Baylor Preview: Bears Ready To Prove It Again
August 25, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
BIG 12 RELEASE
Timelines often cover progress or events over decades or even centuries. That is definitely not the case when detailing the rocketing success of Baylor's football program.
From Art Briles being hired in 2008 to RGIII's Heisman Trophy in 2011 to breaking ground for a new on-campus stadium in 2012 to a Big 12 Conference championship in 2013, the ascension has been as remarkable as it has been rapid.
Now, with McLane Stadium, the Jewel On The Brazos, slated to open for this season, the next step for the burgeoning program is as clear as the view of the new facility from I-35. And while the stadium has been built, the Bears are growling and prowling.
"We have a lot of unfinished business," Briles said as Baylor started camp last week. "And there are a lot of people that we feel like we need to prove ourselves to, ourselves first of all, then our opponents.
"There are a lot of things out there that we haven't done."
While capturing the Big 12 title – the school's first undisputed conference title since 1980 – was an accomplishment, Baylor split its last four games. That included a BCS Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF. Plus, the Bears were picked to finish second behind Oklahoma in the preseason poll by the media.
"After winning a championship, your goals get bigger,"said linebacker Bryce Hager, who missed the last four games of the season with a groin injury. "You want to win a national championship. It's definitely more real now than when I got here five years ago."
Senior quarterback Bryce Petty returns to run an offense that led the nation in scoring at 52.4 points per game and total offense (618.8 yards per game). In his first season as a starter, he threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Briles remains mystified that those numbers didn't earn Petty an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Petty, receiver Antwan Goodley and sophomore running back Shock Linwood were selected by USA Today as the nation's top QB-WR-RB trio. While the top two rushers and road-grading offensive lineman Cyril Richardson must be replaced, most believe the Bears' offense will again post PlayStation numbers.
"Our offense is going to be unbelievable - faster, stronger and more physical," Petty said. "We have more athletes than we've had in a long time.
As it did last season, Baylor's defense will again determine the team's ultimate success. The Bears finished 28th in total defense and that was certainly adequate in tandem with the offense. In the two losses – to Oklahoma State and UCF – Baylor allowed 49 and 52 points.
A deep and talented defensive line led by defensive end Shawn Oakman, a massive 6-9, 280-pound junior, could be one of the best in the Big 12. Overall, the defense must replace seven starters, including linebacker Eddie Lackey plus defensive backs Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl.
"We learned we're the hunted now, and we have to prepare and practice that way," Petty said. We've always got something to prove. Even if we were picked No. 1 in the nation, we've always got something to prove. We're here to stay."
Three Points To Ponder
2. Can the offense be any more productive? The Bears on that side of the ball seem to think so. If last year's group had stayed healthy, it might have been able to maintain its 61 points per game average. The key to lighting up scoreboards will be a young group of wide receivers. Veterans Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood are outstanding but freshmen will need to provide depth plus there's a need to find receivers you can stretch the field deep.
3. In the third season under coordinator Phil Bennett, Baylor's defense went from awful to good enough to win a Big 12 title. With an offense capable of hanging half a hundred, finishing 28th in total defense was more than adequate. Replacing several key play makers in the back seven will be a challenge but the defensive front could be nasty and senior linebacker Bryce Hager is a tackling machine.
Numbers To Note
* - Big 12 Conference game.