For the Big 12 opener a year ago, Baylor traveled to West Virginia, and in what must have been an experiment secretly agreed upon by both sides, neither team played defense.
The Mountaineers won that piece of lunacy 70-63, and frankly, neither team got a bounce from the game, which produced 19 touchdowns and 1,507 total yards. The Bears lost their next three. West Virginia won at Texas the next week before starting a five-game losing streak.
One year and one week later, the teams meet Saturday in Waco, Texas, and another 70-point performance isn’t out of the question, at least from a Baylor perspective.
Nobody in the nation has been as productive as the Bears.
In three nonconference games, Baylor has lit up the scoreboard for 69, 70 and 70 points. The opposition (Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe) wasn’t frightening, but Baylor’s offense has been scary good, leading the nation in scoring and yards per game at 751.
But the Bears, with quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence in the Art Briles era, have always scored. A defense that appears much improved is why this might be his best team.
“It’s been an evolution,” Briles said. “Just through time, patience, good players, through a determined mindset of the football team in general, we just progressed.”
A critical moment in shaping a more complete team occurred in the Holiday Bowl. Baylor took on a UCLA team that was averaging about 35 points and won 49-26.
Eight starters returned from that defense, and entering Saturday’s game, the Bears top the Big 12 in scoring defense (7.7) and total defense (297 yards). Again, the competition is about to change. West Virginia is coming off an upset victory over Oklahoma State.
But in a Big 12 season in which offense is down compared to recent years, primarily because of inexperienced quarterback play, Baylor, which has averaged 45 points each of the previous two seasons, has kept up the pace. If the defense proves stout, this will be the Bears’ best team since Briles arrived in 2008, and perhaps the best in the Big 12.