By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor was dominant in its Big 12 opener, setting a conference record for total offense with 864 yards. The number was the most by an FBS team in the last decade. The Bears scored the most points against West Virginia since 1904. Baylor became the first team since 1930 to score 70 or more points in three straight games. This was all against a team that beat No. 11 Oklahoma State convincingly the week before.
Despite the convincing win, Baylor moved up only two spots in the AP rankings, from No. 17 to No. 15.
Out of the gate, Baylor’s offense has been record-setting. Taking into account the weak schedule, the Bears lead college football in points per game by 10 points, total offense by almost 160 yards per game and passing yards by 10 yards a game. The Bears are second in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns with 347.3 yards per game and 22 rushing touchdowns.
“I always feel that Baylor is a ‘but’ team,” junior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I say that because people say, ‘they’re good but,’ ‘they score points but,’ ‘they beat this team but.’ That’s good because it puts a chip on our shoulder. It would be nice to get out of that. It would be nice to prove that, but at the end of the day it’s not enough. But that’s where we want to be. Again, it puts a chip on our shoulder and it gets us out to practice every week. We know that we’re the best. It doesn’t matter what somebody on ESPN says, or whatever, we know that we are the best. We come out to work. We have to come in and keep working, stay hungry.”
Opposing teams and coaches have been impressed by Baylor’s dominance. University of Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn felt good about a strong 40-20 showing against No.2 Ohio State, but wasn’t prepared for Baylor’s dominance.
“This week we weren’t even close to the way I felt we would hold up against Baylor,” Quinn said after a 70-13 loss. “They are deserving to be in the top five right now in my opinion.”
University of Louisiana at Monroe coach Todd Berry played against Baylor last season, coaching the Warhawks to a close 47-42 shootout. This year was completely different as Baylor destroyed ULM 70-7.
“When you take a lot of chances, sometimes you get burned…well, we got scalded,” Berry said. “When did I feel like things were going downhill? I think when it hit 42-0 in the first quarter. I think that was the moment.”
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgerson said Baylor won the game at the line of scrimmage by physically setting the tone both offensively and defensively.
“I would recommend giving Baylor some credit,” Holgerson said. “I’ve never seen a team establish the line of scrimmage like they did. We’ve been pretty proud of how we have been playing defense for the last five games, but you can’t play defense when the line of scrimmage is five yards backwards every single time they play. They ran the ball the same way most of the time. They never changed anything. They just established the line of scrimmage. The other side of the ball is the same way. We ran the same thing and they were five yards back in our backfield. That’s the one thing that shows up to the eye, but that was happening all over the place.”
Slowly and surely, the national media is also beginning to take notice of Baylor’s dominance. USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin releases computer ratings, which are based on a variety of factors including strength of schedule and statistical metrics. Sagarin’s ratings have Baylor fourth in the country behind Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.
SB Nation’s Dan Connelly recently wrote an article about how Baylor could make it into the national title game. National championships have never been associated as a possibility with Baylor until now. The Sporting News’ Bill Bender projected that Baylor would play in the Fiesta Bowl this January.
Despite all of the positives, Baylor is not quite in the spotlight yet.
“I think we’re starting to get some national attention,” Petty restated on Monday. “But I don’t think it’s where it needs to be or where it deserves to be.”
Baylor head coach Art Briles knows that there are tests ahead in the Big 12 conference. He thinks Baylor has to do more to establish themselves.
“It’s too early,” Briles said. “We’ve played four games since August 31, and it’s October 5. You’re not going to date somebody three times and ask them to marry you. You’re going to hang around a while and get to know them and see if it’s a match.”
The team knows that if it take care of business, then more focus and the spotlight of attention will come to Waco.
“I think national attention will come as we get deeper into conference,” Petty said.
If the current trend continues, there’s no doubt of that.