Over the past season-and-a-half, Baylor has won 13 football games with 10 of those wins coming in 2011 alone. Think about that for a minute.
In the first 15 seasons of the Big 12's existence, Baylor won more than five games in a season twice ('05, '10). They won three games or less eight different times over that same span.
As far as Big 12 conference games goes, they won six Big 12 games in 2011. That's the same amount of Big 12 games Baylor won in the first NINE years in the Big 12 going back to 1996. In all 15 years the Big 12 had been a conference, they had won 18 Big 12 games in total prior to 2011.
There's no question Baylor is headed in the right direction under Art Briles. The Bears used to be an afterthought in the Big 12. Baylor now matters, once again, which is something that you could rarely say over the past 20 seasons.
With the increased level of success that Baylor has achieved under Briles, also comes increased expectations which is one reason why Briles was asked about the status of defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, during Monday's press conference. Baylor's defense, you know, hasn't exactly been adept at keeping anyone out of the end zone over the past several seasons.
Briles brought in Bennett prior to the 2010 season to run the Bears defense while assigning then defensive coordinator, Brian Norwood, to associate head coach who is also now in charge of the safeties.
The defense had struggled to an extent over Briles' first three years in Waco and Bennett became available when Dave Wannstedt was let go at Pitt. Bennett had been Pitt's defensive coordinator for three seasons and was named the interim head coach for Pitt's bowl game following Wannstedt's dismissal after the 2010 regular season.
Has he considered replacing Bennett midseason? As you can imagine, Briles wasn't amused with the question on Monday and he answered it with a quick, "not at all. Why? Because he's a good football coach and he's taking care of business on the defensive side of the ball. That's not even thought about at this stage of the game."
"If the car is rolling down the highway, you're not going to jump out while it's moving. I mean, we've got six games left," Briles added.
While it's obvious he's not going to make any changes before the schedule plays out, it's anybody's guess as to what happens following the conclusion of the season.
Statistics don't always tell the whole story, but here's a look at Baylor's defensive statistics under Briles. In his first three seasons, the defense was directed by Norwood, while 2011 and the six games of this season are under Bennett's watch.
Baylor's defense under Art Briles (Brian Norwood DC '08-10, Phil Bennett '11 - current)
|Scoring defense (pts/gm)||29.3||27.2||30.5||37.2||44.0|
|Total defense (yds/gm)||393.2||405.6||435.4||488.5||553.2|
|Rush defense (yds/gm)||137.9||178.8||170.3||197.4||197.2|
|Pass defense (yds/gm)||255.2||226.8||265.1||291.1||356.0|
Notice anything unusual? The number aren't exactly trending in the right direction.
During the 2008 and 2009 seasons combined, Baylor's defense gave up 40 points or more four different times. In 2010, that number jumped to five times which is one of the reasons Briles decided to make the change at coordinator. Baylor's defense was bad, but not that bad, at least when considering the past season-and-a-half.
In 19 games under Bennett, the Bears' defense has given up 40 or more points nine different times. They've also given up more than 50 points five times in those 19 games. That happened just three times under Norwood in 37 games.
Have the offenses gotten even better that last two seasons? Maybe, but Oklahoma, Texas and the Texas Tech's of the world were putting up plenty of points five years ago just like they are now.
If you were able to dive into the details behind the scenes, there are probably a plethora of reasons for the lack of defensive success. From the outside looking in, however, there are only two obvious reasons to look at; poor coaching or lack of talent on that side of the ball (and possibly a combination of both).
Whatever the case, Briles is going to have to make some sort of change come season's end. He's either going to have to reevaluate his recruiting philosophy on defense and go after a different type of player, or change coaches, right?
The only other option is to change the schemes that Bennett is running, but that hardly seems like the problem. Bennett has a wealth of experience coaching defense and if he truly thought his schemes were the problem, they'd likely be changed by now.
Baylor has reached another level of success not only in the Big 12, but nationally, as well. If recruits want to find out what Baylor has to offer, just flip on the TV Sunday afternoon and watch Robert Griffin do his thing.
But if Baylor wants to continue at that same level they experienced last season on a consistent basis, they simply have to get better on defense. The play on that side of the ball is holding their program back and there's really no way to sugarcoat it. The evidence is on the scoreboard every week, even when they win.
They're already at the level on offense, as evidenced by the continued success this season even without RGIII, Kendall Wright and Terrance Ganaway scoring touchdowns. Now if they can just figure out how to get their on defense, they'll be in business. Easier said than done, yes, but necessary nonetheless.
Briles decided following the 2010 season it was the coaching and made a change.
Whether it's coaching, players, or something else this time around is for Briles to figure out, but until he does, scratching and crawling to get to six wins and a bowl game every season is what the future holds in Waco.