Should USC Take a Good, Long Look at Baylor Head Coach Art Briles?
Head coach Art Briles' Baylor Bears are scoring points at a pace that commands attention. Among those who should take notice is USC athletic director Pat Haden.
The Trojans offense is sputtering along at a scoring average that ranks 87th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Conversely, Baylor's point-per-game average would impress even new USC head basketball coach Andy Enfield.
While the astronomical point totals Baylor is registering can be partially attributed to the Bears' level of competition, Briles has overseen prolific offenses throughout his six seasons with the program.
While USC is struggling to replace standout quarterback Matt Barkley. Baylor is starting its third quarterback in as many seasons and has cruised along with no signs of slowing down.
Briles' approach is a deviation from the pro-set formation USC has long employed. He is a product of the Mike Leach coaching tree, thus runs his own version of the spread offense.
However, a shake-up in the Trojans' philosophy could be exactly what they need to return to the pinnacle of the Pac-12.
In the four seasons since USC last won the conference championship, Oregon became the measuring stick for success by introducing a high-tempo offense and mobile quarterbacks.
Other programs in the Pac-12 have followed suit and have seen results.
Crosstown rival UCLA is flourishing with dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley running a spread offense. Arizona State hung 62 points on the USC defense in Week 5. Former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian has reinvigorated his Washington team with a hurry-up style.
Even traditional offensive teams, Stanford and Utah, are using mobile quarterbacks this season in Kevin Hogan and Travis Wilson.
The direction of the conference is clear, and USC can move that way with a coach proven to be successful running that style.
Associate athletic director J.K. McKay said on the university's radio show last week the search would look at "outside" candidates.
Briles certainly qualifies as an outsider. He has never left the state of Texas in his coaching career, let alone been a part of the USC tradition in any capacity.
Of course, the Trojans' last head-coaching hire with no previous connection to the program, Pete Carroll, won seven straight conference championships and two national titles.
The Trojans are not far removed from that run of greatness.
Baylor was in dire straits when Briles took over in 2008. The Bears last reached a bowl game in the 1994 season prior to Briles leading them to the 2010 Texas Bowl.
They have been in the postseason twice since and are on course for a fourth consecutive appearance. Most recently, they routed USC's rival UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
The two biggest question marks with Briles are characteristics that made USC a power. The first is his team's performance on defense.
Baylor's up-tempo offensive style left its defense susceptible to big points on the other end, including 70 to West Virginia last season.
This year's defense is much more veteran, and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is in his third year with the program.
The Bears are allowing just 16.3 points per game in 2013, but how they fare against Big 12 offenses will be the true test.
Briles' recruiting classes have also been decently ranked by Baylor standards, but are well below the lofty benchmark of USC. This is cause for both skepticism and optimism.
Briles would need to make a recruiting splash if he is to take over USC. The program is accustomed to landing top-10 ranked classes. Considering keeping a current staffer like Ed Orgeron would help in that regard.
The flip side to Baylor's so-so recruiting rankings is that it points to Briles doing more with less, which is the opposite of criticism against former USC head coach Lane Kiffin.
He's also recruited a Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III, and has two more contenders for the award in Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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