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How good is Baylor? Better than the teams it’s played so far

Baylor once again hung half a hundred (and a few more) Saturday.

It once again rolled up a ridiculous yardage total as it picked apart West Virginia.

And it once again bludgeoned another opponent to the point there was minimal danger in the second half.

The Bears will likely remain No. 2 in the grain-of-salt national polls after their 62-38 demolition of West Virginia at home. And yet a perfectly fair question lingers while trying to size up the national leader in total offense and scoring offense.

Just how good is Art Briles’ 6-0 team?

This is a question of curiosity, and it is one the Bears’ first half-dozen opponents have done little to clear up. Baylor earns credit for drubbing everyone it has lined up to play to date. It doesn’t warrant much credit for who it actually has faced.

The Bears’ nonconference schedule of Lamar, Rice and Southern Methodist provided little opportunity to produce a lasting resume-building victory. Kansas, another Baylor victim, could easily be headed for a winless season. West Virginia (3-3, 0-3 Big 12) has dropped three in a row, and its best victory came against Georgia Southern (its top brand-name triumph was a rout of Maryland).

That won’t move the needle much.

To date, the most impactful thing the Bears have done is pummel a perfectly solid Texas Tech team, 63-35, on a neutral field. And in complete fairness, the Big 12, which has crammed the round robin between Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Christian into a four-week stretch in November, is culpable in the mystery of Baylor, as well. A late-season crucible awaits all the Big 12’s contenders.

For now, this much is known. Baylor is averaging 719.7 yards per game even after mustering only 693 yards against West Virginia. It is averaging 63.8 points. And it is tossing up a ridiculous 348.8 rushing yards per game, meaning the Bears’ potent offense is even more balanced than it was in either the Robert Griffin III or Bryce Petty years.

Offense, of course, is the Bears’ thing. Points, and plenty of them, are a given in Waco. Defense, though, is the bellwether. Baylor is 39-0 since the start of the 2010 season when it gives up less than 35 points, the only team in the country unbeaten in such games in that span. Predictably, the Bears are a more vulnerable 14-18 when they surrender at least 35 points.

It’s happened twice so far this season, against Texas Tech and West Virginia. Both of those teams got to 35 long after matters were decided. It’s not outrageous to think Oklahoma and Texas Christian will score their share against the Bears as well, and probably do so a little quicker, too.

So let’s return to the original question: How good is Baylor?

The Bears have destroyed all comers, which is not a boast many (if any) others can make. And an offense now in its fifth consecutive season of producing silly numbers probably will do just fine against a stout November schedule. Maybe not 60-points-a-game fine, but the Seth Russell-led attack is unlikely to instantly stagnate.

Next month is ultimately when Baylor will sort nearly everything out. Maybe the Bears are the nation’s best or second-best team. Perhaps they aren’t. But they certainly belong in the conversation until they either stumble or finally arrive at an opportunity for the sort of real validation their schedule just hasn’t provided yet.

WEEKEND WINNERS

– Alabama. Went to Texas A&M and won, 41-23, with the help of three interception returns for touchdowns. The Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) continues to handle its business and has won four in a row since stumbling at home against Mississippi.

– American Athletic Conference. First Houston (6-0) stayed undefeated on Thursday. Then Boise State’s blowout loss on Friday made it even more likely the American will land the Group of Five’s bid to a New Year’s Six bowl. And then Memphis (6-0) erased an early two-touchdown hole to smack Mississippi, 37-24. In what amounted to an evening afterthought, Temple (6-0) eventually fended off winless Central Florida, 30-16. Things couldn’t have gone much better for Mike Aresco’s league.

– Iowa. The Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0) are the unquestioned favorite to take the West Division’s spot in the Big Ten title game after their 40-10 demolition of Northwestern. Iowa’s remaining schedule is manageable: Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska, only two of which have a winning record (Indiana and Minnesota). Things continue to look up for Kirk Ferentz.

WEEKEND LOSERS

– Brent Musburger. It’s bad enough Musburger’s been shunted off to call the SEC’s fourth best game every week in the SEC Network’s prime-time game. But no one, especially not a legendary big-game voice, should be subjected to something history will denote as “Georgia 9, Missouri 6.” At least most people with a rooting (or financial) interest had the option of flipping to a channel that didn’t feature a field goal-fest. Sadly for all involved, the over was never a possibility in this one.

– Kansas State. After giving both Oklahoma State and Texas Christian plenty of headaches the last two weeks, the Wildcats (3-3, 0-3) lost, 55-0, at home to Oklahoma. It goes down as K-State’s first shutout loss since 1996, its first shutout loss at home since 1991 and its most lopsided loss under Coach Bill Snyder since a 64-3 humbling at eventual co-national champion Colorado in 1990.

– Mississippi. From playoff favorite to no better than 10-2 (and quite possibly worse, with Louisiana State, Mississippi State and Texas A&M still to come) in less than a month. What could have been a truly special season for the Rebels (5-2) will have to be a really solid one at best after a 37-24 loss at Memphis. It was the second loss for Hugh Freeze’s talented team in three weeks.

PLAYOFF SURVIVORS

– Louisiana State. Leave it to the “Mad Hatter” himself to call fake field goal that ultimately accounted for the difference in a 35-28 victory over Florida. The Tigers (6-0, 4-0 SEC) get a capable Western Kentucky team at home next week, but should still be undefeated heading into a Nov. 7 post-bye showdown at Alabama.

– Michigan State. When you win a game on the final play like this, you’re the ultimate survivor:

The Spartans (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) remain undefeated, but after a near-miss at Rutgers in its previous game and now a near-miracle to escape Michigan, Michigan State is far from invulnerable.

– Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (6-1) went from up two touchdowns to down seven points, but it eventually outlasted a beleaguered Southern California bunch, 41-31. Notre Dame can still have a playoff argument at 11-1; next up after a bye week are trips to Temple and Pittsburgh.

– Texas Christian. The formula repeats itself. The Horned Frogs’ defense struggles for a while, but Trevone Boykin and the offense controlled the second half in Texas Christian’s 45-21 victory at Iowa State.

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