Sports

The Times' Super 16 college football countdown: No. 10 Baylor

The Baylor Bears are No. 10 on The Times' preseason college football countdown
Baylor is a legitimate national title contender
An undefeated Baylor could be in trouble in any battle against one-loss teams with better resumes

Acknowledging that college football's new four-team playoff could someday inch toward a larger basketball-style tournament, we continue our Super 16 countdown, with No. 10 Baylor:

The 13-person selection committee might want to start keeping a file on Baylor.

The Bears are primed for the kind of year that could immediately tax college football's four-team playoff system.

Baylor is a legitimate national title contender, coming off an 11-2 season in which it won the Big 12 title in a conference that includes Texas and Oklahoma.

The Bears have a returning Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Bryce Petty, who passed for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns for an offense that averaged 52.4 points per game.

Ah, but here's the rub: Baylor's nonconference schedule stinks and the Big 12 is the lone Power Five league that doesn't stage a championship game.

There's a decent chance Baylor could be undefeated after a home win against Kansas State on Dec. 6, one day before the committee announces the four semifinal teams for the first College Football Playoff.

Then what?

"We'll see what the committee thinks, because we can't think for them," Baylor Coach Art Briles said of that possibility this summer. "All we can do is our best on the field."

We'll pretend to crawl into the mind of a committee member and suggest Baylor could be in trouble in any battle against one-loss teams with better resumes.

The committee was formed, was it not, to help ferret out the schedule tap dancers?

What committee member should be impressed should Baylor start 4-0 after wins over Southern Methodist, Northwestern State, Buffalo and Iowa State?

Consider: Louisiana State plays Wisconsin, Georgia plays Clemson and Mississippi plays Boise State … all before Sept. 1.

Baylor's real season starts Oct. 4 at Texas against a team starting over from scratch under Charlie Strong, who seems to be booting more Longhorns off his team than he is letting on.

The Big 12 title figures to be decided by Baylor's Nov. 8 visit to Oklahoma.

Baylor has come ridiculously far as a program. This is a school that suffered 12 straight losing years and was 0-8 in league as recently as 2007.

Success came as quickly as an ice-cream headache, with quarterback Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman Trophy and making Waco, Texas, something other than a place you wouldn't want to run out of gas.

Baylor is 29-10 since 2010 and has had incredible highs, such as routing first-year UCLA Coach Jim Mora's Bruins in the 2012 Holiday Bowl.

The school has raised a new $260-million stadium along Interstate 35.

Baylor is a point-a-minute thrill ride that, ultimately, may not be able to pass a full body-of-work inspection.

Last year the Bears started 9-0, with a huge win over Oklahoma, and rose to No. 3 in the nation before getting pummeled, 49-17, at Oklahoma State.

The Bears pulled together to win the Big 12 title thanks to a final win over Texas partnered with Oklahoma's win over Oklahoma State. But the season ended with another stunning loss, 52-42, to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

Baylor has some pressing issues. It lost seven starters on defense, which wasn't bad news for many years in Waco. Last year's defense, though, was a top-30 unit that led the nation in three-and-outs. Briles has holes to fill, but the good news is the defense only has to hold opponents to fewer points than Baylor's prolific offense scores.

Expectations sure change in a hurry.

"We want to win a Big 12 title again," running back Shock Linwood said. "And win a national championship."

The countdown so far: No. 16 Notre Dame, No. 15 Mississippi, No. 14 Stanford, No. 13 Louisiana State, No. 12 Michigan State, No. 11 USC.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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