Last January, I established that Baylor owns college football's "crown." That means, the Bears "beat the team that beat the team that beat the team..." all the way back to the first intercollegiate football game ever played. I even listed every game in which the "crown" changed hands.
The crown does not mean that the holder is the best team, or deserves to be #1 in the polls. Usually, the crownholder has it for a few weeks, then loses it to a team that beats them. Baylor itself is part of the pattern; it held the crown four previous times, but only for a few weeks each. They've never sniffed the (equally unofficial) national championship. In comparison, Nebraska has won or shared five national championships, but has held the crown just four times.
Which has made Baylor's accomplishment this time remarkable. They've held the title for full twelve months. The last time that happened was ten years ago, when USC held it for two years.
Even more incredible, Baylor's doing it in spectacular fashion, scoring over 60 points and racking up over 600 yards per game this season.
Yet they're still only #4 in the BCS standings. Three other major teams are undefeated and ranked ahead of them, and only two play for the national title. Baylor not only must remain undefeated, but must count on passing Ohio St. for the #3 spot and then hope Alabama or Florida loses.
I can't help but hope it happens so that the "national championship" and the "crown" are united once again.
But there's a darker possibility: even if Baylor is just one of two undefeateds left, they could still be passed over in favor of a one-loss team that played a tougher schedule. And that poses a problem for coach Art Briles: if Baylor's denied a chance at the BCS title in that scenario, it's because Baylor doesn't get the respect traditional powers have. That lack of respect puts one at a competitive disadvantage.
Briles may then ask himself, "Why stay at Baylor, if I can compete for national titles elsewhere?"
There will certainly be opportunities elsewhere, in which he can inherit talented teams. USC comes to mind, as it has played well under interim coach Ed Orgeron (who is not likely to be retained). Texas may have an opening, and even Nebraska if the Cornhuskers play poorly the rest of the season.
My observation over the years is that the traditional powers, say, the top ten or so winningest programs of all time, along with a few others, still recruit Top 25 talent even when they underachieve or go through several years of mediocrity. Often, a new coach can win right away with the previous coach's recruits. The recruits aren't the problem; what they need is new leadership.
Notre Dame is an example. When Ty Willingham got the job, he made a major bowl with Bob Davie's recruits. Then Charlie Weis did the same thing with Willingham's recruits. Then Brian Kelly did the same with Weis's recruits.
Such programs have institutional strengths that put them back to elite levels even after several lean years. Other programs without the century-long tradition, but that have been winning for the past two or three decades (Wisconsin, Oregon, Florida St., Miami, maybe Stanford) have similar potential.
One wonders if Baylor can rise to that level. We'll find out if and when Briles leaves. If his successor does well, and his successor does well, we may find our answer. Then, the polls may well be biased in favor of Baylor.