Every now and then college football teaches us a lesson on karma’s role in the universe. On Thursday night, Oregon’s asteroid arrived in the form of Stanford and Baylor decimated Oklahoma in what appeared to be a watershed moment for both programs.
Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk injured his groin and was overshadowed by the aptly named Shock Linwood, but he represents the axis at which the fates of both Oregon and Baylor’s programs turned.
Seastrunk was the recruit at the center of the NCAA's investigation into a $25,000 payment Oregon made to Houston-based street agent Will Lyles’ amateurishly run scouting service. Lyles also introduced Chip Kelly to a future Heisman Trophy contending back from Texas named Lamichael James who was having trouble getting eligible and devised a plan.
Ultimately, he advised James to transfer from Texarkana Texas High to Texarkana Arkansas High where he was not required to take a standardized test before graduating from high school.
Problem was, their payments to Lyles constituted a violation because his dual role recruiting James and Seastrunk to Oregon violated Bylaw 13, which prohibits boosters, or those acting in that role, from being paid by the school. However, Kelly skipped town before the NCAA could knock his block off, and after the 2011 season, Seastrunk transferred to Baylor.
Conversely, Baylor proved what Seastrunk may have known all along: Texas is where the valves of America’s football obsession lead. Being tucked away in the Northwestern corner of the continental United States, Oregon is on the fringes of offensive revolution. Their innovation spurred changes in pace throughout the sport, but hasn't taken seed like in the South.
Art Briles has defied greater odds before. When he was the head coach for moribund Stephenville High School's football he was never married to an offensive scheme. Still, he took the reins of a 4A preps program that hadn't reached the playoffs since 1952, was in a three decade long slump to rival Brownville,then guided them to four state titles in 12 years while crushing national rushing touchdown and total yardage records along the way.
Baylor is the best of both worlds. Oregon plays fast, Baylor can match their quickness and pace as well as a blend of Stanford’s physicality. It’s part of the benefit of recruiting from the heart of Texas.
"That's the beauty of our offense," left tackle Spencer Drango told Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples this week. "A lot of defensive coordinators like to call in these elaborate stunts. With our tempo, they can't do it."
With 8:30 remaining in the first half, Oklahoma punted to Baylor who was trailing 3-5. Seven minutes and 16 seconds later, Baylor led 24-5.
The difference between Oregon and Baylor is in the trenches. Oregon prefers to spread out their linemen and operate in space. ESPN’s Jesse Palmer, David Pollack and Rece Davis mentioned phone booths nearly every time Tyler Gaffney dove into the tight A and B gaps created by his lineman.
They eat well on The Farm and Stanford's offensive and defensive lines bullied Oregon all over the field. Shayne Scov, Trent Murphy and Co. chained themselves to Oregon’s backfield like tree huggers in the Northwest.
How Stanford allowed Utah to dent their pristine L column is vexing to most, but it’s not a complete mystery. Utah boasts the heaviest offensive line in the Pac-12 and the third-heaviest in the nation. Stanford was unable to punish their blockers at the point of impact. Kelly's system utilizes Atkins Diet linemen that are often some of the lightest in the nation. Baylor’s offensive linemen are among the 12 heaviest units in the nation, averaging 312 pounds per blocker and many of them over the years are typically of the All-American variety.
What makes Oregon unique also hinders them against physical, disciplined defenses. In goal line situations their inability to switch out of finesse mode sunk them. Baylor has elements of both Stanford and Oregon.
Defensively, Baylor continuously beat Oklahoma’s blockers at the line of scrimmage and had Oklahoma’s 6-6, 250 pound Blake Bell moving the offense backwards whenever he went into Belldozer mode. They simply took Oklahoma behind the woodshed.
Phil Knight has been the best thing to happen in a century of Oregon football. However, on Thursday night the Pac-12 emperor came rocking new clothes. Stanford was the only one who couldn’t see them and for the second year in a row, exposed Oregon’s offense.
Meanwhile, the program that Nike upgraded into Tier 1 status in January, may have breached the upper echelon of college football’s elite programs.
Baylor has been so terrible for the past 50 years that in 1974, Rudy Feldman realized he'd made a terrible mistake and quit one day after accepting the job.
Robert Griffin III’s Heisman season is perceived to be the greatest season in Baylor history, but 1980 was actually the zenith of overall Baylor team success.
Grant Teaff, who took over after Feldman dined and dashed, rode the coattails of their heat-seeking missile defense and a senior middle linebacker named Mike Singletary to the brink of a national championship before losing to ninth-ranked Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately, after that magical season Baylor would not win 10 games in a single season again for 31 more years and embarked on a string of two, three and four win seasons in the late '90s and early 2000s.
That team limited opponents to 12 points a game. These Bears are a dishing out offensive knockouts with some defensive panache. They’re the nation’s sixth-stingiest, allowing 15 points per game. The Sooners' 237-yard performance was their biggest offensive implosion since 2007.
Their 41-12 win over the Sooners wasn’t as ostentatious as some of their earlier final scores, but Baylor is still down in the books for 61 points per night, ahead of the 29-year-old NCAA record pace set by Mississippi Valley State during Jerry Rice’s senior season.
Whereas RGIII had a trio of receivers that include Josh Gordon (Cleveland Browns), Terrance Williams (Dallas Cowboys) and Kendall Wright (Tennessee Titans), Petty has Tevin Reese (who will be out until the bowl game after dislocating his wrist) and Antwan Goodley.
Next year, Texas’ top wide receiver prospect, KD Cannon will hop onto Baylor’s offensive juggernaut. The future with Briles is uncertain though as the rumors circulate and Brinks trucks with Longhorns logos drive up and down his street. However, the short-term is where the focus lies. Looking ahead, Oklahoma State and Baylor may have to settle the Big 12 amongst themselves when they meet on Nov. 23.
Yes, Thursday night may have also served as Stanford’s re-introduction to the national championship stage, but it’s difficult to imagine the one-loss Pac-12 champ finishing ahead of undefeated Big 12 champ in the final BCS rankings. There will be no Heisman for Marcus Mariota. Give him the Byesman award. Oregon could have used ADT to emphasize ball security after Mariota and Oregon’s ball carriers gingerly handled the ball like a loaf of bread and continuously experimented with the five second rule.
The businesslike approach to Baylor’s flattening of Oklahoma on Thursday night, could yield karmic dividends. A reprisal matchup against No. 1 Alabama would be a serendipitous end to the best Baylor season since 1980 and now seems very realistic. If that comes to fruition, they’ll have Stanford to thank.