Disclaimer : I am sure that I have something wrong with this preview. If something is incorrect, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email (doubletnation AT gmail DOT com) and I'll get things corrected either in the story or in the comments. The purpose of this preview is to help educate myself and Texas Tech fans about your team.
Art Briles is just a good football coach. That's all there really is to it. He's a very good football coach and when Texas Tech was graciously allowed to receive the buyout from Cincinnati to take Tuberville off of the hands of Red Raiders, at the top of my list was Briles as well as Kingsbury. I think that highly of Briles as a football coach. I'm not terribly keen on coaches taking in some of the players that he has taken in, but when you're trying to build your team up, you take flyers on talented players that you think can do something, even if they have a somewhat sketchy past. And I don't mean sketchy in the sense that they're really bad people, but have made bad decisions in their life.
I remember Baylor taking in transfers like Daryl Stonum (at Michigan and had drunken driving issues), or Mike Orakpo (at Colorado St. and was accused in a beating incident that resulted in a search of their residences where they found marijuana and steroids), or Shawn Oakman (at Penn St. had shoplifing issues) or Seastrunk (at Oregon, who was the center of the Willie Lyles and NCAA investigation). Or even recently, Boise St. DE Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from that team, but will be transferring to Baylor and eligible next year.
I'm a believer in second chances and some of these transfers have paid off for Baylor while the others didn't do much of anything. The point is that sometimes coaches that are looking to improve their program and take a step-up sometimes have to take flyers on players that may have had other issues. Every coach has their warts, including Kingsbury, we just don't know them yet.
Offense | Run
Baylor is better than you ever wanted them to be in this aspect of their team. Not just sorta better from year's past, but significantly better. Perhaps this was something that Briles went back and looked at what he did at Houston, where his first year in 2003, the Cougars averaged over 200 yards rushing a game, but slipped back into the 140 to 160 range from 2004 through 2006. Then, the light came on again in 2007, his last year at Houston, where Houston ran for 224 yards a game. Briles' first year at Baylor, the Bears almost rushed for 200 yards a game, but dipped mightily in 2009, where they only rushed for 100 yards a game. I have to think that he looked back at that 2009 season and decided that this just wasn't going to happen again.
Now, Baylor returns the two best options at running bach, Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Seastrunk is receiving Heisman consideration considering his last four games, where he just ran all over his competition, including 185 yards against the #2 rush defense in K-State, 136 yards against Texas Tech, 178 yards against Oklahoma St. and 138 yards against UCLA in a resounding bowl game win.
I'd add that Martin isn't bad either as he had two 100+ yard rushing games (Kansas and Kansas St.) and two near 100 yard rushing games (98 yards against Texas Tech and UCLA). That's one heck of a one-two punch.
From looking at the depth charts, Baylor only loses right guard Cameron Kaufhold, but should be replaced by Desmine Hilliard. I'm guessing there won't be much if any noticable drop-off there. Also, right tackle Troy Baker tore his ACL in March, which probably means that he's out for all of this year. That means the rest of the offensive line returns including some really good players in Cyril Richardson at left guard and Spencer Drango at left tackle. It should be really interesting to watch how Drango and Texas Tech's LaRaven Clark, both sophomores, will have their careers play out over the course of their careers in the Big 12. If their potential plays out, they'll both be All-Americans by the time they are done.
Offense | Pass
Baylor loses QB Nick Florence, who was fantastic as his only year as the starter and the general thought is that Bryce Petty is the favorite to win the job and will pick up where Florence left off. Perhaps the difference between Petty and Floence is that Petty has quite a bit more size, at 6-3/230, and so I wonder if he's going to be as mobile as Florence was. Florence did a really nice job of extending plays with his legs and was Baylor's third leading rusher. I'd also add that Florence was really pretty accurate, only 13 interceptions on the year and 4 of them happened against TCU, but almost had a spotless interception record for the last six games of the year if it weren't for Kansas St. where Florence threw two picks, but that didn't matter in that game. The interceptions, or lack thereof, was the biggest difference between Texas Tech QB Seth Doege and Florence, turnovers. For comparison purposes Doege threw 9 interceptions over his last six games. It's probably the biggest reason why Baylor went on an incredible hot-streak. No turnovers.
But Petty is trying to continue what Florence did, which is really no small task. Florence threw 330 yards a game and led Baylor to the #4 passing offense in the country. Petty won't have the luxury to throwing to Terrance Williams, but Baylor has plenty of options, including Tevin Reese inside with Levi Norwood opposite Reese. Jay Lee, Clay Fuller and Antwan Goodley will be on the outside. All three of those guys are pretty inexperienced, so it should be interesting to see how that plays out. And make no mistake that Baylor will miss Williams, who caught over 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns. That's some pretty significant production.
The line was pretty good in allowing sacks, and probably some credit should go to Florence for his mobility, as they were tied for 35th in the nation, along with Texas Tech, only allowing 1.46 sacks per game.
Defense | Run
This is where the glowing previews stop. Make no mistake that if I were writing a preview of Texas Tech, it wouldn't be really any better. Texas Tech has had an especially poor defense for the entire tenure of defensive guru of Tommy Tuberville. Texas Tech was marginally better defensively last year, but both Baylor and Texas Tech really weren't good. Statistically speaking, Texas Tech was great against the pass, but I don't think that anyone would really claim that Texas Tech has a far superior defense. We'll get to that in a bit.
From a front seven perspective, the two interior guys, Nick Johnson and Gary Mason both graduate and replacing them are some young guys in Beau Blackshear, Javonte Magee and Trevor Clemons-Valdez. The two ends do return in Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister. They weren't bad at rushing the passer, McAllister with 6 sacks and Lloyd with 4. I actually think that's just fine, but the interior of the line is problematic. McGee was a highly rated recruit and he's probably the guy that they are counting on making a significant improvement. Still, it's a pretty young group.
What does help is that the entire linebacking corps does return and there are some productive players here. Eddie Lackey (JUCO teammate of TTU's Will Smith) and Bryce Hager, a preseason All-Big 12 pick, are both pretty darned good. They both had over 100 tackles, leading the team, and were great at getting behind the line of scrimmage, notching 10.5 TFL for Lackey and 9.5 TFL for Hager. I'd also add in Sam Holl as he plays that hybrid sort of spot for Baylor, although he's listed as a nickelback, he's really a quasi safety and linebacker and he was 4th on the team in tackles.
Baylor was 76th against the run last year, which ws good for 7th in the conference. I'm thinking that Baylor fans will feel that the full-time play of McGee will be addition by subtraction, but it's still a tough task for a true sophomore.
Defense | Pass
So this is the reason why I still have a problem picking Baylor to win the conference or even really any better than Texas Tech for that matter. Again, I think the #15 ranking for the Texas Tech pass defense was largely a mirage based on great numbers from non-conference opponents, but as bad as Texas Tech was, Baylor was worse. Significantly worse.
Baylor was 119th in pass defense. That's out of 120 teams. That also includes a 96 total passing yard game from Kansas. Baylor gave up six 300-yard passing games lat year, including 656 against West Virginia. This is not a quality defensive backfield. I do think that Ahmad Dixon is a good player and last year he was penciled in as the nickelback, but he's switching to free safety this year. That's probably going to help. Baylor does lose safety Mike Hicks and cornerback Chance Casey. I suppose this is one of those situations where how much worse can the backups be?
There may not be a team better suited to just out-score the opponent other than Baylor, but it would just be unrealistic to make any prediction about how Baylor is going to make a significant improvement defensively and in the Big 12 conference without any sort of idea as to how the pass defense is going to significantly improve. Making that next step to top three of the conference begins with having at the very least, solid defense. I can't see that happening here.
Baylor is pretty much middle of the road overall on special teams, sorta a meh as far as returners are concerned. The best of the bunch is returning P Spencer Roth who helped BU to 4th in the Big 12. Baylor was 8th in punt returns (Levi Norwood), 7th in kickoff returns (Antwan Goodley and Darius Jones), and 8th in field goal percentage (Aaron Jones). So nothing really to get terribly excited about as pretty much everyone returns. These guys will probably be a bit better as most of these guys were sophomores and juniors last year.
There is no doubt that Briles deserves a ton of credit for what he's done at Baylor. It's really something to be proud of and any time that you have a coach that has invested in the program, like Briles at Baylor and Patterson at TCU, everyone benefits. Everyone. It can come in the form of a new or renovated stadium or a program where recruits are excited to go there. But it all starts at the top with the head coach and, really, it starts with the athletic director giving the head coach enough time to get things done his way. It's tough being patient, but if you have the right coach in place, then it's totally worth it in the end.
BU is picked as somewhat of a preseason favorite. Some have even picked Baylor to win the Big 12 this year, but I just don't see it. There are just too many question marks on defense for me to believe that there will be a significant improvement. And when I mean significant improvement, I mean top of the conference. Baylor is building, make no mistake.
Rating the Bears
|Offense - Run|
|Offense | Pass|
|Defense | Run|
|Defense | Pass|