|NR/NR/NR BAYLOR (6-6, 3-6) vs. RV/RV/NR Boise State (10-2, 6-2)
Dec. 27, 2016 | 9:15 p.m. CT
Phoenix, Ariz. | Chase Field (40,482)
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Baylor faces Boise State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 27. The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 9:15 p.m. CT and be played in Phoenix, Arizona's Chase Field.
Baylor is appearing in its 7th-straight bowl game for the first time in school history. BU is 11-11 in 22 previous bowl trips, including 3-3 in the last 6.
BU looks to win back-to-back bowl games for the 4th-time in program history and first since 2011-12.
Baylor is 1 of only 10 FBS programs to win at least 3 games in 5 bowl appearances since 2011.
Baylor had opened the year 6-0 and risen to as high as No. 8 in the AP Top 25, but finished the year 6-6 and tied for 6th in the Big 12 Conference with a 3-6 league record.
The Bears are looking to snap a 6-game losing streak - its first since 2007 when the Bears suffered 8-straight losses to end the year.
Baylor and Boise State will meet for the first time, but the Bears are 16-4 all-time against current Mountain West Conference members.
BU is 7-2 in the month of December since 2011.
The Bears are just 2-4 away from Waco in 2016 and 0-1 in neutral contests.
BU has won 7 of its last 10 neutral site contests and 19 of its last 28 played outside of Waco.
Baylor earned its 2nd-ever Cactus Bowl berth (1st was in 1991 Copper Bowl - a 24-0 loss to Indiana).
True freshman QB Zach Smith will being make his 4th-career start for injured senior QB Seth Russell. Smith has thrown for thrown for at least 200 yards and 2 TDs in each of his first three starts.
BU has had #AmericasTopOffense, which led the NCAA in total and scoring offense for past 3 years.
The Bears have the Big 12's best rushing attack (250.3), which ranks 13th nationally.
BU ranks 20th in team TFLs (7.4), while allowing only 4.83 TFLs, which is nation's 22nd-best mark.
Averaging 523.3 yards of offense in 2016, BU is ranked 3rd in Big 12 and 5th nationally.
Giving up just 434.4 ypg, the Bears are 4th in Big 12 and rank 83rd nationally in total defense.
Baylor is playing its 114th season of football and 1st under acting head coach Jim Grobe.
Last season, Baylor won at least 10 games for a 3rd-straight season, earned a program-high ranking of No. 2 and was 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl champions.
Baylor returns 41 lettermen and 11 starters (4 o; 5 d; 2 st) from the 2015 squad.
2016 marks a new era as acting head coach Jim Grobe takes the reins of the Baylor football program. Grobe's four decades on the sidelines include 20 seasons and 116 career wins as a head coach at Ohio, Wake Forest and Baylor.
Grobe was the 1st BU coach to start his career 6-0, previous best was 4-0 by Sam Boyd (1956) & Bob Woodruff (1947).
Including walk-ons, Baylor has played a total of 33 freshmen in 2016, 19 redshirt freshmen & 14 true freshmen.
Baylor opened the season 6-0 for the fourth-straight season, the only FBS team to do so.
Baylor has won 56 games over the past 5-plus years (best in Big 12), as well as 2 Big 12 titles and 3 bowl games.
In last 55 games BU has just 13 losses, 7 to top 15-ranked teams (and 8 away from home).
Baylor is going to a bowl for a 7th-straight year for the 1st time in school history.
Baylor has won 19-consecutive regular-season non-conference games, dating back to 2010.
BU has been especially good against the pass, ranking 2nd in the Big 12 in team pass efficiency defense (125.25), while giving up just 223.9 yards per game through the air, which ranks 2nd in the league as well.
On the season, the Bears have 19 takeaways, which ranks 6th in the Big 12, but only 3 over their last 5 games.
Baylor is averaging 4.75 3-and-outs per game in 2016, which is 11th-most in the FBS.
Phil Bennett's defense has forced at least one turnover in 34 of its last 41 games and 65 of 77 games (90 INTs, 64 FR).
Baylor's D has forced multiple turnovers in 47 of 77 games (with 39-8 record).
NFL DRAFT SUCCESS:
Baylor had 6 players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, 7th-most among NCAA schools and most in Big 12 or Texas.
Baylor's 22 NFL Draft picks over the last 6 years tops all Texas schools.
BU's 5 first-round NFL Draft picks over last 6 years is the Big 12's most.
For 12 games, the Bears are averaging 250.3 yards on the ground, which is tops in the Big 12 and 13th in the nation.
BU's ground attack has been spread between 3 RBs (Shock Linwood, Terence Williams, JaMycal Hasty) and QB Seth Russell. Baylor is 1 of only 2 FBS teams with 4 players averaging 50.0 or more rushing yards per game.
Baylor led all Power Five schools in rushing in 2015: 326.7 yards per game.
Baylor's backfield has produced six 1,000-yard rushers in the last five seasons.
Baylor ranks 4th in Big 12 and 58th in FBS giving up only 2.00 sacks per game.
BU also ranks 22nd nationally and 1st in the Big 12 by allowing only 4.83 TFLs per contest.
Despite 4 first-time starters, the wall is protecting BU's QBs and helping BU lead the Big 12 in rushing.
Baylor's 2015 o-line led the Big 12 and ranked 15th nationally by giving up just 15 sacks in 13 games (1.15 per game).
Baylor had accounted for 4 straight Big 12 Offensive Linemen of the Year (Spencer Drango 2015 & 2014[co], Cyril Richardson 2013 & 2012).
BU has had at least one All-American o-lineman in seven of the last nine years.
Baylor has had 14 different players catch a pass in 2016, but is led by KD Cannon (catch in all 37 career games), who has 73 catches for 989 yards and 11 TDs.
For the first time in program history, BU had a pair of receivers catch 10 or more passes in a single game as KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora each had 12 against Texas Tech.
Since 2009 BU's receiving corps has totaled: 6 NFL Draftees, 1 Biletnikoff Award winner, 5 All-Americans, 17 All-Big 12 honors and 6 1,000-yard seasons.
SPECIAL TEAMS IMPROVEMENT:
Acting head coach Jim Grobe has stressed special teams throughout his tenure and the work has paid off.
The Bears are 3rd in the Big 12, allowing only 19.33 yards per kickoff return, after ranking 7th a year ago (23.05).
Baylor is 2nd in the Big 12 & is 3rd in FBS, giving up 1.83 yards on punt returns, after being 3rd & 12th last year (2.00).
Meanwhile, BU ranks 5th in Big 12 and 28th nationally with 9.50 yds per punt return, after 9th and 113th in 2015 (4.27).
Baylor fell out of the AP Top 25 on Nov. 13 after being ranked in 60 straight AP Polls, which was the nation's 4th-longest.
Baylor has won 7 games over AP/Coaches/BCS/CFP top 10 teams since 2011.
Baylor is 8-1 vs. AP Top 25 opponents at home over last 5 seasons.
BU is 12-11 overall vs. AP Top 25 teams since 2011.
In home games, Baylor is 37-7 over the last 6-plus seasons.
Baylor is 14-4 in the $266 million McLane Stadium, with an average scoring margin of +20.6 points.
Baylor is averaging 46.6 points per game and 575.1 yards per game in 2+ years at the riverfront stadium.
ROAD SUCCESS: BU has won 19 of last 28 games played outside of Waco.
NEUTRAL SUCCESS: BU has won 7 of last 10 neutral-site games.
Baylor boasts the most wins (56) and conference titles (2, tied) in the Big 12 Conference over the last five-plus years.
BU's 3-year overall record of 38-13 is 2nd-best among Big 12 schools, while its league mark also ranks second at 25-11.
MORE ON #AMERICASTOPOFFENSE
Baylor led all FBS teams in TD drives of 2 min. or less in each of the last 2 seasons - 49 a year ago & 41 in 2014. The Bears have 32 such drives in the first 12 games of 2016.
Baylor has scored 20+ points in the first half in 28 of 38 games since start of the 2014 season.
Baylor has topped 400 yards of offense 72 times in the 77 games since 2011 -- that is 2nd in the nation (Oregon, 72).
Baylor has scored 30+ points in 59 of its last 70 contests.
Baylor has had a 1,000-yard rusher in 6 straight seasons (Jay Finley-2010; Terrance Ganaway-2011; Lache Seastrunk-2012, 2013; Shock Linwood-2014, 2015; Johnny Jefferson-2015).
Baylor is 49-5 over the last 6 seasons when leading at halftime and has led at the half in 22 of its last 29 games.
BAYLOR'S BOWL GAME HISTORY
Baylor is playing in its seventh-straight bowl appearance - the longest streak in school history.
Baylor is 11-11 all-time in 22 previous bowl games and 0-0 under head coach Jim Grobe.
Baylor earned its second-ever Cactus Bowl berth (first appearance was in the 1991 Copper Bowl).
Baylor is 1-0 vs. current MWC members in bowl games with a win against Utah State, 24-9, in the 1961 Gotham Bowl.
Baylor is 0-3 all-time in the state of Arizona and 0-2 in bowl games in the Grand Canyon State.
Baylor's other two bowl games in the state included: 1991 Copper Bowl (24-0 loss to Indiana) and 2014 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (52-42 loss to UCF).
Jim Grobe will make his sixth bowl appearance as head coach; he was 3-2 in five bowl trips at Wake Forest.
Baylor has played in two other bowl games on Dec. 27 with a 2-0 record (W, 1985 Liberty; & W, 2012 Holiday).
OFFENSE, DEFENSE SHARE BLAME IN SIX-GAME SLIDE
After starting the season 6-0, Baylor's season has turned dramatically after six-straight losses. Both sides of the ball have not performed well as of late, leading to the first six-game skid since 2007. Below is a comparision of Baylor's offensive and defensive outputs during the six wins and four losses.
BEAR DEFENSE IMPROVES AGAINST THE PASS
BU's switch to a 3-4 defense to start the 2016 had many benefits, including helping the Bears better defend the pass. In an effort to stop the run during the Oklahoma and Kansas State games, the Bears went back to a four down lineman look. In the first 12 games of 2016, the Baylor D is far and away better against air attacks than it was a season ago.
CANNON BECOMING MODEL OF CONSISTENCY AS TOP TARGET
After the loss of 2015 Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman to the NFL, junior KD Cannon was expected to become the offense's No. 1 target, but an injury heading into fall camp delayed the speedster's progression. Twelve games into the season, Cannon has become the top WR target despite missing all of the Iowa State game with a groin injury.
2016 stats: 73 catches for 989 yards with 11 TDs and long reception of 62 yards
Ranks No. 1 in Big 12 and 17th in FBS with 6.6 catches per contest
Ranks 3rd in the conference and 17th nationally with 11 TD recepitons
Ranks 4th in Big 12 and 25th in FBS with 89.9 yards receiving per game
Has caught pass in all 37 career games played
Only player in BU history with 3 career 200-yard receiving games
Has caught TD in 8 of 12 games in 2016
GROBE MAKING SPECIAL TEAMS A PRIORITY
Acting head coach Jim Grobe has said from the beginning of his tenure that he would put his stamp on Baylor's special teams effort. Through 12 games of the season, Grobe's work has become evident as the Bears are outperforming their special teams output from a season ago.
LINWOOD TO MISS BOWL GAME, AFTER RECORD BREAKING YEAR
Baylor senior Shock Linwood will not participate in the bowl game to focus on the NFL Draft process. He is the nation's seventh-leading active rusher and became Baylor's all-time leader in rushing yards against Rice. In the win over Kansas, he rushed for his second TD of the season to stand alone as BU's career rushing TD leader with 36.
BACKFIELD WAS FOUR-HEADED MONSTER
Through the first nine games of 2016, Baylor had displayed a balanced rushing attack with JaMycal Hasty, Shock Linwood, Seth Russell and Terence Williams all producing over 48.0 yards per game on the ground. However, Russell is out for the season with an ankle injury and both Hasty and Williams missed the Kansas State game with injuries. Linwood or Russell will not play in the bowl game. However, BU is still one of only two FBS teams (New Mexico) that has four rushers averaging 50.0 yards per game or more.
BU PLACES FOUR ON COACHES ALL-BIG 12 TEAM
With three first-team and a second-team selection, Baylor football had four players honored on the All-Big 12 teams. Wide receiver KD Cannon, center Kyle Fuller, and defensive end K.J. Smith represented Baylor on the 30-member All-Big 12 first team, while defensive back Patrick Levels earned a spot on the 30-member second team. The Bears have now had four or more selections in nine straight years, including the fourth consecutive season with three or more first-team honorees.
RUSSELL SIDELINED FOR SEASON WITH INJURY AGAIN
For a second-straight year, senior quarterback Seth Russell has undergone season-ending surgery. Russell suffered a fractured left ankle in the third quarter of Baylor's loss at No. 9 Oklahoma on Nov. 12. The ankle injury comes just over a year after the Garland, Texas, product suffered a neck injury on Oct. 24, 2015, against Iowa State. In 2016, Russell had thrown for 2,126 yards and 20 touchdowns, while completing 54.7 percent of his passes (152-of-278) with eight interceptions. The senior had also racked up 506 rushing yards on 94 carries with eight scores. As a starter at Baylor, Russell owned a 14-3 record, throwing 54 TD passes and only 14 interceptions in those games. For his career, the veteran signal caller ranks second in school history in passing efficiency (159.36). He is also third in the BU record books with 60 career TD passes and seventh in passing yards (5,461).
BAYLOR HAVING HISTORIC RUN SINCE 2013
Baylor's three-plus year record of 38-13 overall and 25-11 in league-play is second-best among Big 12 schools. The Bears have also won two conference championships since 2013.
INJURY BUG BITING BEARS
In addition to losing Seth Russell for the remainder of the season, the Bears have had 10 players that have started in 2016 miss at least one game due to injury this season.
BEST IN TEXAS
Baylor has posted the best record among in-state programs over the last five-plus years, a 56-21 mark [see list below]. The Bears are also 21-8 head-to-head vs. Texas schools since 2011, and boast an overall 43-11 record in games played in the Lone Star State.
WIN-LOSS RECORDS (since 2011):
Baylor 56-21 (.727)
Houston 57-23 (.713)
TCU 51-25 (.671)
Texas A&M 51-26 (.662)
Texas 41-35 (.539)
In the first 12 games of 2016, the Bears have played 33 freshmen, including 19 redshirt freshmen and 14 true freshmen. Meanwhile, 25 different players have made their first career starts in 2016, including 11 freshmen and eight sophomores. BU's 25 first-time starters are fourth-most in the country.
SUCCESS AWAY FROM WACO
Baylor has won 19 of its last 28 games outside of Waco (dating into the 2012 season). In that span, the Bears are 13-6 in true road games and 6-3 in neutral-site games (2-2 in bowl games and 4-5 vs. ranked opponents). However, the Bears are just 2-4 on the road in 2016.
BAYLOR'S DISRPUTIVE DEFENSE
BU's defensive impact has improved under sixth-year D-coordinator Phil Bennett. Over the last three-plus seasons, in which Baylor has posted a 38-13 record and won two league titles, the Bears D has increased its sacks and tackles-for-loss totals. In 2016, the Bears have debuted a 3-4 look that has resulted in a strong defensive effort through 12 games.
BU RACKED UP PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS AT HISTORIC RATE
Six Baylor players have been voted Big 12 Player of the Week through the first 11 games of 2016, which is the second-most in program history in a single season, with the record being seven in 2011.
NATION'S MOST BALANCED OFFENSE
Baylor annually ranks among the nation's leaders in both passing and rushing. The Bears rush more often than pass, and have run the ball on 58.1 percent of plays over the last five seasons.
BU LEADING NATION IN 50-POINT GAMES SINCE 2013
After opening the year with 55 points against Northwestern State, the Bears continue to lead the nation in 50-point outings since 2013.
MOST 50-POINT GAMES SINCE 2013
Ohio State 15
Arizona State 13
Boise State 13
THE BAYLOR SYSTEM IS AMERICA'S TOP OFFENSE
Baylor's unique, record-breaking system has set the standard for offense in contemporary college football. For three-straight seasons, Baylor has led the nation in both Total Offense (616.2 ypg in 2015, 581.5 ypg 2014, 618.8 ypg 2013) and Scoring (48.1 ppg in 2015, 48.2 ppg 2014, 52.4 ppg 2013), just the second program in NCAA history to do so (first since BYU 1979-81).
THE BAYLOR OFFENSE: A unique, up-tempo spread attack with origins in Bill Yeoman's `Houston Veer' (perhaps most identifiable by wide splits of receivers and a power running game); it's a balanced offense, not to be confused with more common pass-heavy spread attacks. The Baylor offense is also in use under former Art Briles assistants at Syracuse (head coach Dino Babers), Texas (offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert) and Tulsa (head coach Philip Montgomery).
BAYLOR'S OFFENSIVE STREAKS
Baylor has topped 500 yards of offense 57 times in the 77 games since 2011, which leads the nation.
Baylor has gained 500+ yards in 36 of 51 games since 2013, including 24 games with 600+ yards in that span.
Baylor has scored 30+ points in 59 of its last 70 contests and 40+ points in 48 of its last 70 games.
Baylor has scored 50+ points 18 times since 2013, and 27 times since 2011, both most among all FBS teams.
Baylor has scored in 124 straight games -- previous school record was 89 games from Dec. 31, 1979 - Oct. 23, 1987.
Baylor reached 600 yards of offense in 5 games in 2014, in 8 of 13 games of 2015 and 4 of 11 in 2016. BU has 43 such games in its history (39 since 2008).
Baylor topped 700 yards of total offense in five games in 2015 (SMU, 723; LU, 785, Rice 793;OSU, 700; UNC, 756). BU has accomplished the feat 14 times in program history.
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
PHOENIX, Ariz. - When the Baylor Bears line up against the Boise State Broncos Tuesday night in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field, they could be looking at their offense of the future.
Much like Temple University, where new Baylor coach Matt Rhule came from, Boise State (10-2) utilizes the fullback and sometimes multiple tight ends in the same formation in more of a traditional pro-style offense.
"We're very multiple and use a lot of different personnel," said Boise State sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, who has thrown for 3,341 yards and 23 touchdowns in his second year as the starter. "You get maybe a little bit of a sense from some looks that you're going to get. But, it's an interesting game, because . . . they haven't really seen an offense that is very similar to ours this year."
Baylor senior linebacker Aiavion Edwards said most of the offenses the Bears have faced "don't run as many heavy packages" as Boise State does.
"It's something we've got to really focus in on," he said. "They're a good, physical offense; a lot of personnel groups. Being able to defense all that they do is going to be a challenge, but I think we've prepared well and we're excited and ready to face the challenge."
Since the bowl matchup was first announced on Dec. 4, Baylor interim head coach Jim Grobe has talked about how physical the Broncos are on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense where they average 182.1 yards rushing per game and 4.8 per carry.
Running back Jeremy McNichols, who announced Monday that he's forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, ranks fifth nationally with 1,663 yards rushing and was first going into the bowls with 27 total touchdowns.
"(He's a) fast guy, physical, he knows how to get up the field and get yards and make some huge plays," Edwards said of McNichols, the latest in a line of outstanding backs at Boise State that includes the Miami Dolphins' Jay Ajayi and Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "That's something we have to limit, for sure, but he's a good back and he will make some plays."
Grobe said the Bears have to "be physical with these guys, and one of our issues is we're not very big up front. And I think this is one of the best offensive lines we'll play against. . . . Very athletic up front, give you a lot of problems running the football."
Interestingly enough, both teams feature young quarterbacks that have been thrown into the fire much sooner than expected.
Last year, Rypien took over at halftime of the third game when Ryan Finley suffered a fractured ankle. He was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year and first-team all-conference, throwing for 3,353 yards and 20 touchdowns and leading the Broncos to a 9-4 finish.
"I think definitely when you're thrown into the fire in the middle of the season, it is a little bit tougher than the guys that are named the starter before the season starts," Rypien said. "It was a crazy experience. You have a lot of highs. That first start (at Virginia) was probably one of the best games I've ever played. You have a lot of lows, too. . . . It definitely helped me, getting all those reps in games, feeling the atmosphere of college football. You really don't get the same experience in practice."
Boise State's offense is loaded with weapons. In addition to Rypien and McNichols, the Broncos have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Thomas Sperbeck and Cedrick Wilson.
With all the different personnel groups, shifts and motion Boise uses, the Baylor defense has to make sure it gets lined up right and each player does his assignment.
"One of the problems with a lot of shifts and motions and trades and all those types of things is not only are you not in position to make plays, but you have a tendency to be standing around trying to figure out what to do when the ball's snapped. And that's not good on defense," Grobe said. "I think we're going to know what to do. But, knowing what to do and stopping this Boise State team is a different thing. . . . If we can get lined up properly, then we've got a shot."
Baylor's quarterback change came in the ninth game this season, when Seth Russell also suffered a fractured ankle. He missed the last six games a year ago with a fractured bone in his neck.
This time, true freshman Zach Smith had to step in for the fifth-year senior. In the last three-plus games, he's completed 78-of-137 passes (56.9 percent) for 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions.
When Smith signed last December and enrolled in January, the plan was for him to "redshirt and have a few years under my belt before I came in and started."
"But, things don't always work out the way you plan them," he said. "You just have to adapt and overcome. And I think I've done a pretty fair job of coming in and doing my best to get the job done. We fell short the last few games, but hopefully we can come out and get the win (in the bowl game)."
The key for Smith and the offense is not turning it over. Baylor is minus-13 in turnovers during its six-game losing streak and turned it over a combined eight times with no takeaways in the last two games against Texas Tech and West Virginia.
"Anytime you have a lot of turnovers, it's real hard to win a game," Smith said. "We really have to take care of the ball and be smart on our side of the ball. And hopefully, (our defense) can create some turnovers."
With Baylor's up-tempo spread offense - at least for now - Boise State linebacker Ben Weaver said the key is not allowing the Bears to get into a rhythm.
"Once they get the tempo, once they get that first and second first down, then you're playing on your heels," said Weaver, who hails from Klein, Texas. "That's exactly what you don't want to do. From watching film, you watch a lot of these teams and they're turning their heads, putting up their hands, not sure what's going on, yelling at people for calls. And that's exactly what we want to avoid."
While Boise has posted Fiesta Bowl wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Arizona, the Bears are 0-3 all-time in the state of Arizona. They lost 34-13 at Arizona State in 1990, got blanked 24-0 by Indiana in the 1991 Copper Bowl in Tucson and were upset by UCF, 52-42, in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl in Glendale.
Kickoff for Tuesday's Cactus Bowl is 9:15 p.m. CDT from Chase Field in Phoenix, with the game televised live by ESPN.