Based on the way the conference’s coaches voted in the preseason, neither Baylor nor Texas Tech were supposed to be here.
Baylor at No. 6 and Tech at No. 15 in the BCS standings? Forget it. In the Big 12, rankings like that were reserved for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.
Big 12 coaches pegged Baylor at fifth and Texas Tech at seventh in the conference.
However, here we stand half way through the 2013 college football season and both teams have exceeded expectations. Baylor’s record is still unblemished and Texas Tech’s first loss came Saturday on the road at Oklahoma.
In some ways, Baylor and Texas Tech got here the same way.
The charismatic coaches, high-powered offenses and emerging defenses can be claimed by both teams.
Let’s start out with those coaches.
Without Art Briles and Kliff Kingsbury, there is no discussion like this at all. Baylor would be the Baylor of old (the one that won 14 conference games the first 14 years the Big 12 existed) and Texas Tech would be in the midst of regrouping from Tommy Tuberville’s sudden departure to Cincinnati.
Art Briles’ remarkable turnaround of Baylor’s program has been well-documented this season, and for good reason. In just a matter of three seasons, Briles did something that the previous three coaches couldn’t do. And that is taking Baylor to a bowl game.
But Briles didn’t just stop with a bowl game. He’s gone far beyond that and made Baylor a national contender.
The same can be said about Kliff Kingsbury over in Lubbock. Red Raider fans everywhere were excited when the school hired its former quarterback away from Texas A&M, but not many imagined Kingsbury would have his team ranked so highly just yet.
Briles is a Texas Tech graduate himself. After playing at the University of Houston for Bill Yeoman, architect of the Veer option offense, Briles finished his undergraduate work in Lubbock. He returned in 1999 as running backs coach for Mike Leach’s team that had none other than Kingsbury under center.
It’s taken special coaches to get the Bears and Red Raiders where they are today, and these guys are perfect fits for their programs.
Both Briles and Kingsbury are up-tempo, offensive-minded coaches that are absolutely beloved by their respective fan bases.
That charisma is shown on the recruiting trails, too.
For Baylor, it’s been unprecedented classes coming into a program that was as good as dead a few years ago. Briles and his coaching staff now compete with the best in the nation to sign blue chip recruits.
In 2013 and 2014’s classes, Baylor has locked down studs like Robbie Rhodes, Andrew Billings, Davion Hall and KD Cannon. Bringing talent into Waco has never been easy, but Briles has made it look like that.
Kingsbury has also quietly put together a solid class in 2014, ranked 36th by 247sports.
More importantly, Baylor and Texas Tech seem to have developed their players’ talent as good as anyone in the conference.
Case in point: While Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas toy around with their highly-recruited QBs, Baylor and Texas Tech have turned their lower-rated quarterbacks into stars.
Baylor’s Bryce Petty has waited his turn behind Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence for three years, but now he puts up stats even better than theirs. His 219.0 passing efficiency leads the entire nation according to the NCAA's stats.
Perhaps even more impressive is what Kingsbury has been able to do with a true freshman under center in Lubbock. Walk-on Baker Mayfield and fellow freshman Davis Webb have split the snaps to combine for 19 touchdowns and 2,915 yards already this season.
What has enabled these teams to rise to new heights in 2013 is the rise of their defenses, though. Baylor isn’t about to give up 70 points like it did to West Virginia in 2012. And while Red Raider fans hate to admit it, they can thank Tommy Tuberville’s defensive mind for Tech’s defensive success this season.
Big 12 offenses used to run all over Baylor and Texas Tech. After nine weeks in 2013, Baylor’s defense is ranked 10th in overall defense at 316.0 yards per game and Tech is 41st at 379.0 yards per game.
Time will only tell how long Baylor and Texas Tech will stay at the top of the Big 12. The Bears are entering the gauntlet of their schedule, while Tech is looking to survive it as well.
This we do know: these teams will play a large part in what happens in the Big 12 conference in 2013.