Undefeated Baylor makes poll vault back to 1953 height

10/20/2013 4:42 PM

11/12/2014 3:03 PM

Forget 1999 and any Princely suggestions about proper celebration practices. Baylor football fans should party this week like it’s 1953.

Or 1980, depending on your poll of preference.

Either way, it’s been a looooong time since the Bears (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) sniffed the type of rarefied air in the weekly college football polls that they enjoyed Sunday.

Baylor (6-0, 3-0 in Big 12) climbed to No. 5 in the coaches poll, the school’s loftiest perch in any set of Top 25 rankings since the 1953 season, when the Bears reached No. 3 in The Associated Press poll. Baylor also checked in at No. 6 in Sunday’s AP poll, matching the No. 6 ranking the Bears carried into their Cotton Bowl appearance against Alabama to cap the 1980 season.

Mix in Sunday’s debut at No. 8 in the initial set of BCS standings, the school’s high-water mark in BCS history, and coach Art Briles’ team experienced a trifecta of positive feedback in the wake of a 71-7 rout of Iowa State. Briles made it clear that he expects Baylor to handle the heightened expectations attached to a Top 10 team in the BCS title race.

“As our program grows, so do the people in it,” Briles said. “I think we have a very mature football team. We have really started to see that this season.”

In terms of the best-ever BCS placement, Briles said: “It’s where you are after Dec. 7 that is really important for us.”

Baylor joined Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0) as Big 12 teams that barged into the Top 10 of the national rankings Sunday. Tech reached No. 10 in the AP poll, No. 9 in the coaches; poll and landed at No. 10 in the BCS standings.

Both schools benefited from a topsy-turvy Saturday for many of the nation’s elite teams. Five of the Top 10 teams in last week’s poll lost, the most in a single week since September 2007. That opened the door to a historic Sunday for the Bears and Red Raiders.

The last time Baylor and Tech held a combined mark of 13-0 in the same football season? Never.

But that will be the case heading into Saturday’s games, when Baylor plays at Kansas (2-4, 0-3) and Tech is at Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1), the BCS’ No. 15 team. Suddenly, the Tech-Baylor showdown on Nov. 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington is looking like it may be the Big 12 game of the year.

That contest, of course, remains four weeks away, a near-eternity in the ever-changing world of college football. As a point of reference, here’s how much things have changed in just two weeks:

• Missouri, a squeeze-in at No. 25 in the AP poll two weeks ago, suddenly holds a two-game lead in the SEC East division race after consecutive victories over traditional heavyweights Georgia and Florida. The Tigers (7-0) join Oregon (7-0) as the only undefeated FBS schools that have won every game by 15 or more points this season.
• Texas coach Mack Brown, a subject of public scorn and job speculation after a controversial win at Iowa State, has the Longhorns (4-2, 3-0 in Big 12) in better shape to win a conference title than his counterpart at Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 in SEC), where Kevin Sumlin had overseen the state’s highest-ranked college team until Saturday’s 45-41 loss to Auburn.

Bottom line: A lot can happen in the next four weeks to minimize the meaning of a Tech-Baylor matchup in November. But as of Sunday, that matchup is trending toward being the biggest in series history.

That is particularly meaningful for Baylor, which has an opportunity to reach unprecedented heights in program history this season. The Bears never have ranked higher in any poll than the week of Nov. 7, 1953, when the team carried a No. 3 ranking (AP) into a 21-20 loss to No. 19 Texas. Baylor’s season record for victories is 10.

The Bears are well-equipped to eclipse both marks this season. The point-per-minute offense leads the nation in scoring (64.7 points per game) and total offense (714.3 yards per game). The defense is allowing 16.7 points per game (seventh nationally) and the turnover margin is plus-6 through six games. But the Bears have yet to validate themselves by beating a ranked opponent. Games against OU (Nov. 7), Tech (Nov. 16) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 23) should provide those chances, particularly if Tech remains a Top 10 opponent when the teams cross paths.

For the naysayers still sleeping on Baylor because of the team’s soft September schedule, quarterback Bryce Petty offered this rejoinder about the team’s plan to cap the season with a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS National Championship Game.

“We have a complete team,” Petty said. “We are going to keep doing what we need to do. Our goal, my goal, is Pasadena. A far outstretched dream, I guess, for a lot of people. But not for us. We know we’re that good. We have to keep proving to everybody that we are a good team.”

Bears fans, meanwhile, are free to party like it’s 1953.

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