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Baylor emphasized it was much more than departed Heisman winner Robert Griffin all season long, and the Bears capped their argument last night with a 49-26 victory over #17 UCLA. In the process, the Big 12 took its first step towards claiming the greatest depth in the nation.
There are two aspects to this claim. The first is how thorough the beatdown was. Nick Florence and Lance Seastrunk powered Baylor to a 35-10 lead at halftime, and dominated every aspect of the game. Baylor forced three turnovers without yielding one. They controlled the ball a full ten minutes longer than UCLA. The total yardage difference was 492-362. Most impressive was how Baylor commanded the line of scrimmage, rushing for 306 yards while only yielding 33 on the ground. That last statistic may be the biggest discrepancy you see this bowl season. There’s no question who was the better team on the field last night.
The second question to examine is what does this say about the Big 12 as a whole? Going into its upset of K-State, Baylor was 4-5 and most analysts expected the Bears to miss the postseason altogether. After triumphing over the Wildcats to reach 5-5, the Bears gutted out seven point wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to finish the season 7-5 and earn a bid to the Holiday Bowl. However, Baylor was one of four teams to finish 4-5 in conference play and did nothing to lay claim as one of the conference’s premier teams. Baylor was just another team in the Big 12.
UCLA, on the other hand, was one of the best teams the Pac 12 put on the field. While avoiding a game against Oregon this year, they managed a 38-28 win over USC and blew out #22 Arizona, 66-10. In the Pac 12 championship game against Stanford, a fourth quarter field goal by the Cardinal provided the final points in a 27-24 outcome. UCLA, while not the creme de la creme of the Pacific Coast, was certainly one of the best the Pac 12 had to offer.
So what happens when a team that goes 4-5 in the Big 12 dominates a Pac 12 foe that went 6-3 in league play? Coastal media can rank conference strength any way it wants, but only conference owns bragging rights. It also serves notice to the doubters when another match up between the Big 12 and Pac 12 goes down this year, as K-State’s loss to Baylor gains a little perspective.