Art Briles chuckled when the question of Baylor playing for college football’s national championship came up.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” the Bears coach said. “Our season is still young. We’ve played eight games and still have four left, more than most folks. We’ve still got to face the bulk of the contenders in our league.”
Talk of Baylor playing in the BCS title game on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl is premature. Yet with the rampaging, and unbeaten, Bears ranked fifth in mid-November, clearly they are one of the legitimate players in this race.
To be sure, Baylor needs help, even if it wins out against arguably the most difficult remaining schedule of the contenders. The Bears face teams with a 26-12 combined record.
Two-time defending national champ Alabama is No. 1 in the BCS rankings, followed by Florida State, Ohio State and Stanford.
“If Alabama and Florida State win out, nobody will catch them,” BCS analyst Jerry Palm said. “They control their destiny. If one of them loses, I think it comes down to Ohio State or Baylor, who are both ahead of Stanford in the human polls.”
So even if Baylor runs the table, it probably needs losses by at least two of the teams in front of it. Here are the contenders’ remaining schedules:
- No. 1 Alabama: Saturday, at Mississippi State (4-5); Nov. 23, Chattanooga (8-2); Nov. 30, at Auburn (9-1); Dec. 7, SEC championship, probably against Missouri (9-1) or South Carolina (7-2)
- No. 2 Florida State: Saturday, Syracuse (5-4); Nov. 23, Idaho (1-9); Nov. 30, at Florida (4-5); Dec. 7, ACC championship (four teams still in contention for the other spot)
- No. 3 Ohio State: Saturday, at Illinois (3-6); Nov. 23, Indiana (4-5); Nov. 30, at Michigan (6-3); Dec. 7, Big Ten championship, Michigan State (8-1) or Nebraska (7-2)
- No. 4 Stanford: Saturday, at Southern Cal (7-3); Nov. 23, California (1-9); Nov. 30, Notre Dame (7-3); Dec. 7, Pac-12 championship (three teams still in contention)
- No. 5 Baylor: Saturday, Texas Tech (7-3); Nov. 23, at Oklahoma State (8-1); Nov. 30, at TCU (4-6); Dec. 7, Texas (7-2)
Few would bet against Alabama, despite the Tide possibly finishing with back-to-back games against top-10 teams, but Florida State is in the driver’s seat against a relatively easy schedule that might not include a single ranked opponent.
Baylor is concerned only with Texas Tech and their rivalry game Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
But what once appeared to be a close matchup now is expected to be a blowout. The Bears are a 27-point favorite because the Red Raiders’ defense has collapsed, allowing 139 points and 1,385 yards during a three-game losing streak.
That’s trouble against Baylor, the NCAA leader in scoring and total offense.
Defense, though, is the biggest thing that separates Baylor from Tech. The Bears are No. 6 nationally in scoring defense and No. 9 in total defense. The experienced group includes linebackers Bryce Hager of Westlake and Eddie Lackey.
“They have defensive leaders all over the field,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Lots of seniors, a very confident group. And they play with a chip on their shoulder. Lackey is a ball hawk; he flies to the football.
“You can tell by (coordinator) Phil Bennett’s defensive calls that he has a lot more confidence in this group than last year. They’re doing a lot more exotic stuff than in the past. The defense is what’s really different at Baylor.”
The Bears suffered several injuries in their 41-12 crushing of Oklahoma, but only one appears to be a long-term concern.
Tevin Reese (33 catches, 824 yards, eight TDs), whom Briles calls “the fastest receiver in America,” is out for the regular season with a dislocated right wrist. Running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin), Stony Point’s Glasco Martin (knee) and star left guard Cyril Richardson (leg) are questionable for Saturday’s game.
As much of a game-breaker as Reese is, Baylor has the depth to withstand losses at the skill positions as long as Bryce Petty stays healthy. Petty, the top-ranked NCAA quarterback, is indispensable.
Wildcat wild man: Chalk up Kansas State junior defensive end Ryan Mueller as another typical Bill Snyder recruiting success. Mueller walked on in Manhattan after being pursued by only a few small I-AA programs. Now, he leads the Big 12 in sacks with 10.5 and tackles for loss with 15. Not bad for a one-star recruit.
Sooners stand pat: Despite his struggles, Blake Bell will remain OU’s starting quarterback for at least another week. Fans and some media want sophomore Kendal Thompson, who has recovered from a fractured foot. Others want redshirt freshman Trevor Knight to get another chance.
BIG 12 POWER POLL
1. (1) Baylor; 8-0 (5-0); vs. Texas Tech (7-3), Sat.; Shock and awe: Bears unleash Linwood from deep arsenal, and third-string tailback gashes Sooners for 182 yards.
2. (2) Texas; 7-2 (6-0); vs. Oklahoma State (8-1), Sat.; What can Brown do for you? Mack’s coaching, Malcolm’s running and Malcom’s tackling must deliver in bigger roles.
3. (3) Oklahoma State; 8-1 (5-1); at Texas (7-2), Sat.; Top Chelf? If Cowboys want to run herd, off-target quarterback must come out straight shootin’ and pistols firing.
4. (6) Kansas State; 5-4 (3-3); vs. TCU (4-6), Sat.; Two-headed QB monster comes to life for rampaging Wildcats, who’ve gobbled up past three opponents 125-45.
5. (4) Oklahoma; 7-2 (4-2); vs. Iowa State (1-8), Sat.; There once was Belldozer, who bulled over foes. Now he’s asked to go vertical, and a rocket launcher he is not.
6. (5) Texas Tech; 7-3 (4-3); vs. Baylor (8-0), Sat.; A trip to Jerry World to play Big 12 version of Saints. Yeah, 40 first downs, 625 yards allowed sound about right.
7. (7) West Virginia; 4-6 (2-5); at Kansas (2-7), Sat.; After nearly humming ‘Country Roads’ last week, Mountaineers don’t want to sing ‘Sweet Surrender’ to bowl hopes.
8. (8) TCU; 4-6 (2-5); at Kansas State (5-4), Sat.; Speaking of bowl ambitions, Frogs will snap eight-year postseason string unless they can find late-season magic.
9. (9) Kansas; 2-7 (0-6); vs. West Virginia (4-6), Sat.; Will this be where Jayhawks stomp out 27-game Big 12 losing streak? Nah, just one more week till Iowa State.
10. (10) Iowa State; 1-8 (0-6); at Oklahoma (7-2), Sat.; After getting ripped by 64, 31 and 34 points in previous three, Cyclones lost by only four. Baby steps, folks.