2012 Recap: Baylor went 8-5 last year, with three one-score losses away from home to West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma. They came on strong toward the end of the season, blowing out then undefeated Kansas State, outlasting Oklahoma State and dismantling UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
Offense: Baylor is the prototypical spread team. Savvy Art Briles has them humming. They spread the field. They let you decide whether you want to be thrown all over or pounded inside. They lost six draft picks in 2012, including two (RGIII and Kendall Wright) chosen in the Top 20. They fell from 2nd nationally in yards per play vs. FBS to third. Baylr has a big, mean and excellent offensive line led by TBL Top 50 guard Cyril Richardson. Lache Seastrunk ran for 646 yards and six touchdowns averaging 6.3 yards per carry the last six games last season. He should be a Heisman candidate if that form carries over. The Bears are a bit unproven at quarterback and receiver. But we’re inclined to give Art Briles the benefit of the doubt.
Defense: Baylor has the prototypical spread offense defense. Their job is to get you off the field, quickly. They will take big risks to make big plays and, as a consequence, will give up yardage and points. They were better toward the end of last season, with strong, notable performances against Kansas State and UCLA. Not coincidentally, they ran up big leads in both games and forced teams out of what they do well (i.e. Collin Klein having to throw 50 times). The critical factor will be the pass rush. Baylor had eight sacks in nine conference games last year, only Kansas was worse in the Big 12. If that rush can just be decent in 2013, Baylor’s ceiling raises dramatically.
Backloaded Schedule: The Bears, likely, will not face a ranked team until Nov. 7 when, after a bye, they face Oklahoma (home), Texas Tech (neutral), Oklahoma State (away), TCU (away) and Texas (home). Their season should depend on how they navigate the finish.
Winning is Everything: Baylor has won 25 games the past three seasons. The previous three coaches won 30 games, in 11 seasons.
Ceiling: 11-1. Baylor makes the leap. Lache Seastrunk makes a trip to NYC. Their defense is quietly not that terrible. They drop one tough game at the back end but win a conference title, getting Art Briles looks from bigger programs he should have been getting before.
Floor: 6-6. Quarterback play is less than ideal. The Bears struggle with injuries heading into that back stretch. The defense never quite materializes again. Some Big 12 opponents are tougher than expected.
Prediction: 9-3. The college football cognoscenti are right, sort of. Baylor lingers around the Top 15 for much of the season, flirts with double-digit wins but doesn’t quite get to the conference title.
[Photos via USA Today Sports]