Approaching one month into the 2013 college football season, three teams in the Big 12 have started to separate themselves from the pack: Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
There's a strong argument to be made that Baylor is playing the best football of anyone in the conference. While Wofford, Buffalo and, to a lesser extent, Louisiana-Monroe, may not be the most fear-inducing teams out there, neither are Texas State, Lamar or Tulsa, opponents of the other undefeated Big 12 teams this season.
Who knows if the Bears will continue to score 70 points a game through the rest of the season—my sick love of touchdown porn demands they do—but this looks to be Baylor's best chance yet to win a Big 12 title in the Art Briles era.
Even if Baylor doesn't take home a conference title in 2013, there are not enough words in an article to do justice to what Briles has done in Waco since taking over the program six years ago.
By comparison, let's take a look at the turnarounds at Northwestern under Pat Fitzgerald, at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw and at Vanderbilt under James Franklin.
Three coaches—Briles, Harbaugh and Franklin—took over losing programs when they were hired by their respective schools. Fitzgerald was promoted following the tragic death of Randy Walker before the 2006 season, and Shaw succeeded Harbaugh's successful stint at Stanford.
Fitzgerald has orchestrated the biggest turnaround in winning percentage of the group. Since succeeding Walker in 2006—the Wildcats were coming off a winning season in Walker's final year—Fitzgerald has won roughly 58 percent of his games, compared to the 43 percent winning clip that Northwestern had before his arrival.
Harbaugh and Shaw have combined to win 69 percent of their games for the Cardinal since 2007, the best winning percentage among the group. Briles (55 percent), Fitzgerald (58 percent) and Franklin (57 percent) all have similar win percentages at their present jobs, which includes play up through the first few weeks of the 2013 season.
|Coach (School)||Seasons||Record at school (win %)||Win % at school before arrival|
|Art Briles (Baylor)||6||70-58 (.55%)||50%|
|Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw (Stanford)||4/3||55-25 (69%)||57%|
|Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)||8||54-39 (58%)||43%|
|James Franklin (Vanderbilt)||3||17-13 (57%)||50%|
To put those wins into more context, we next examine each program's recruiting classes under their current coach using 247Sports rankings. While a class full of 5-star talent doesn't guarantee a national championship and a class filled with 2-star players doesn't mean a losing season, recruiting rankings can be a decent indicator of how a program will do in the future, according to a February piece from CBSSports.
Stanford has had the most recruiting success of the four programs, with an average class ranking of 29th since Harbaugh took over before the 2007 season. Northwestern has the lowest class average of the group, though it should be noted classes from 2007 and 2008 did not rank on the 247Sports lists.
By the aforementioned numbers in both recruiting and wins, Fitzgerald would win the prize of doing more with less. Stanford, meanwhile, finished in the final Associated Press poll in the Top 10 each of the last three seasons, by far the highest of any of the four schools.
|School||Average class ranking||Highest final season ranking (AP)|
|Stanford||29||No. 4 (2010)|
|Baylor||39||No. 13 (2011)|
|Vanderbilt||46||No. 17 (2012)|
|Northwestern||57||No. 23 (2012)|
But 5-star recruits can sometimes turn into busts just as 2-star kids can develop into first-round draft prospects. That's where coaches really earn their money.
Briles has done as good a job as any coach in college football at developing NFL talent. Under Briles, five players have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft, including Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who went No. 2 overall in 2012.
In all, Baylor has had 13 players drafted under Briles, second only to Stanford's 14 players under Harbaugh/Shaw, per NFL.com.
When it comes to recruiting and developing talent, few have done it better in recent years than Briles. Rank the former high school coach where you will among college football's great minds, but Briles has led one of the most incredible turnarounds in college football over the past 10 years.
With a new stadium coming and Briles firmly entrenched with Baylor, the Bears will have an opportunity to win their first Big 12 championship.
And perhaps many more.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow him on Twitter @BenKercheval.