The Blitz: Why Baylor will/why it won’t stay in title race; more

This summer in compiling a list of the teams that could duplicate Notre Dame’s unranked-to-title-game feat from last season, Baylor wasn’t even a consideration. That was largely due to Art Briles giving the keys to the offense to a quarterback that had 14 pass attempts to his credit.

Saying it was a massive oversight is putting it lightly.

The Bears are fifth in the latest AP Top 25 and sixth in the BCS Standings and QB Bryce Petty has played his way into Heisman Trophy consideration. Still, what do we really know about Baylor?

Their season, for all intents and purposes, kicks off Thursday night as it hosts No. 12 Oklahoma, followed by No. 25 Texas Tech in Arlington and No. 15 Oklahoma State on the road. It’s a stretch that could either solidify the Bears as title contenders or expose them — but which will it be?

Here are three reasons why you should by the Bears making it through that stretch unscathed and three reasons why you shouldn’t.

WHY YOU SHOULD BELIEVE

1. Bryce Petty: The aforementioned first-year starter is leading the nation in pass efficiency (219.0) — which puts him in line to break the single-season record — and yards per completion (20.11) in throwing for 2,453 yards, 18 TDs and one interception in 176 attempts. He’s on pace to thrown for 4,205 yards, 83 fewer than Robert Griffin III in his Heisman-winning season. If anyone is building a short list of surprises of the season, Petty’s name is on it.

2. The offensive balance: The scariest part of Baylor leading the nation in total offense (718.4) and scoring (63.9) is how balanced its been doing it. The Bears rank first in passing (417.3) and seventh in rushing (301.1), making them the only FBS team to rank in the top 10 in both categories. Running back Lache Seastrunk, the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, is averaging 124.1 ypg and has failed to go over 100 yards just once.

3. The momentum of it all: Briles has been building toward this. After a pair of 4-8 seasons, the 7-4 record in 2010 looked like a breakthrough. But he went 10-3 behind Griffin, the — and stunner — proved it was no RG3-fueled revival, going 8-5 in ’12. Briles is attracting talent to Waco with classes ranked 30th in ’12 and 26th in ’13 and this next crop is currently sitting 12th according to Scout.com. This looks like a program poised to maintain this place in the national consciousness.

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T

1. 48 and 2: Those numbers represent the Bears’ average margin of victory and the number of FBS teams with winning records (Buffalo at 6-2 and 5-4 Louisiana Monroe) they’ve beaten so far. The one team that did deny them a win of at least four TDs was Kansas State, which is 203 in the Big 12. Basically, Baylor hasn’t beaten anyone and the one time it was tested came against a team could struggle to get bowl eligible.

2. The rush defense: Allowing 138.7 rushing ypg, the Bears are a respectable 36th in the nation. But they were burned for 327 yards by K-State, including 199 and three TDs via QB Daniel Sams, and that Wildcats team went into that game ranked 75th on the ground. Considering the Sooners are 17th (234.0) in that department, QB Blake Bell and Co. could be a handful for the Bears.

3. History: Baylor’s not really Baylor anymore, shedding itself of its cellar-dweller reputation behind RG3’s heroics. But this is still a school that has finished higher than fifth in the Big 12 just twice (third in ’11 and fourth in ’10) and has zero national titles to its credit. Plus, the Bears have beaten the Sooners just once in 22 meetings, have gone 1-4 vs. Oklahoma State under Briles and while they’ve won the last two against Texas Tech, they dropped the previous 15 in the series. Baylor has made unimaginable strides with Briles, but it still has to prove its entirely over its past with the stakes higher than they’ve ever been.

Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston and the Seminoles’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 13-21, while Oregon’s opponents are 23-10. (Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s case closed for Florida State

The Great BCS Standings Flip-Flop continued as Florida State again jumped Oregon for the No. 2 spot. But without some help, this could be the last week the Seminoles hold that spot.

Saturday’s 41-14 win over No. 7 Miami, which vaulted the ‘Noles past the idle Ducks, was basically case closed for for Florida State’s title-game resume. It’s an impressive, body of work, including two wins over top-10 teams by 37 (Clemson) and 27 (Hurricanes) points, but will it be enough?

It has Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho and Florida left in the regular season — teams with a combined record of 13-21 — and there’s not an opponent the Seminoles could face out of the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game (which will most likely be the now 11th-ranked Hurricanes) that will give it a substantial boost.

Meanwhile, Oregon (still No. 2 to the ‘Noles’ No. 3 in the AP Top 25) has a remaining slate of teams who have gone 23-10, including Thursday night’s opponent, No. 6 Stanford. If they make the Pac-12 title game, the possible opponents (No. 23 Arizona State, Arizona or No. 16 UCLA) would also carry more weight than anyone the Seminoles will face.

Even if the Cardinal knock off the Ducks, there’s the chance they too could surpass Florida State, what with a ranked school — No. 24 Notre Dame — and USC left in the regular season.

Enjoy the view for now, Florida State. Without some dominoes falling, it may not be yours for long.

UPS AND DOWNS

UP: South Carolina

No. 9 Missouri rebounded with a 31-3 rout of Tennessee and Georgia remains in the mix by beating Florida 23-20, but realistically, the SEC East is still the 13th-ranked Gamecocks’ to lose after their 34-16 rout of Mississippi State. They hold the tiebreaker with the Tigers with only reeling Florida left in league play, while Missouri must play Kentucky, Ole Miss and No. 11 Texas A&M. If Steve Spurrier’s crew can beat the Gators in Columbia on Nov. 16, they’re heading to Atlanta for the second time in four years.

DOWN: Texas Tech

In a two-week span the Red Raiders dropped from 10th in the AP poll to 25th as they were lost to Oklahoma by eight and last weekend to Oklahoma State by 18. The defense was a major problem in those losses, giving up 460 yards to the Sooners and 492 vs. the Cowboys, including 281 and five TDs on the ground. Of course, the Raiders have yet to see the Big 12’s best offense yet in Baylor, which they’ll face on Nov. 16. They also have Kansas State and Texas on the schedule, but with the Longhorns cruising, could Texas Tech wind up going 1-4 down the stretch?

UP: Michigan State

The nation’s top-ranked defense, which is also tops vs. the run and third in points allowed, flexed its muscle in holding rival Michigan to six points and 168 yards. Just two teams have allowed fewer TDs than the 12 the Spartans have yielded (Alabama with nine and Louisville with 10). Just think, if not for a four-point loss on the road to Notre Dame, we’d be talking about the Spartans in the BCS title game mix and potentially what a Big Ten title game clash with Ohio State could mean for both sides’ hopes of playing for a championship.

DOWN: Virginia Tech

Logan Thomas etched his name once again into the Hokies record book as he became the program’s all-time leader in total offense, which is nice and all, but he also committed four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles) in dropping a second straight game, this time to Boston College. The Hokies are still a threat to win the Coastal and with Miami losing RB Duke Johnson, it could well happen. But with the erratic play of a 101st-ranked offense, is anyone willing to take those odds?

UP: Air Force

The Falcons’ seven-game losing streak came to an and end as Anthony LaCoste ran for 263 yards — just missing Chad Hall’s program record of 275 — in beating Army 42-28. It’s been a rough season for Air Force, whose only previous win came against Colgate and it lost its next seven by an average of 22 points. The Falcons remain winless in the Mountain West at 0-5, but the good news is their 11th-ranked rushing attack could be in a for a monster day against its next opponent, New Mexico, which is 120th against the run.

DOWN: Oregon State

Its already slim hopes to win the Pac-12 North Division were dealt another blow with a 31-14 loss to USC. QB Sean Mannion struggled again, being held under 300 yards for the second straight week and he threw as many interceptions (three) against the Trojans as he had in the previous eight games and two of those came in the red zone. That loss may not be the last for a team trending downward as their final three regular-season games include Arizona State, Washington and Oregon.

Denicos Allen
Denicos Allen and the Spartans’ top-ranked defense held the Wolverines to minus-46 yards rushing. (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

BMOCs

OFFENSE: Derek Carr QB Fresno State, RS Sr.

He was 39 of 55 in throwing for 487 yards and three TDs — he also added a rushing score — in the Bulldogs’ 41-23 rout of Nevada. In the process Carr became the school’s all time leading passer with 10, 821 career yards. It was Carr’s third record in two weeks as he set the marks for TD passes and completions against UNLV on Oct. 19. He has now gone 183 attempts without throwing a pick.

DEFENSE: Denicos Allen LB Michigan State, Sr.

Allen had nine tackles, including three for loss and two sacks as the Spartans’ shut down Michigan’s offense to the tune of minus-46 yards rushing. He also had a message for Wolverines RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who last week called Michigan State the little brother in the rivalry: “On the field, we show who’s the big brother, who’s the little brother,” Allen said.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Josh Lambert, K West Virginia, RS Fr.

He made a career-best field goals in the Mountaineers’ 30-27 win over TCU, connecting from 24, 42 and finally 34 yards in overtime. Lambert has made eight consecutive FGs over the last five games and is 7 of8 from 30-plus yards over that stretch, including a 50-yarder on Oct. 26 vs. Kansas State.

De'Anthony Thomas
De’Anthony Thomas and the Ducks are looking to avenge a 17-14 loss to Stanford last season in Eugene. (Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

CRYSTAL BALL

No. 2 Oregon at No. 6 Stanford (Thursday)

David Shaw’s defense has had a knack for slowing down potent offenses — see Arizona State (28 points), UCLA (10) and Oregon State (12) — and his Cardinal dealt Oregon its only loss last season. Even if Stanford can have some success against Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota and Co., can the Cardinal offense, which had just 88 yards passing against Oregon State, deliver? The Ducks will find points and it seems unlikely that a 78th-ranked Stanford attack can keep pace.
The Pick: Oregon 40, Stanford 27

No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 5 Baylor (Thursday)

Statistically, this will be the best pass defense the Bears will see in the regular season with Oklahoma allowing 179.5 yards (ninth in FBS) and eight TDs (tied for eighth-fewest). Then again, the Sooners were already tagged for 388 yards through the air by the nation’s second-best passing attack in Texas Tech. It’s really a matter of strength vs. strength, but given Oklahoma’s struggles vs. the Red Raiders’ offense, the nod goes to Baylor’s Petty-led attack setting the tone and keeping its BCS title hopes alive.
The Pick: Baylor 35, Oklahoma 20

No. 10 LSU at No. 1 Alabama (Saturday)

The Crimson Tide defense has matured since the shootout with Texas A&M, allowing a combined 26 points and just two touchdowns in five games. It would be simply stunning if Alabama maintained that kind of pace against LSU, especially with the weapons QB Zach Mettenberger has on the perimeter. The Tigers will have their moments vs. the Tide’s secondary, but unfortunately LSU’s young defense won’t do enough to keep it in the game.
The Pick: Alabama 31, LSU 21

Last Week: 2-1
Overall: 20-6