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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #12 Baylor

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 8, 2014

#12 Baylor Bears

 

2013 Recap:

11-2 and the first outright conference title in over 30 years is a big, big year. The only real downside was the Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida in a 52-42 shootout. The Baylor offense ranked #1 overall at the NCAA level in a number of categories and they were exciting to watch.

 

Coaching:

Art Briles has turned around the culture at Baylor and his name was naturally brought up to fill the Texas coaching vacancy in the offseason but smartly decided against it. The pieces are in place for a competitive team for years to come, even after quarterback Bryce Petty leaves this season.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Bryce Petty is starting to rewrite the record books at Baylor and there was a quarterback just a few years ahead of him named Robert Griffin III who was pretty good. Petty threw for 4,200 yards last year with 32 TD’s and only 3 interceptions while adding another 14 touchdowns on the ground running the ball. Petty was at the controls for an offense that accounted for 8,044 yards total with an average of 52.4 PPG while outscoring their opponents 681-306. He is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and the Bears were quite happy when he spurned the opportunity to turn pro and came back for his senior season.

While Baylor was fortunate to get Petty back they did not get as lucky with running back Lache Seastrunk. Seastrunk took his 1,177 yards yards rushing and 11 TD’s to the NFL. Baylor has an abundance of talent at running back and they appear to be stronger than last season as Seastrunk was far from the only option in Waco. Shock Linwood posted 881 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground as a freshman and averaged 6.9 YPC. In all, Baylor was #13 running the football with 3,376 total yards, good for nearly 260 per game on the ground. Backup Devin Chafin is also a sophomore and had 51 carries a year ago and netted 4 touchdowns and nearly 300 yards. As we eluded to before, Petty had 14 rushing touchdowns so there are a multitude of ways this team can win and gain yards in quick bunches.

Best Draft Prospect: Bryce Petty QB 1st Round 2015.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

7th Round draft choice Tevin Reese was supposed to be the big target for Baylor last season but he spent most of the year nagged up and missed 4 games due to injury. Reese was still a vital cog in the offense with 8 touchdowns and his 38 snags netted nearly 23 YPC but a new target emerged for the Bears. Antwan Goodley ran with the baton in his first year as a starter with 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns. He may have “snuck up” on a few teams early in the season but by the midway points all teams were fully aware of who he was and what he was doing to opposing defenses. Goodley will have the services of Corey Coleman to back him up this season after a campaign where he gained over 500 yards through the air. Levi Norwood is also back and he is a draft prospect for 2015 that gained 733 yards and 8 touchdowns. This receiving corps is loaded as Clay Fuller is a backup and he too had over 500 yards in 2013.

Baylor may get tight end Tre’Von Armstead involved more with the passing game vice just being an extra blocker to help the running attack.

Best Draft Prospect: Antwan Goodley WR 3rd Round 2015.

 

Offensive Line:

This offensive line would be considered among the best in a number of conferences or even the best line. We have Baylor as the 3rd best line in the Big 12 because of some superior lines we see at Kansas State (#14 in our countdown) and Oklahoma (we haven’t seen them yet). Baylor has a wonderful line even though they only have 1 starter returning from last season, but Spencer Drango is no ordinary starter. Drango is a junior who has a shot at possibly going pro after this season if he grades out well enough. Troy Baker and Desmine Hilliard will man the right side of the line at tackle and guard respectively and both are pro prospects for 2015 and 2016. Jarell Broxton is a JUCO transfer that should come in right away and provide depth at both guard positions. LaQuan McGowan took some lumps but the sophomore should split time with Blake Muir at the left guard spot as well as with the aforementioned Broxton. I expect this line to show a lot of growth and the fact that they have such a strong stable of runners behind them will make them look even better. Opponents only logged 22 sacks against Baylor last season, a respectable number, and we expect a number around that area for this season too.

Best Draft Prospect: Spencer Drango OT 3rd Round 2016.

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

The Baylor defense was better than many thought it would be a season ago. The defense may have had as much to do with the 11-2 record as the offense did, even though Baylor had the #1 offense at the NCAA level. Jamal Palmer is the top returning sack artist with 5 even though Palmer was not a starter last year. In fact, finding starters from last year is the problem as only 3 exist from last season. Beau Blackshear is the only returning member along the defensive line and he has mid-late round prospect written all over him. Blackshear has the ability to play the run and still be quick enough to help get some pressure on the quarterback. Andrew Billings and Shawn Oakman will also be starting up front and we are seeing a number of Baylor players that look like they can get to the quarterback. Stopping the run might be another issue. With a host of new linebackers behind the line, stopping the run may be the primary focus and an area where we may see Baylor struggle a bit.

Best Draft Prospect: Beau Blackshear DT 5th Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

Bryce Hager is the man in the middle at a school known for middle linebacker play over the years. Hager did miss a huge portion of the spring with a groin injury but he should be good to go for the start of the season. If there is one area of the field Baylor doesn’t need injuries it’s at linebacker, especially to the best and only returning starter in the group that is a late round NFL Draft prospect. Avion Edwards is an up and coming linebacker that will probably take over leadership duties once Hager departs and Collin Brence will be asked to step in and do more than just special teams. Kiante Griffin looks like a player that showed improvement last year and started seeing the field in some bigger situations near the end of the season. The Hager injury was a scare for this unit, so there are question marks as they are far from being an elite unit.

Best Draft Prospect: Bryce Hager LB 6th Round 2015.

 

Secondary:

Trying to replace the departed and drafted Ahmad Dixon will be quite a chore for Baylor. Dixon was an All-Big 12 safety and one of the hardest hitters at the NCAA level and his 81 tackles were second on the Baylor squad last season. Sophomores Xavien Howard and Terrence Singleton are said to have the stuff to step up and play corner. They are just inexperienced as they combined for 10 tackles and 1 interception during limited action a season ago. We have Howard listed as an undrafted free agent, although both are probably better prospects, but we just haven’t seen enough of them yet to make a determination. Terrell Burt is back as the lone secondary returning starter but he seemed to miss some key tackles a season ago and was late with play recognition. As a junior Burt will be the most experienced starter of the group and will have to provide some leadership. Baylor is switching to a more traditional 4-man secondary as they have experimented with rovers and five player secondaries in the past. If we see that this season it will be sporadic.

Best Draft Prospect: Xavien Howard CB UFA 2017.

 

Special Teams:

Baylor has Spencer Roth back at punter. He is one of the finest in the nation and the bright spot on what looks to be a rather ordinary unit otherwise. Levi Norwood had a pair of punt return touchdowns last season but he has to learn that every play is not going to be a game breaker. Norwood would be better served taking the 10-15 yard gains at times than trying to break one every time out. Corey Coleman was inconsistent as a kick returner but he has the ability to make people miss in the open field. This could be an exceptional unit as a whole or rather dismal. Field goal kicking was an adventure last season and this year the Bears have freshman Chris Callahan kicking. Any improvement would be welcomed when it comes to field goal consistency.

Best Draft Prospect: Spencer Roth P 7th Round 2015.

 

Schedule:

The schedule starts to get real in October with back-to back contests against Texas and TCU. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are back-to-back in November but the Bears get a week off between the games. Kansas State is a threat this year and the home game against them to close the regular season on December 6th could be one of the biggest conference games of the year.

 

Draft Outlook:

Bryce Petty having another banner year will ensure Baylor is on the radar and Antwan Goodley may see his stock rise even further. Prospects for 2016 like Beau Blackshear and Spencer Drango will ensure Baylor stays relevant beyond 2015.

 

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