NCAA Football Preview - Baylor Bears
08/19/2014 11:13 AM
08/19/2014 11:16 AM
The Bears had streaked out to a 9-0 start, scoring more than 60 points six times (70 or more four times) while permitting in excess of 14 on only three occasions. Double-digit wins over West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech had BU on course to win its first-ever Big 12 title. The team dropped a lopsided decision (49-17) at Oklahoma State just before Thanksgiving, but bounced back to take down TCU and Texas the next two weeks to claim the conference crown, and with it, a BCS Bowl bid against another upstart program in UCF.
The Fiesta Bowl matchup with the Knights was everything most expected it would be -- a high-energy clash between two teams that certainly knew how to score points. In the end, UCF prevailed in a 52-42 final, slightly diminishing Baylor's accomplishments, but Briles' bunch certainly gave their rabid fans a season to remember.
OFFENSE: The Bears are set to move into a new stadium this fall, and the offense, under the direction of Heisman hopeful Bryce Petty, should help provide plenty of fireworks to help celebrate. Petty, now a senior, put up monster numbers a year ago, and could have conceivably been a more serious Heisman contender if not for the record-setting seasons turned in by some of the other outstanding players on the national scene. As it was, Petty threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions, and he will be surrounded with an abundance of talent once again, notably senior wide receiver Antwan Goodley (71 receptions, 1,339 yards, 13 touchdowns).
Shock Linwood is back as the team's top ground gainer, having rushed for 881 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2013 as a freshman.
A near total overhaul of the offensive line may provide some instability at the outset, and the key will be whether or not some of the guys who were battered and bruised last season are healed up and ready to go. Also, finding a replacement for two-time All-American Cyril Richardson won't be easy.
Briles is aware of the challenges that lie ahead. But he knows that focus and preparation are the building blocks on which he hopes to construct another highly successful campaign.
"Our goal right now is we're preparing to play 60 minutes to win a football game August 31st (vs. SMU). That's our goal, that's our objective, that's the way we're approaching it."
DEFENSE: As mentioned earlier, the BU defense was superb last season, but the return of only four players with starting experience could mean a downswing this year. The loss of several key contributors won't be easy to overcome, but if standout linebacker Bryce Hager returns to form after missing the final few games of last season due to injury that would be a huge help. Hager amassed 71 tackles from his spot in the middle of the field last season, and he will need to be even more active this fall as most of his teammates settle into new roles.
Up front is where the Bears appear to be strongest, as defensive ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer (5.0 sacks in '13) have the skill, and the coaches' confidence to get the job done.
The secondary may take some time to jell as well, with the only notable returnee being junior safety Terrell Burt (2 interceptions in '13). Still, Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett are excited about the potential of sophomores Terrence Singleton and Orion Stewart.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Spencer Roth is the only holdover on special teams, and the senior punter is hoping to up the ante after averaging nearly 46 yards per punt in 2013 en route to All-Big 12 honors, as well as All-America consideration. Freshman Chris Callahan appears to have the inside track on kicking duties, while the return game will feature any one of the talented speedsters Briles has at his disposal.
OUTLOOK: As long as Petty stays healthy, the Bears are going to be a formidable opponent for all who line up against them. The opener against SMU won't be easy, but layups against Northwestern State and Buffalo will have the team in a favorable position as Big 12 play gets underway at Iowa State on the last Saturday in September.
Baylor will actually play three straight road games from Sept. 13 to Oct. 4, the last of which takes place at Texas. TCU and West Virginia are next, and the final four games will see the Bears tangle with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State.
It will be interesting to see if Briles can get his troops to the top of the Big 12 mountain once again, but the more likely scenario will see them miss the mark by a narrow margin.
Regardless, Briles believes last year was a stepping stone to even greater things in the future.
"We're very excited about 2014 without any question, because our guys have learned how to win at the highest level and have worked diligently on and off the football field to keep our name good, and that's what it's all about."
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