Texas takes great pride in its enormity and it is a huge state, except to one man who has managed to shrink the state into one massive small state.
Even before Art Briles turned Baylor into a national-powerhouse football program, everybody in Texas knew his name and he knew quite a few of theirs.
Briles is in his 37th season drawing a paycheck for coaching football, from five different high schools and three universities. Every single one of those jobs came in the state of Texas.
Briles has such a wide net of contacts in Texas that he finds out about the state’s best prospects sooner than anybody because he has so many former assistant coaches and players from his 21 years as a high school coach who are now heading programs in the state.
Blend that recruiting headstart with a keen eye for evaluating talent, a brilliant mind for offensive X’s and O’s, a charming personality, a winning track record and a beautiful new stadium and it’s not so difficult to see how Briles has turned a former Big 12 doormat into a leading national-title contender.
Kansas University’s 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff vs. Baylor has sparked more conversation than most mismatches around town for reasons that extend beyond seeing true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis make his first start.
The question on so many people’s minds never takes long to surface in conversations: How many points will Baylor score?
The follow-up never takes long. It is asked either with a nervous smile or a painful expression: Can Baylor score 100 points against KU?
The best answer probably is that the Bears could if that were their primary motivation, if Briles prepared all week with that in mind and didn’t care about the sportsmanship aspect of piling on, played his starters all game and brought several new looks KU had not seen on film.
But why would that be Briles’ primary motivation? All Baylor needs to do is score a rout that will help it in the computer rankings, keep its players healthy, not show future opponents anything new on film, and put the easiest challenge of the season in the rear-view mirror.
Even at that, it will be tough for the Bears not to score quickly and virtually at will given the size, speed and experience advantages the Baylor offense has vs. the KU offense.
A 77-14 outcome doesn’t necessarily mean Briles was guilty of running up the score.
Baylor leads the nation in scoring average (63.8), total offense (745.3), ranks second to Georgia Southern in rushing (376.75 yards) and has more depth than Plato and Aristotle combined.
What is it that sets Baylor apart offensively?
“They’ve done a good job of combining an extreme tempo with their philosophy of running the ball,” Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “A lot of teams get in the spread and it’s just throw, throw, throw. In reality, they’re more than 60 percent running plays. It really does put you in a tempo conflict, a run-pass conflict. And they’re fortunate now to have personnel that truly is difference maker at wide receiver and really at every position they’re extremely talented.”
Not all of their players are blessed with great speed, just most of them. Starting tight end LaQuan McGowan, for example, brings more size than speed. He’s 6-foot-7, 410 pounds. Baylor’s skill players have so much speed they don’t need huge holes, but they get them from spreading the field and from having big bodies in the right places. It should make for an interesting few hours, watching the possible national champion at work.
— Tom Keegan can be seen on The Drive, Sunday nights on WIBW TV.