At this point in the season, college football coaches live by one simple bromide that applies to fans, alumni and administrators: They remember November.
Conference championships are won in November. Jobs are saved or lost.
In our corner of the college football universe, no team will play more memorable games in November than Baylor.
Regardless of your rooting interest, let that last sentence soak in for a moment. It has not been true in Texas since (pick one):
• Moby Dick was a minnow.
• Poodle skirts were considered stylish tailgating attire.
• Leather helmets protected players’ noggins.
OK, trick question. Any of those answers could be considered correct, depending on your definition of “memorable.”
So here’s something more tangible to illustrate how significant the November stretch run will be for No. 6 Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12), which climbed Sunday to its loftiest perch in school history in the BCS standings:
The Bears’ next game, Thursday, Nov. 7 in Waco against No. 10 Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1), will be the highest-profile national telecast ever to originate from Floyd Casey Stadium (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1). If the Bears win that one, the stakes could be even bigger Dec. 7 when Texas (5-2, 4-0) heads to Waco in a season-ending matchup of co-leaders in the Big 12 race.
But nothing is guaranteed beyond the big spotlight against OU.
Baylor also has a Nov. 16 date against No. 15 Texas Tech (7-1, 4-1) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. There is a Nov. 23 game at No. 18 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1), where Baylor is 0-9 in the Big 12 era.
If these Bears truly are contenders for a conference football title, something Baylor has not won in outright fashion since 1980, the team’s 7-0 record merely marks completion of the undercard bouts on the 2013 schedule. The heavyweight matchups await, with BCS implications attached. And Baylor, again, showed it is more than ready to step up in weight class during Saturday’s 59-14 rout of Kansas.
“Not only are they good on offense, but their defense played pretty salty against us,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, whose team fell behind 45-0 before the Bears emptied the bench in the third quarter.
Baylor outgained Kansas by a 743-308 margin in total yards, easily keeping the Bears atop the NCAA statistics in scoring (63.9 avg.) and total offense (718.4 yards per game). The 743-yard outburst marked the most by a Baylor team in any road game in school history.
But the season-defining tests await, and coach Art Briles sounds like a guy excited to tackle them. He praised the team’s mental toughness after its road win at Kansas.
“We had a good attitude and a lot of confidence and it carried over onto the field,” Briles said. “The level of energy that they brought, that’s something we talked about all week. Bringing energy to the table, creating it and feeding off of it …so when we get on the field, we know what we’re doing and we have outcomes that are predictable. That’s what you like as a football team.”
Here’s something else for Bears’ fans to like about the team’s back-loaded schedule: In a crowded race among contenders to play in the BCS National Championship Game, Baylor is positioned to generate more late-season love from pollsters than other front-runners.
Four of Baylor’s last five opponents should be ranked in the Top 25 on game day. None of the other BCS front-runners will face more than two ranked opponents in their remaining regular-season schedules, although two schools, No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State, could add a third Top 25 foe by reaching their respective conference championship games.
Why is that important? Because the guts of the BCS formula, despite the endless chatter about computer rankings, depends on input from voters in the coaches poll and the Harris poll. Baylor has an opportunity, if it continues manhandling opponents, to do some November poll vaulting in the BCS race by flipping a few ballots from pollsters.
Without question, November victories over ranked opponents, especially lopsided ones, resonate louder with voters than similar triumphs in September. The late-season pressure makes them tougher to achieve, even for a Baylor team that will carry an 11-game winning streak, third longest active mark among FBS schools, behind No. 4 Ohio State (20) and Alabama (12), into the season’s defining month.
“It’s hard to win anywhere and that’s why, as you have a more mature football team, the more you grow,” Briles said. “These guys have won a bunch of football games. They’ve done a lot of good things together.”
But they will be remembered for what they do in November, starting with the Oklahoma game.