Who are these guys?
They certainly aren’t the Baylor Bears we’ve grown accustomed to over all these years. You know, the cuddly Bears who’ve compiled a record of 545-535-41 during their mediocre history.
In fact, Baylor’s record defines mediocrity: neither good nor bad; average; ordinary; commonplace.
Here’s a school that hasn’t won a major bowl game since defeating Tennessee, 13-7, in the 1957 Sugar Bowl. They lost their last two Cotton Bowls, helping deprive it of major status. They were edged by Penn State, 41-20, in 1975, and by Alabama, 30-2, in 1981.
They’ve had but three coaches last longer than six seasons, and one of those had a losing record. John Bridgers went 49-53-1 from 1959-68. Morley Jennings was 83-60-6 from 1926-40.
The dean of Baylor coaches remains Grant Teaff, who endured 21 seasons as the Head Bear. Teaff went 128-105-6 from 1972-92, went 4-4 in bowls and won Southwest Conference titles in 1974 and 1980.
Teaff always had teams described by former Georgia coach Vince Dooley as "well-coached." That’s usually a euphemism for "untalented." Teaff brought four teams to Athens, lost four times and never scored more than 14 points in a game.
Baylor’s own website features a section about their stadium. Under "Our History," you find five sentences about Baylor’s initial meetings with some of its traditional rivals. The next section, entitled "Our Growth," begins, "Fast forward the Baylor football story to 1950." Apparently, nothing worthy of note occurred on the gridiron between 1916 and 1950.
But no matter. The current Baylor team is making its own history. The Bears are 8-0 for the first time. Ever. They’re ranked fourth in the nation, residing in the penthouse with habitués Alabama, FSU and Ohio State.
Does Baylor deserve consideration as a national championship contender? ESPN.com asked that very question in a recent poll. Over 53,000 people responded, and 54 percent said "yes."
And why not? Baylor fields an exciting team that "Hurry-up" Yost would enjoy. The Bears average 61 points per game. Not only does that lead the nation, but it tops the all-time NCAA record of 56. That record was set in 1944 by an Army team featuring Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis.
Baylor also leads the nation with 686 yards per game. That’s an almost unfathomable number. Oregon, which claims to have the fastest offense in captivity, is a distant second, averaging 90 yards per game less than Baylor. The NCAA record? 625, set by Houston in 1989.
The Bears also average 8.64 yards per play, on pace to top the NCAA record of 8.6 set by Hawaii in 2006.
Baylor averages 390.6 yards passing per game (third in the nation) and 295.4 yards rushing (ninth). Only two schools ever averaged over 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in the same season: Houston in 1968, and Arizona State in 1973.
What an offense!
And to think it was developed by coach Art Briles while he was a high school coach in Texas from 1984 through 1999.
Briles came up with the idea of making wide receivers live up to their name. He spreads three of them, give or take, out as wide as the numbers on the field. They’re so far from the ball that the defense is forced to reveal its alignment well before the snap. Defenses doubling up outside leave plenty of room to run inside.
The Bears also play at an incredibly fast pace. "I can’t keep up with them!" university President Judge Ken Starr told the New York Times last week. "You have to buckle your seatbelt!"
"The world is just fast-paced,"Briles told the Times. "Everything’s instant. So that’s what people like. They like to see stuff happen now. This game. This drive. This snap. Whatever happened yesterday is old news."
Briles took over a Baylor program in 2008 that hadn’t had a winning season since 1995. He’s now produced four in a row. Not to mention a Heisman Trophy winner (Robert Griffin III in 2011), a defeat of a No. 1-ranked team (52-24 over Kansas State last year) and a 48-24 defeat of Oklahoma in 2011 that marked Baylor’s first win ever against the Sooners, following 20 straight defeats.
After last Thursday’s national television audience witnessed Baylor’s 41-12 trouncing of eighth-ranked Oklahoma, Briles told cstv.com, "We’ve played eight football games, and when this season started we were not ranked. Everything we’ve done, we’ve earned up to this point."
And people are starting to realize just who these guys are.