On Saturday, amid a slate of college football games that's better off swept into the rubbish bin of Phil Steele's unconscious, something kind of demented took place that defined the tenor of the weekend: Baylor opened up a 35-0 lead on a Louisiana-Monroe squad that nearly beat them last season. This was not a fourth-quarter score, or even a halftime margin; this was the Bears' lead after 15 minutes, which you may recognize as the standard American unit of measurement for a single quarter of play. The final was 70-7, and as I tell you this, you may be sitting there asking, Why was this blowout different from all other blowouts? And I would tell you that there are several reasons, but one of these is that Baylor apparently became the first team since 1930 to score 60 points in its first three games, and another is that Baylor became the first team since at least 1996 to score at least 28 points in the first quarter in three consecutive games.
This is not really that surprising, though, just as it isn't exactly a shock that Baylor is 3-0 heading into Big 12 play. And I know there is a glaring caveat here. I know that the Bears have accomplished this against an FCS opponent (Wofford), an undistinguished Mid-American Conference team (Buffalo), and a Monroe team that clearly is nowhere near as potent as it was last season, but here is why I think there's reason to believe Baylor may be approaching Oregon-esque heights of efficiency: In their first three games last season (against a relatively similar schedule), the Bears gave up 89 points, an average of nearly 30 a game. In their first three games this season, they've given up a total of 23, good for second in the country in scoring defense. In the first quarter alone on Saturday, Baylor intercepted two passes from Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning -- the 2012 Sun Belt offensive player of the year -- and returned them both for touchdowns.
So what does it mean if Baylor actually does have a good defense, or even a somewhat passable defense that can make occasional stops, especially in critical situations? It might mean that Baylor is not just marginally improved from the Robert Griffin era; it might mean that Baylor really is a national player this time around, headed (potentially) toward a Big 12 championship and (potentially) an undefeated season. It might mean that Baylor, in just a few short seasons, may have found a way to out-Oregon Oregon: Despite Bryce Petty being the Bears' third starting quarterback in three years, they're putting up more points than the Ducks to date, and in receivers Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley and running back Lache Seastrunk, they appear to have better skill-position players than ever before. There may not be a Big 12 defense they're incapable of putting up 40 against (except maybe Oklahoma). If they can hold their opponents into the 20s, they may not play a close game until the postseason.
Of course, we still won't know if Baylor is a real thing for a little while longer. After a bye week next Saturday, the Bears host West Virginia. These two teams played the most guiltily enjoyable contest of last season (WVU won 70-63), but now it appears to be a lopsided mismatch between a hypersonic offensive-oriented program in ascension and a hypersonic offensive-oriented program that appears to have developed a serious case of the yips. As Baylor was performing a routine vivisection, the Mountaineers were in the midst of a perplexing 37-0 loss to Maryland. West Virginia has scored precisely seven points in eight quarters against BCS opponents, and so a game that last year appeared to put the Mountaineers on course toward the Big 12 title (before an epic second-half collapse) now feels like a speedbump for Baylor.
But maybe this game means more than that. Maybe it means that -- unlike West Virginia, apparently -- Baylor is here to stay as a Big 12 contender (assuming coach Art Briles is not tempted to vacate the Dr. Pepper-saturated confines of Waco for the Texas job), and maybe it means the Bears will keep getting better, and maybe it means someday not so long from now, Baylor and Oregon -- the Ducks, it should be noted, are tied for fifth in the country in scoring defense, at nine points per game -- will play the most nakedly entertaining postseason college football game any of us have ever seen. And maybe, if the early returns are any indication, that game will not be quite as devoid of defense as most of us might have imagined it to be.