Baylor Football: Why Bears Are a Serious National Title Contender

Ryan MullContributor IIIOctober 15, 2013

Art Briles has the Baylor Bears set up for a run at the BCS National Championship.
Art Briles has the Baylor Bears set up for a run at the BCS National Championship.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Going into Baylor football's first road game of the season last Saturday against Kansas State, it was largely considered to be Baylor's first true test of the season.

After stomping the likes of Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe, the Bears were still a big question mark because they still hadn't been tested. 

It wasn't until after the conference opener against West Virginia that there was some chatter about being National Championship contenders. Bovada even had Baylor at 6-1 odds to win the BCS National Championship.

But after taking care of business at Kansas State, somehow, the general opinion was that the Bears aren't as good as we thought they were. 

Bovada hasn’t exactly given up on the Bears, but the website did cut Baylor’s championship odds in half. Baylor football is now at 12-1 to bring home the crystal ball.

Winning at Kansas State proved just the opposite—Baylor football is a legitimate national contender.

Sure, Art Briles and Co. didn't plow right through the Wildcats, but not many teams do that to Bill Snyder's teams. At 2-4, Kansas State seems like an easy win, but if you look more closely at its season, you can see it's not. 

K-State fell to 0-3 in conference, but was competitive in all three games. The Wildcats first fell at Texas, 31-21, before they almost knocked off Oklahoma State in Stillwater. 

Texas is one of the hottest teams in the nation and Oklahoma State is still among the conference's elite.

On top of that, Kansas State's best player has only recently been unleashed. Before tearing up the Bears Saturday, quarterback Daniel Sams only other game as the primary signal-caller was against Oklahoma State. Sams is one of the most explosive players in the Big 12, and the Bears learned that the hard way.

Baylor isn't the only defense he is going to carve up in his career. 

Bottom line is, the Bears went into Manhattan and did all they needed to. And that's get the win against a dangerous team.


Responding to adversity

Baylor didn't play as well as it hoped, but the team responded to some serious adversity to find a way to win.

That adversity came in the form of dropped passes, a blocked punt on its own 19-yard line, a devastating strip sack late in the game, its inability to get the running game going, and its inability to stop Sams.

Despite all those things, the Bears showed some toughness when they counted.

The defense came up with some big stops on two-point conversions in the third quarter, and forced its only turnover in the fourth as K-State was driving to tie the game or take the lead.

Big-play ability

The thing that makes Baylor a national title contender is its big-play ability that is unmatched by anyone in the Big 12.

Baylor had some trouble sustaining drives against Kansas State, but still managed to put 35 points on the board. Of those points, 21 came on touchdown plays of 50-plus yards.

As you can see in this video, Tevin Reese was able to get over the top of the Wildcats’ defense twice without any problem. By the time he reaches the end zone, there wasn’t a defender within 10 yards.

Bryce Petty had touchdown passes of 93, 72 and 54 yards.

Big plays have been a staple of Baylor’s offense for the last few years, and there isn’t a defense in the country who can hold down the Bears for an entire game. That quick-strike attack will keep the Bears in any game they play this year.


Defense is riding a hot streak

If this team is anything like last year's, that means it is just getting warmed up. Baylor is riding a nine-game winning streak that is currently bookended by wins over Kansas State.

Since that 2012 throttling of the top-ranked Wildcats, Baylor has been one of the best teams in the nation. The defense that gave up 70 points to Geno Smith and West Virginia has grown up and plays with confidence instead of on its heels.

Briles talked to the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated about the defense feeding off last year:

Those guys are flying around. Phil (Bennett)'s done a great job with them. They have a lot of confidence, and it's confidence that they earned through the ending of last season and it's carried on through this year.

Even after being gashed for 445 yards Saturday—327 of which were on the ground—Baylor is ranked No. 24 in the nation in total yards.

Bennett has also managed to turn the team into a ball-hawking unit that has 11 takeaways from 10 different players. And as was the case with Dixon’s fourth-quarter pick against Kansas State, shown above, many of those turnovers have come at opportune times. Four have even been returned for touchdowns.


Mind-boggling offensive output

Mark Seymour of Our Daily Bears broke down some offensive milestones that are well within reach for Baylor.

Through five games, the Bears have scored 317 points, good for an average of 63.4. The all-time scoring record is held by the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners, who scored 716 points in 14 games.

Baylor will play 13 games this season, making the record a little more difficult, but still doable. In order to get to 717 points and claim the new NCAA scoring record, Baylor needs to average 50 points per game the rest of the season.

This stat may seem completely arbitrary.

Fair enough.

But if you look a little closer at the teams on the list, you’ll probably start to put it together a little better.

2008 Oklahoma, 2005 Texas, 1983 Nebraska, 1989 Houston.

Three of those teams competed in the National Championship, and the other was led by Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware.

If Baylor’s offense can just be almost as good as they have been so far this year, it will be on that list alongside those teams.

Antwan Goodley and the Bears can score in so many different ways, it's a safe bet they will make a run at some of those records.

The schedule

Looking at the rest of the schedule, Baylor won't have a problem with Iowa State or Kansas in its next two games. As crazy as it sounds, I don't even look at the highly-anticipated Nov. 7 matchup against Oklahoma as the toughest test after watching Texas dismantle the Sooners.

In my mind, the two road games against Oklahoma State and TCU are the ones Baylor fans should fear the most. 

Baylor hasn't won away from home against Oklahoma State since 1942. That stat is admittedly a bit deceiving, but nevertheless Baylor is 2-for-17 since 1996. The Bears haven't been quite so bleak against TCU, but aside from the 50-48 thriller in 2011, the Horned Frogs have dominated the series in recent years.

TCU is only a shell of what it was the last few seasons. However, if it can find some offense to match its solid defense, that game will be tough for the Bears in Fort Worth.

Nothing is guaranteed in college football, and I'm pretty sure Briles isn't about to start counting wins before they happen. But deep down he knows he could have something really special on his hands, and that's Baylor football, national title contender.