2014 CFN Preview - Baylor Bears
Baylor WR Antwan Goodley
Baylor WR Antwan Goodley
Posted Jun 2, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - If you thought last year was fun, just wait until you see the 2014 offense. (Getty Images)

Baylor Bears

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Art Briles
7th year: 44-32
12th year: 78-60
Returning Starters
Off. 24, Def. 24, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Baylor Players
1. QB Bryce Petty, Sr
2. OT Spencer Drango, Jr.
3. WR Antwan Goodley, Sr.
4. LB Bryce Hager, Sr.
5. RB Shock Linwood, Soph.
6. DE Shawn Oakman, Jr.
7. P Spencer Roth, Sr.
8. WR Levi Norwood, Sr.
9. DE Jamal Palmer, Jr.
10. TE Tre'von Armstead, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 31 SMU
Sep. 6 Northwestern St
Sep. 12 at Buffalo
Sep. 27 at Iowa State
Oct. 4 at Texas
Oct. 11 TCU
Oct. 18 at West Virginia
Nov. 1 Kansas
Nov. 8 at Oklahoma
Nov. 22 Oklahoma State
Nov. 29 Texas Tech (in Arl.)
Dec. 6 Kansas State

But you're Baylor.

You know, perennial Big 12 doormat, went a bazillion games without winning a conference matchup, had just one bowl appearance – and lost it - from 1993 to 2010, 15,000-enrollment, happy to get any recruit who ever dreamed about playing for Texas or Oklahoma ... Baylor.

But Art Briles has done a miraculous job in his six seasons in Waco, turning around an afterthought program that was impossible to make into a winner and he made it cool. What he has done is like, well, turning Baylor into a Big 12 champion.

As the end of last season showed, though, just winning a conference title and getting to a conference championship game isn't good enough for a team that managed to rip through the first nine games of the season like the opponents had no idea how to play college football.

The ugly, nationally-televised spotlight loss to Oklahoma State and the Fiesta Bowl defeat to UCF put a damper on what was, by any other measure, an all-timer of a campaign for the program, but now there's another carrot at the end of the stick. The Bears showed they could produce and play at a high level under Briles, and now the motivation is there to do even more.

First, though, try to wrap your head around what Baylor did until the debacle in Stillwater – the team made a 70 point game seem routine.

In 2008, Sam Bradford and the record-setting Oklahoma offense never hit the 70-point mark scoring 716 points on the season. Baylor scored 70 four times and could've made it 100 in the 69-3 win over Wofford on the way to a 681-point season with one fewer game. Blink, and Bryce Petty had three touchdown passes on the way to a 35-0 lead.

Baylor outscored teams 208 to 64 in the first quarters of games and 407 to 138 in the first halves – the opponents never knew what hit them.

Briles does a terrific job of getting the ball out of the hands of his quarterback in a hurry to a receiver on the move, and his attack finds wide open spaces for the speed backs to run through. It sounds much easier than it is – everyone would hang 70 on a regular basis if they could – but the offense that cranked up 619 yards per game and averaged 52 points per outing needs to have the parts in place.

It's not just a gimmicky spread, Briles has found a way to load up with very fast, very athletic players who simply outquick most teams. Put a heady quarterback behind a good offensive line to deliver the ball, and all of a sudden, boom.

Petty is back for his senior season after getting the option of leaving early for the next level, and his main weapons are back in Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood to make the passing game fly. Lache Seastrunk might be gone, but the team of Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson should keep the ground attack rolling and explosive.

The defense that didn't get quite enough respect or attention returns better and stronger with improved depth and a base of seven good starters to work around. The Bears finished 28th in the nation in total D and was fantastic at getting behind the line and being disruptive, and now they have the potential to be dominant with a front four as good as any in the Big 12.

Now it's time to take Baylor seriously. Yeah, everyone waited for reality to set in last year, and it might have happened against Oklahoma State, but that was the aberration. Even against UCF, the team proved to be the real deal.

Yeah, now it really is time to believe that Baylor can actually play.

What to watch for on offense: Don't forget about the running game. Bryce Petty might bomb away and be on everyone's Heisman short list, but the Bears finished 13th in the nation in rushing 3,368 yards and 47 touchdowns, helped by Petty punching in 14 of them. The entire rushing attack averaged over five yards per pop, and even without Lache Seastrunk, the speedsters are there in the backfield to hit home runs on a regular basis behind a terrific offensive line. There are a few questions about whether or not star left tackle Spencer Drango is 100% after getting hurt last season, and this is one area that's a wee bit thin in terms of proven, talented depth, but the team came up with 200 rushing yards or more in every game but three. The 35-25 close call against Kansas State, the blowout loss to Oklahoma State, and the loss to UCF.

What to watch for on defense: The pressure from the front four should be outstanding. The linebacking corps can get behind the line on a regular basis – Bryce Hager is great at making big things happen – but the defensive line has the potential to destroy with a good-looking rotation and a nice blend of talents. From the massive Shawn Oakman on one end, to the speedster Jamal Palmer on the other, to the quick 300-pounders on the inside, the Bears should be able to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has plenty of options to mix and match to make this work.

The team will be far better if … the penalties stop. If you're going to go from being Big 12 championship good to College Football Playoff good, you can't lose a game or two on dumb mistakes. Baylor finished dead last in the nation in penalties, committing 120 for and average of 83 yards per game. While the offense makes up the yardage in a hiccup, it's still a problem. Ironically, the least-penalized game last year was the Oklahoma State loss with just three for ten yards, but sins were a killer against UCF, getting flagged a season-high 17 times for 135 yards. On the season, Baylor was hit with ten or more penalties six times.

The schedule: Now the Bears are going to be the hunted instead of the hunter – this isn't your older brother's Baylor team. Even so, there shouldn't be any problems with the non-conference schedule starting out with a shootout against SMU before getting a scrimmage against Northwestern State before travelling to Buffalo for an odd non-conference road trip. Getting a week off after a 3-0 start should be a positive before diving into conference play.

Fortunately, two of the potentially easiest Big 12 games – Iowa State and West Virginia – are on the road, but that means there can't be a slip-up. Beat the Cyclones, and then it's up to the Texas road game as the key – if the Bears are good enough to beat the Longhorns on the road, they'll be good enough to beat TCU, West Virginia and Kansas to go 8-0 before going to Oklahoma. Getting Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home after a week off is a major bonus.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Bryce Petty. It's not like he's a try-hard type who just so happens to be in the right offense. A good recruit, Tennessee was an option before choosing Baylor, and after being seasoned in the system, he came out roaring last year. Efficient, resilient and effective at getting into a groove and staying there, he was lights out early on last season. However, he completed fewer than 60% of his passes against the good defenses like TCU's, Oklahoma State's, Oklahoma's and Kansas State's. Keeping the mistakes to a minimum, he threw only three picks all season long. That won't happen this year, but he should be a statistical superstar again.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Bryce Hager. Very quickly, 6-9, 280-pound DE Shawn Oakman could be the one everyone comes to see, and the defensive backs make a slew of big plays in this D, but it's Hager who's the tone-setter in the middle making 195 tackles in the last two seasons despite missing the last four games of last year. With tremendous instincts and the ability to get behind the line in a hurry, he knows how to anchor a defense. Expect a third straight All-Big 12 campaign.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore S Orion Stewart. The 6-2, 200-pounder has to replace longtime big hitter Ahmad Dixon, but he's not the only one who has to come through in a young secondary. Everyone will get helped by the pass rush, but the defensive backfield has to replace Sam Holl, K.J. Morton and Demitri Goodson as well as Dixon. Stewart saw his share of time as a freshman, coming up with 39 tackles with four broken up passes and an 82-yard pick six against TCU, but now he has to be in the 75-tackle range, and steady.

The season will be a success if … the Bears get into College Football Playoff. Is that too greedy? Not for a team that went 11-1 last year and would've at least been in the discussion if there was a four team playoff. This season, with so much talent returning, a relatively favorable schedule, and so many realistic expectations, the goal is to win the Big 12 title first, and then hope is all works out from there to be among the big four.

Key game: Nov. 8 at Oklahoma. Oklahoma State has been the real problem for the Bears lately – going 1-6 over the last seven years including last year's blowout loss – but the Big 12 road should go through Oklahoma this season. 2-20 all-time vs. the Sooners, both wins came within the last three years and neither one was in Norman. If all goes according to plan, and if Baylor can beat Texas in Austin, the record could be 8-0 going into the showdown with the Sooners that might deicide the Big 12 title.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing Touchdowns: Baylor 47 – Opponents 15
- Average Yards Per Play: Baylor 7.5 – Opponents 4.8
- Total Offense: Baylor 8,044 yards – Opponents 4,684

-  2014 Baylor Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players