It’s been a debate for several years now, whether No. 2 Baylor’s non-conference schedule matters. Its slate of weak FBS programs and paying an FCS school to come play in Waco was arguably what left the Bears out of last year’s playoffs.
How could the committee leave off a team with the nation’s top offense? People pay to see offense — or so we like to say — but the committee thought otherwise, and it came down to who had the best schedule. Though Ohio State would go on to prove its worthiness by winning the championship in outstanding, it didn’t satisfy Baylor fans.
Of course, the debate has started to roar whether Baylor should start scheduling top programs in the future. The only power conference team it plays in the next few years is Duke, but there have been rumors of putting Arkansas on a future slate in as soon as five years.
We won’t know until the final four teams are announced mid-December, but it’s becoming apparent why Art Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw have kept this approach to playing cupcake teams (which Baylor used to be not long ago) before conference play starts.
After dismantling the Kansas Jayhawks 66-7 on Saturday, Briles talked to the media in the only way he can with his subtle phrasing, giving us a clue to what he thinks of this easy run that has made the Bears the highest scoring offense through five games in history.
“We probably have one of the freshest teams in America at this stage of the season,” Briles said to ESPN. “That’s definitely a positive for our program. [The first team is] going to like playing full games in a few weeks at a fresh level.”
The Bears’ schedule against teams like Lamar and Rice has allowed them to bench their top players in every game this season. Through five games and not playing a complete game yet, Seth Russell leads the nation with 22 passing touchdowns and has added four on the ground. Corey Coleman has been on the receiving end of 13 of those scores, leading the nation as well.
In lieu, sitting top-flight players like Russell and Coleman after halftime allows freshmen like five-star quarterback Jarrett Stidham to get early reps in their career at Baylor. That’s what Russell did while sitting behind Bryce Petty, and Petty behind Nick Florence and so forth.
Playing against vastly lesser opponents does hurt Baylor’s standing in the sense that fans question if it can keep up the tiring pace of 64 points per game. But as the polls suggest, Baylor is finally being taken seriously as contenders — now ranked No. 2 in the nation in both the AP and Coaches Poll (and tied for first in our own Top 25).
Baylor has scored 60 or more points in four consecutive games, and seeking to be the second team to reach that mark in five straight games (2008 Oklahoma is the only other team).
That really should say something about the potency of this offense. Teams have played worse opponents before, and we’ll continue to see teams outmatch their early schedule. But only one team before this Baylor team has ever had this amount of success. That Oklahoma team before Baylor this year would go on to play in the national championship and won the Big 12 title game 62-21 over Missouri.
Let’s not pretend that just anyone can hang over 50 points in every game this season.
This is a program that has become synonymous with the best offenses in the nation and has only improved this year, finding a versatile quarterback and providing him with a set of running backs leading the nation in rushing and the top receiving corps in the nation. In the Cotton Bowl last year, Baylor put up 41 point against a stout Michigan State defense.
Just imagine what this Baylor squad can do as its first string players start playing full games. Hint: it likely won’t be fun for other teams.