Baylor was picked by the Big 12 coaches in the preseason poll to finish fifth in the conference this season. I wonder what all but the two voters who registered first-place votes for the Bears are thinking now? All Baylor has done in its first three games is score 69, 70 and 70 points, respectively, while holding its opponents to a total of 23 points, or an average of just under 8.0 points per game.
It appears, as of now, that all roads to the 2013 conference crown in football will go through Baylor. Translation: The conference teams that want to stake a legitimate claim on the league title must be able to beat the high-scoring Bears. Moreover, the four teams that have to take on the Bears on the road in Waco this season – West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas Tech – are likely to find it especially tough to knock off this year’s Baylor team, which is showing strong signs of being even more explosive on offense than when Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence were at the quarterback controls the previous two seasons.
Baylor finished the 2012 season second in the county in total offense (averaging 572 points per game) and fourth in scoring defense (44 points per game). Through the Bears’ first three games this season, they lead the country in both categories. Granted, the quality of Baylor’s nonconference schedule – with games against woeful Wofford, followed by Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe, and all at home – hardly establishes a valid trend, nor a sustainable one, by which to fairly assess how good this Baylor team really is.
One thing is abundantly clear, however. Any team that takes the Bears lightly this season most likely is in for a rude awakening. We will get our first reality check along those lines this weekend, when Baylor hosts West Virginia, which was throttled 34-0 by Maryland over the past weekend and already has a conference loss to Oklahoma, to kick off the Bears’ Big 12 schedule. How well Baylor does this coming weekend in Morgantown will provide another interesting measure of the Bears’ relative strength this season.
After Saturday, Baylor and Oklahoma will have played two common opponents this season: Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. The Sooners shut out ULM 34-0 to open the season, then squeaked by a not-very-good West Virginia team by just nine points, 16-7, in a low-scoring, mistake-filled affair at home in Norman. This past weekend, Baylor hammered that same ULM team, 70-7. That is the same team that upset Arkansas last season and lost to Baylor by less than a touchdown in a 47-42 shootout.
Until conference play begins in earnest, which it will starting a week from this Thursday, it is still extremely difficult to project how the season will play out once the real season gets under way. So far, only three conference games have been played. All three of them offered some element of surprise.
The fact that Oklahoma narrowly survived a home game with West Virginia was something that was unexpected. The TCU defense, touted in the preseason to be one of the best in the conference, didn’t fare all that well in the Horned Frogs’ loss at Texas Tech. And Texas came on like a team possessed on Saturday, handing defending conference co-champion Kansas State its second loss of the season, as many as the Wildcats suffered in the entire regular season a year ago.
That said, here is my assessment of the Big 12 football power rankings entering Week 5 of the 2013 season:
- Baylor Bears – They’ve only played three games so far, but anytime you score 69 or more points in three straight games, you’ve got to be pretty good.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys - Perhaps the most balance offense in the league, and these guys can play some defense as well, contrary to popular opinion.
- Oklahoma Sooners – QB Blake Bell may be the difference maker on offense, and this OU defense is more physical, swarming more and getting stops.
- Texas Tech Red Raiders – Still way too early, but this Tech team has already beaten TCU and is playing much tougher defense.
- Texas Longhorns – Count them out if you must, but I wouldn’t be so quick at the drow. Horns are still loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.
- TCU Horned Frogs – Still having difficulty at QB and finding an offensive identity. Don’t be fooled by so-so defensive stats. Better than a 1-2 team.
- Kansas State Wildcats – Still wants to run the ball first, despite having true passing weapons now. Noticeable dropoff defensively from last season.
- West Virginia Mountaineers – Unlike last year, the defense is playing much better, but offensively, the Mountaineers have totally lost their way.
- Kansas Jayhawks – Charlie Weis has the Jayhawks believing again, but it is questionable if the offense can score enough points to win any more games this season.
- Iowa State Cyclones – Only two games into the season, this Cyclones’ team has shown nothing to cheer about, and the 0-2 record reflects that. Only Big 12 school yet to win a game this season.