big 12 opener in the 2012 season. As West Virginia’s first conference opponent, the Bears would be seen as a measuring stick for the Mountaineers’ expectations going forward in the new league.
This first contest started relatively slowly with no scoring for nearly six minutes. Baylor got on the board first with a one-yard touchdown run by Jarred Salubi and the floodgates burst wide open from there. The Mountaineers responded with a scoring run by Andrew Buie and the two teams traded touchdowns for the remainder of the half. After a 14-14 tie to end the first quarter, Geno Smith tossed three second quarter touchdowns while Baylor quarterback Nick Florence hit two of his own over 65 yards. Florence hit Lanear Sampson from 67 yards out as the first half expired to tie the game at 35 headed into the break.
The third quarter swung firmly in the Mountaineers favor after Tavon Austin hauled in a pair of touchdowns. Baylor could only muster seven points in the third but came back swinging in the final frame. Florence scored on a one-yard run just seconds into the fourth quarter and responded with an 86-yard scoring drive after Smith hit Bailey deep for his fourth touchdown grab of the day.
The Bears fought valiantly, but Florence’s touchdown pass with 3:08 left to play was too little to late and West Virginia walked out with a 70-63 victory.
The very first Big XII game for West Virginia was one of the most exciting in Mountaineer history and saw several school records broken in the process. Geno Smith broke his own single-game passing yardage record with 656 and topped Marc Bulger’s title for most touchdowns in a game with eight. Meanwhile, Stedman Bailey shattered Chris Henry’s receiving yardage record with 303 to go along with his five touchdowns.
In 2013, Baylor was looking for revenge and they certainly got it. With Smith departed, Clint Trickett got the start for the Mountaineers and struggled mightily, completing just nine passes on 28 attempts before being replaced by Paul Millard. On the opposite side, Bryce Petty had taken over upon Nick Florence’s graduation and racked up an impressive 347 yards on the night while Shock Linwood and Lache Seastrunk combined to rush for 298 yards and three touchdowns as the Bears tallied a whopping 476 yards and eight scores on the ground. With West Virginia struggling to keep the pace up with the lightning-fast Bears, it was an impressive 73-42 win for Baylor with half of the Mountaineers’ points coming in the fourth quarter.
The return trip to Morgantown by Baylor moved the series lead back into the hands of West Virginia. The Bears entered that contest ranked fourth in the nation and looked to crash the first-ever College Football Playoff. The Mountaineers had other plans. Trickett redeemed his performance from the previous year, throwing for 322 yards and three touchdowns. The West Virginia defense stood up to the task, holding the Bears to just 318 yards of total offense and over 260 yards shy of their season average. Petty struggled to stay efficient and keep Baylor on schedule and West Virginia was able to pull the upset 41-27.
2015 was not so kind to West Virginia and the Mountaineers remained winless in its trips to Waco. With dual-threat Seth Russell taking over for Petty, Baylor rocketed to the top of the polls and came into this conference match-up ranked second in the nation. With the best scoring offense in the country, the Bears dared West Virginia to keep up, and despite a gritty effort from Skyler Howard, that strategy paid off. Russell threw for 380 yards and five touchdowns while adding 160 yards and another score on the ground. Future first-round pick Corey Coleman added 199 yards and three touchdowns on ten catches as Baylor rolled West Virginia 62-38.
Back home in 2016, West Virginia went into the final game of the season with a chance to move to ten wins. In its way stood the 6-5 Baylor Bears which had plummeted from atop the conference following the Art Briles scandal and his subsequent dismissal. Zach Smith had stepped in to replace the injured Russell at quarterback and the team had stumbled through the season. This one was a bit too close for comfort as Howard struggled in the passing game. The Bears scored to cut the West Virginia lead to three and forced a three-and-out on the next possession late in the game. However, Noble Nwachuku came free to sack Smith and force a fumble that was recovered by Darrien Howard. West Virginia escaped, 24-21.
The 2017 season was not kind to Baylor in the wake of Art Briles dismissal and the sanctions put on the program. Despite this, the Bears nearly upset a much more talented West Virginia team in Will Grier’s first season under center. With West Virginia leading 38-13 headed into the fourth, first-year coach Matt Rhule handed the keys to freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer who brought a spark to a discouraged team. Engineering 23 unanswered points, Brewer found Tristan Ebner in the end zone with 17 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two points. The Bears went for two but as Brewer dropped to pass, he was flushed out of the pocket and right into the waiting arms of Xavier Preston who sacked the freshman signal caller and stopped the comeback with a final score of 38-36.
Last year, West Virginia was able to win its third-straight over Baylor in a dominating performance. Brewer struggled out of the gates and was eventually injured, replaced by North Carolina State transfer Jalan McClendon. Will Grier impressed with 353 yards and three touchdowns while backup Jack Allison came off the bench to go 4/4 for 43 yards and another score. David Sills V and Gary Jennings each broke 100 yards with two touchdowns apiece. In an all around dominant performance by West Virginia, the Mountaineers took home another win 58-14.
The series between West Virginia and Baylor has been highly unpredictable and extremely exciting over the last seven years. With close games, upsets and tons of offense, this is one of the most exciting series the Mountaineers have ever played.
While things may look bleak on Thursday, it's more than likely it will be a wild one.