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Thoughts from Baylor's Week Off

That is a SWEET helmet. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
That is a SWEET helmet. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The fact that Baylor took their game to Off this weekend (and triumphed, I believe) didn't keep me from enjoying what turned out to be a riveting Saturday in the world of college football. The Big XII as a whole improved to 15-2 and several teams moved up in the rankings, improving the conference's standing compared to the rest of the country. The thrilling late night upsets on Saturday didn't do anything to hurt the mood, either. Even in a weekend where there were no ranked-on-ranked matchups or obvious upset candidates, college football did not fail to impress.

Oh, and several of our recruits showed extremely well on Friday night! Man, there's a lot going on here. I'm just glad we get to actually play someone this weekend, even if it is Sam Houston State. Hit the jump!

Before I get started, I'm trying out a new template here (thank you, Peter Bean!) and I'd like some feedback. Do you think this would look better on a plain white background, or do you like the gold? What about the headers? I want to use this template every week, so let's get it set now on what looks good. I tried to match the colors manually to the ones from Baylor's official web site. Perhaps someone with more rods and/or cones can tell me if they are grotesquely off.

01. Friday Night Lights

Let's start with the positive performances from Baylor's 2013 recruiting class. Robbie Rhodes only touched the ball three times in FW Southwest's win over Everman Friday night but scored touchdowns all three times on a 45-yard run and two catches for 130 yards. That brings his season total to 6 TDs on 10 total touches. If it was possible to score a TD without being involved with the play, Robbie would do it. Both receiving TDs came with fellow Baylor commit Wes Harris, who had what he would probably consider an off night otherwise.

Chris Johnson led Bryan HS over Magnolia with his best performance of the season. He was 22-37 for 308 yards and 1 TD while also running for 86 yards and another score. As he gets more comfortable in Bryan's new offense, those stats will really pile up.

02. The Big XII looks good so far

Despite OSU's stumble in Tucson on Saturday night and the Pac12's strong weekend, the Big XII looks like the clear #2 conference in the country at this point with 2 teams in the top 10 and 3 more in the early and mid teens. I don't want to spend too much time on the rankings themselves since I already did that, but I'm excited about how the conference is playing. As much as we like to dog our conference-mates on here, it's good for Baylor when the conference is viewed positively. Every win by the other schools (as well as Baylor) helps that image. Don't worry about the SEC homerism at this point. It's to be expected.

03. ... But is probably a little overrated.

While I like the hot start the conference has gotten off to so far, a couple of our teams are, at this point, a little overrated. Several of them have done nothing but beat up FCS patsies and somehow been rewarded with huge jumps in the polls. That may be more a result of other teams falling, I'm just not crazy about the reckoning that could potentially come. OU, for example, has no place in the top 5 in the country based on what we've seen. I don't think they'll finish there unless they make huge strides on the offensive line. I've said before that I think WVU is the best team in the conference, but how much do we know about their defense? Marshall scored 34 points, for crying out loud. And I love TCU, but does a walloping of Grambling State really mean anything? Same for Texas and Wyoming/New Mexico. You're telling me that team looks (looks being the operative term because both games have been shown only on the LHN) like a 12/14-ranked squad to you? There's a healthy dose of inflation happening here.

04. Texas A&M beat themselves

You may find this hard to believe, but I actually had a conversation Saturday on another Baylor message board where posters lamented the idea that Florida may have suffered in the first half from a lack of game film on Texas A&M (they called that type of analysis "lazy"). I was firmly on the side saying it was possible, if not probable, that they did. Facing a new offense, new QB, new coaching staff, and several new contributors at RB and WR, it would be pretty difficult for UF to basically guess what A&M was planning to do, particularly with Manziel. They probably knew his skillset and something of how Texas A&M might try to use him, but they wouldn't know how he'd handle it until a game situation arose. UF would be his first. As I expected they would, UF responded in the second half defensively by stacking the line to stop A&M's running game and force Manziel to beat them. He couldn't, and the Aggies scored 0 points after halftime.

That said, Texas A&M beat themselves. Or at least made it a lot easier for Florida to beat them, let's say that. Time and again, you saw A&M receivers open in the Florida secondary only to have the ball swallowed in the backfield or dumped off for a minimal gain. Either Manziel was unwilling to even look downfield or he was told that he shouldn't. With the improved pressure Florida was able to get in the second half, it was probably a combination of both. But Florida was only able to do the things they did to cause that pressure because there was no threat of a deep play. A&M couldn't burn them for blitzing, so they blitzed more knowing they couldn't get burned. It's cyclical. A&M needed to open the playbook more, trust Manziel more, and try something to jumpstart an offense that will probably rely early this season on the running game. When that didn't work to start the second half, A&M didn't have anywhere to go.

05. OSU trusted Wes Lunt way too much.

On the other side of the "trust your young QB" coin was Oklahoma State, who lived and died this past weekend on the shoulders of a true freshman. Aside from the god-awful number of personal foul penalties, OSU lost that game because of turnovers, and Lunt was responsible for 3 of them. Yes, he also threw for a Big XII freshman record (besting the mark previously held by our own Nick Florence) 436 yards and 4 TDs, but he did so by throwing 60 pass attempts on the night. 60. In his second college game ever. Robert Griffin III never threw more than 50 for Baylor. 60 is full-on Texas Tech territory. And it averages out to "only" 7.27 yards per attempt. Put that against the 32 rushing attempts and you have a run/pass ration of almost 2:1. Sure, with their defense giving up 500 yards and 52 points (one of the interceptions was a pick-6), OSU needed to score points. They just relied on Lunt, playing his first road game in college, to do way too much. And no matter how many times Gundy throws his WRs under the bus (by blaming them for the INTs), that doesn't change.

06. Sam Houston State fans are the worst trash talkers ever.

And I think it's because most of them either wish they had gotten into A&M or are just full-on delusional. In a thread linked to me on twitter, one Bearkat fan stated that SHSU's conference record (in the Southland Conference) is better than Baylor's (in the Big XII) and that proves SHSU is the better team. What? I enjoy good smack talk sparingly, but it has to be good. To their credit, that guy was shouted down by a few others on the site, but he was also supported. Why?

07. Early keys to shutting them (SHSU) up

We have to get used to the fact that on any given Saturday, basically every team is at risk of some form of upset. I don't mean "upset" in that context to just mean losing, in some cases performing well below expectations can be almost as damaging. SHSU will come into FCS on Saturday believing they can pull off such an upset, so the biggest key to the game will be dispelling them of that notion quickly. Only very rarely do teams that are big underdogs come back after getting down early; far more often, upsets happen when a team sticks around, the favorite starts pressing because they should be winning by a lot more or winning at all, and crazy things happen. You saw that this weekend in the ULM-Arky game. Baylor has to strike early and often, end any hope SHSU has of competing, and then get the backups valuable playing time.

08. Can't wait for this coming Saturday

With the news breaking yesterday that Baylor will perform a ceremonial groundbreaking at halftime of this Saturday's game against SHSU, my level of excitement for this game went through the roof. I've always said that the thing I liked best about the new stadium was the idea of it. The proof it represents of Baylor's commitment to playing with the big boys. $250+ million does that, without a doubt. I'm going to do everything I can to be there on Saturday, and with a little help from SB Nation, I might even get a media credential.

09. The Quarterback Whisperer

2 disciples of Art Briles started and won NFL games yesterday, including RGIII over the heavily-favored New Orleans Saints. Nick Florence owns the best passer rating in the NCAA (from teams who didn't play only FCS schools). If you are a highly-ranked QB recruit, how are you not beating down the door to come play for this man?

10. Art Briles is not going to Arkansas

In the wake of first the Petrino scandal and now John L. Smith losing that game on ULM on Saturday night, I've had numerous conversations on Twitter that basically follow the same path. Someone (often me) says something about Art Briles leaving Baylor. Someone else responds that it is inevitable at this point that he will leave for so-called "greener pastures." Then I respond, because I can't help myself, and we get into a fight about it. The assumption from the other side is that he will definitely leave because someone will pay more and there are better schools that will want him. I don't doubt that either of those things are possible. However, in rebuttal, I offer the following:

When Art Briles first spoke with Baylor, he took the job only after assurances that the school would immediately begin construction of an on-campus football practice facility. That happened. Baylor built one of the best facilities in the country. He also sought something much larger: a new football stadium. That didn't happen immediately. It's happening now. Baylor is building Art Briles' dream stadium on the banks of the Brazos. He was, and continues to be, one of the biggest champions for the project, soliciting donations personally on numerous occasions. And for his efforts these past few seasons and the success of 2011, Baylor rewarded him not only with a stadium but also a huge raise. The number constantly reported as his salary -- $1.8 million-- is incorrect. Baylor, as a private institution, does not have to report the salaries it pays its coaches. I've heard, however, that the number is much closer to $3 million than it is $1.8. And Baylor is willing, should it be necessary, to go much higher to keep Briles in green and gold.

Believe me when I say this or not, but Briles has been approached before about leaving Baylor for other places, most notably by Texas A&M before they hired Sumlin. He's obviously said no. He's probably older than you think he is (56), and he's spent his entire life coaching football in Texas. I strongly believe that he will finish his career coaching football in Texas. And he'll do it at Baylor.