The Baylor Bears have been one of the hottest teams in college football over the last few years. A Heisman award winner, a great coach, a new, amazing stadium, media coverage from all angles (Grantland: Bryce & Baylor), waves of talent, and scoring points like I used to rack up dates in college (ok, that analogy is not true.)
There are only two issues with this football team as they roll into Amherst. The first is the injuries. Injuries to key players Bryce Petty, Devin Chafin, Corey Coleman, Clay Fuller, Antwan Goodley, and Levi Norwood will slow down the Bears to at least some degree. When you lose your #1 quarterback and all your starting receivers, that is typically a problem.
Fortunately for their health and their record the Bears have scheduled some cupcakes (including Buffalo) to start the season, which only means that young players have gotten a chance to step up in Seth Russell, KD Cannon, Davion Hall and Johnny Jefferson, four players with a combined zero starts between them. The experience that these players pick up now will certainly help as the season progresses and especially in the future. For most teams this would be an issue but for the Bears this is a blessing in disguise for the long term. It certainly helps to have serious depth thanks to great recruiting.
Baylor started the season and christened their new palace by defeating SMU 45-0 and entered the year ranked 10th in the AP and 9th in the Coaches Poll. Star QB Bryce Petty was injured on a hit to his back and was replaced by Seth Russell and Chris Johnson after struggling through the first half. After the game it came out that the Heisman contender had cracked two small bones in his back. All-American receiver Antwan Goodley was hurt on the night as well.
Baylor's overwhelming strategy has been to score more points than anyone else even if the score is in the 70's (See their game against Buffalo last year, as if you could ever forget.) This year, though Baylor has major talent on the defensive line, as well, as Art Briles has placed the Bears in the "rich just got richer category," and is probably doubly grateful for the gorgeous brand-new stadium in Waco, which will help with Charlie Strong who cranking up recruiting battles among the talent-heavy Texas high school teams. I also do not see Bob Stoops ignoring the Texan talent, either. Walking a recruit (especially any offensive player) onto that field, just pull out the paperwork for the signature and git 'er done.
Last week didn't really provide us with much to look at as Baylor took on a FCS foe. I originally saw Northwestern and raised an eyebrow. Then I saw the "State" and had to Google the school, which is apparently located in Louisiana. I was able to watch much of the second half and remind myself just how good Baylor is at keeping their foot on the gas. Especially in the early going when everyone is racking up big wins, that's exactly what they should do and it paid off as Baylor moved up three positions to #7 in the rankings.
What I do know from that game is that KD Cannon could probably beat my Suburban in a 1/4 mile race. Baylor racked up 720 yards, and, get this, is averaging 69 points per game in a 12 game home win streak. Thank goodness this game in on the road for the Bulls and Baylor does not play in its $266 million dollar shrine for four weeks. I would be shocked in Bryce plays.
The only issue with this team is finishing strong this season. Baylor won the Big 12 Conference in 2013, the first championship since 1994 when the team was in the Southwest Conference. After winning the conference last year at 8-1, the team had a let down in the Fiesta Bowl against the Blake Bortles-led UCF. This team can definitely make it into the new playoffs this year.
Of course, much of this success is thanks to Baylor's partnership with a great coach in Art Briles. Art has brought an exciting brand of football to the fans of Baylor but could use a strong season again to prove that layering on points is the key to winning it all. And by all means, Baylor can be a Nebraska, Miami, Notre Dame and dominate for a nice stretch of time. To do that, Briles needs to take this team to the next level and be the best. This is of course an issue that Buffalo fans could only dream about, but Baylor has arrived. Before Brile, the last time this team was ranked was 1986, when the current players' parents where probably just getting out of high school.
Speaking of layering on the points, this is exactly what Baylor has to do this weekend against the Bulls. Big scores get noticed; smaller margins of victory over Northwestern State and Buffalo don't. Getting noticed means moving up the AP poll and this year it means everything to be near the top of the standings. At 7, Baylor after beating the Bulls big - and seeing a top seed lose - could be in the top five without needing to rely on help. That is where you want to be this year. Power conference membership aside, a few years ago Baylor was in the same category as the Bulls and it is great to see them rise up. Baylor has two things the Bulls don't, fertile recruiting ground and money.
That being said, it is time for Baylor to achieve more.