WACO — Remove the tarps.Pop open the Dr Peppers.The Baylor Bears — unbeaten, untied, but no longer unproven — are ready for the big stage.For seven games this season, as coach Art Briles’ offense blew the proverbial doors off the likes of Wofford and Buffalo, Baylor’s pedigree was questioned and its defense scrutinized for holes.Just wait, the skeptics said, until the Bears play a real football team.Well, is Oklahoma OK?Playing in front of a national TV audience and the fourth-largest crowd ever to see a game at Floyd Casey Stadium, the No. 6 Bears overwhelmed the 10th-ranked Sooners in every way Thursday night, racing to their eighth victory of the season, 41-12.And though Baylor made 28 first downs and scored touchdowns all five times it pushed inside the Oklahoma 20-yard line, it was the clawing Bears’ defense that set the tone for the night.All but ignored for seven games amidst the neon numbers being put up by Bryce Petty on the Bears’ scoreboard, the Baylor defense is an experienced one, bolstered by seven starting seniors. They played like prime-time performers Thursday. Oklahoma struggled to run and throw the ball throughout the first half. Though the Sooners reached the Baylor 1-, 5- and 31-yard lines in the opening two quarters, the Bears’ quick and physical defense denied them a touchdown.For Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell, it became a fruitless, frantic night. He completed only 15 of 35 passes and was intercepted twice. When he threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Roy Finch late in Thursday’s third quarter, it was only Bell’s fifth touchdown throw in six Big 12 games.As the Sooners’ season goes on, Bell’s shortcomings, notably his passing accuracy, seem to be compounding. Baylor made him even more uncomfortable by blitzing him on passing downs and out-racing him whenever he tried to turn a corner.Was Bell a true, prime-time test for No. 6 Baylor?It hardly seems a fair question, considering the way the Bears rose to the occasion. After all, this was Oklahoma, a college football blueblood who held the all-time series lead on Baylor, 21 games to one. It was also a night when Briles’ team knew a large share of the nation would be watching. And waiting.The announced crowd at Floyd Casey Stadium, “The Case,” was 50,537. Baylor athletic officials had removed the face-saving tarpaulins that formerly covered the end zone. The move was poignant in more ways than one. The stars of Baylor’s first seven victories, Petty and the offense, did not disappoint. It’s more than worth nothing that the Bears won in a rout on a night when they lost their two best running backs, Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, early in the contest. Shock Linwood, true to his name, stood in for Seastrunk nicely, running for 182 yards on 23 carries. Petty had only 204 yards passing, as Oklahoma defenders tried to play tight, pressing coverage on his receivers much of the night, but the Baylor quarterback still threw for three touchdowns.With a lot of America watching, the Bears made their case at The Case. A demanding road ahead still awaits — a meeting with Texas Tech in Arlington, road games at Oklahoma State and TCU and a close-the-stadium finale against Texas.But who’s doing it better than Baylor right now?Who’s making their BCS argument more emphatically? Who’s better answering the challenge?Lights. Camera. Baylor!
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton