WACO, TX - SEPTEMBER 2: Nick Florence #11 of the Baylor University Bears throws a pass against the SMU Mustangs on September 2, 2012 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Art Briles program is a lot bigger than any one player, as Nick Florence stepped right into RG3's shoes without missing a beat in their 59-24 drubbing of the Mustangs.
Over the last four years, according to Rivals, Baylor's recruiting classes have an average national ranking of 45.25. In that same time span, SMU has had an average ranking of 73.75.
That, more than anything else, explains the results of the Bears dominant 59-24 season-opening win over the Mustangs on Sunday night.
The storyline coming into the game revolved around both the QB's. Baylor was replacing a Heisman Trophy winner while SMU was welcoming Garrett Gilbert, a former five-star QB who flamed out at Texas but has a better pedigree than any player to come to the Hilltop in over a generation.
However, the differences between the two programs goes a lot deeper than any one player. Art Briles plugged in Nick Florence, a senior who had spent last two seasons as Griffin's understudy, without missing a beat. Florence was nearly perfect: completing 19-28 passes for 298 yards and 3 TD's.
Gilbert, meanwhile, showed flashes of the talent that once had recruiting experts raving but also the inconsistency that plagued him in his time in Austin. He completed 34/59 passes for 284 yards with 2 TD's and 2 INT's, but most of his damage came after the game was long decided and the Bears were up 38-3.
Both schools have struggled mightily in football ever since the disintegration of the SWC in the mid-1990's. That's changed under Briles and June Jones, two of the most accomplished turn-around artists in college football.
Both men have brought their respective schools to heights that haven't been reached in generations: Baylor getting to 10 wins in 2011, SMU making three consecutive bowl appearances.They also share a similar philosophy: installing a high-powered passing offense built around spreading the ball and attacking defenses without having a traditional run game.
The difference isn't as much X's and O's as it is Jimmies and Joes. Briles, a former high school coach with a lifetime of connections in the state's high school football ranks, can sell recruits on the chance to play in one of the top conferences in the country. Jones, who had no previous ties in the state when he arrived from Hawaii, has to sell a Conference USA program that's rarely even on TV.
As a result, Baylor is bigger and more athletic at nearly every position on the field. SMU's defense was out-manned all night, with absolutely no answer for players like Terrance Williams, who caught 7 passes for 138 yards. Williams, an athletic 6'2 205 WR, is already being talked about as a first-round pick in 2013.
There are no such players on the Mustangs roster, whose WR's and RB's consistently struggled to create separation against the Bears defenders. Zach Line had 156 total yards from scrimmage, but he didn't have the burst to reel off big plays in the open field.
Baylor spent most of the game sitting in a shell defense, content to let SMU make short passes underneath. The Mustangs made several trips to the red zone in the first half, but they didn't have any players who could create a mismatch in tight space, settling for a FG, a missed FG and a turnover that bounced off a WR's hands.
On the other side of the field, the Mustangs self-destructed in the first half with penalties and botched assignments. By the time the Bears offense got on a roll, there was nothing the smaller, slower and weaker SMU defenders could really do to slow them down.
The good news for SMU is they won't see a team as talented in C-USA, while Gilbert should continue to progress as the season rolls on. One flash of hope was freshman WR Gehrig Dieter, who used his 6'3 195 frame to 3 passes for 64 yards and 1 TD, albeit from fellow freshman QB Conner Preston.
Baylor, meanwhile, is clearly the superior team, but that doesn't mean they'll have a better record at the end of the season. That's the downside of playing in the Big 12, which got significantly tougher this season with the additions of West Virginia and TCU. In about a month, Baylor will have to start a murderer's row of at West Virginia, Texas, at TCU.
Nevertheless, they still have enough talent to grind out their third consecutive bowl appearance, no small accomplishment for a program that hadn't been to a bowl in 13 years before Briles arrived from Houston.
In two years, Baylor will open their new state-of-the-art 45,000 seat stadium with another game against SMU, which will officially mark their move into the middle class of the Big 12. The Mustangs will be playing in the Big East at that point, but if they don't want to fall further behind both Baylor and TCU in the local football scene, they'll have a lot of work to do.