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2013 Pre-Season Preview: Baylor Bears

2012 Record: 8-5 (4-5 in Big 12)

Head Coach: Art Briles (33-30 at Baylor, 17-25 in Big 12)

Four Year Trend: 7.25 wins and 5.5 losses

Last Bowl Game: 2012 Holiday Bowl: beat UCLA 49-26

Stadium: Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, TX (capacity = 50,000)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 34th out of 69 BCS teams

Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Out of Conference: 8/31 vs Wofford, 9/7 vs Buffalo, 9/21 vs ULM

Revenge: 10/5 vs WVU, 10/19 vs Iowa St, 11/7 vs Oklahoma, 11/30 at TCU, 12/7 vs Texas

Other Key Games: 10/12 at Kansas St, 11/16 vs Texas Tech, 11/23 at Oklahoma St

 

Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stats to Fear: gave up 41 ppg in conference play (9th in Big 12), allowed opponents to convert on 52.11% of third downs (last in Big 12)

Stats to Cheer: scored 41.7 ppg in conference play (2nd in Big 12), had 57 plays of 30 or more yards (1st in Big 12)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 18th out of 124 teams

 

Personnel:

Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 5, Defense: 7, Special Teams: 2

Key Defensive Returnees: LB Bryce Hager (124 tackles, 4 sacks), LB Eddie Lackey (104 tackles, 4 INT), S Ahmad Dixon (102 tackles),  CB Joe Williams (67 tackles, 3 INT), DE Chris McAllister (45 tackles, 6 sacks)

Key Offensive Returnees: RB Lache Seastrunk (1012 yds rush, 7.73 ypc, 7 TD), RB Glasco Martin (889 yds rush, 4.97 ypc, 15 TD), WR Tevin Reese (53 rec, 9 TD), WR Levi Norwood (40 rec)

Top 2013 Recruits: WR Robbie Rhodes, OLB Brian Nance, DT Andrew Billings, OT Maurice Porter

 

Inside Scoop with Jay Beck of Turfburner:

CFBZ: Without RG3 in 2012, the Baylor offense seemed to keep on rolling. Who do you credit that to and what are your expectations for the offense in 2013?

Turfburner: Art Briles, plain and simple. Briles developed his spread offense while coaching high school football in Texas, brought it to the college game and it’s continued to work because he’s adapted along the way. When defenses change to stop what he’s doing, he makes a few tweaks and away they go.

He has said in the past he largely developed it out of trial and error meaning he knows what works and what doesn’t. It’s a philosophy that he believes in and honestly, he’s a guy that probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves when it comes to conversations about brilliant offensive minds in football. The guy simply knows how to coach what he wants to get done.

Of course, no matter how good a system, you still need players to make it go. As good as Baylor’s quarterbacks have been, Briles’ has continued to surround them with an abundance of talent at wide receiver (Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams to name two) and he’s always had solid running backs to go with it. That’s something that will likely be showcased this season with the emergence of Lache Seastrunk in the backfield.

 

CFBZ: As usual, the Big 12 will be a slugfest this season. What do you see as the key games on the schedule?

Turfburner: At the top of the list, I would start with their first road game of the season at Kansas State. Nobody knows for sure what to expect from the Wildcats (who have to replace a lot of talent from last season’s Big 12 championship team), but if Baylor hopes to compete for a Big 12 title themselves, winning in Manhattan would be a huge step in the right direction.

If Baylor can get by Kansas State, it’s not inconceivable to think they could be 7-0 when Oklahoma visits on November 7th which leads me to the next huge game on their schedule. Baylor knocked off OU the last time they played in Waco and given the fact this might not be a typically dominant Sooner squad, there’s no reason to think Baylor can’t do it again.

The last game to add is the obvious choice which is the season finale with Texas in Waco. It will be the last game at Floyd Casey Stadium before the Bears move into their new digs, and because it happens to be against the Longhorns, they’ll be plenty of excitement surrounding this game to end the season.

And that doesn’t even touch on what could be riding on this game. Texas has Big 12 title hopes of their own so there could very well be a Big 12 championship and BCS bid on the line. Baylor has beaten Texas two out of the last three times they’ve met and they would love nothing more than to make it three of four, especially if it ruins a conference championship for Texas, or better yet, gives them a Big 12 title of their own.

 

CFBZ: The defense continues to be the Achilles Heel of this team. Who needs to step up on this side of the football?

Turfburner: As bad as Baylor’s defense has been over the past several seasons, they did show some steady improvement during the second half of last season.They played lights out in their upset win over Kansas State and held a good UCLA offense to just 33 yards rushing in their Holiday Bowl victory.

Baylor returns their top four tacklers from last season with linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey, along with nickelback Ahmad Dixon being key players that could all garner All-Big 12 consideration when it’s all said and done.

Another player they will need a big season from is fifth-year senior defensive end, Chris McAllister. He led the team with six sacks in 2012 and was the defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl. With the high powered offenses Baylor will see in the Big 12, a big season from McAllister would give the Bears’ defense a big boost they have been missing along the defensive line.

 

CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?

Turfburner: I’d say a successful season for Baylor would be a top three finish in the Big 12. Is that too much to expect? Maybe, but at some point, Baylor has to take that next step and given the fact the Big 12 race looks to be wide open, now is as good a time as any to make it happen.

Art Briles has done an unbelievable job in turning around Baylor’s program since taking over in 2008, but with increased success also comes increased expectations. I think the bar has now officially been raised to the point where simply winning six games and qualifying for a bowl is no longer good enough.

The offense has always been there under Briles, but the defense has continued to be a major disappointment. We touched on this earlier, but if Baylor can find a way to keep teams out of the end zone with a greater frequency in 2013, I don’t think a top three finish is asking too much. But if we see the same Baylor defense as we have in the recent past, then another six or seven win season is likely in the cards which is my mind, would be a big disappointment.

 

Verdict:

After losing the Heisman Trophy Winner, RG3, to the NFL the Baylor Bears lost two games off of their win total from 2011 to 2012. But I think it's fair to say that this Baylor squad was still very good and they were just a play or two away. One of the biggest takeaways was the way they played down the stretch as they beat three ranked teams in their last four games (then #1 ranked Kansas State, Oklahoma State and UCLA).

Nick Florence filled in very well for RG3 but he was just a one-year stop gap at the position. This year junior Bryce Petty steps in and hopes to have similar success. Petty will have some play-makers to help him out. The big impact player will be RB Lache Seastrunk. In his first year with the Bears he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and averaged over 7 yards per carry. The Bears lose leading WR Terrance Williams but they do return Tevin Reese (53 rec, 18.0 ypc) and Levi Norwood (40 rec). One area of opportunity on the offense could the offensive line as the Bears return just 42 career starts as RT Troy Baker tore his left ACL in spring practice.

As good as the Baylor offense has been, the defense has been equally bad. Last year the Bears gave up 37.2 points per game and a whopping 50.4 in losses. The Bears return their best two players on the DL, Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister, and their top three LBs. They also return three of their top five defensive backs. This is Phil Bennett's (DC) third year at Baylor, will we start to see improvement this year? One area that Baylor needs to get significantly better is on third downs as they let their opponents convert of 50% last season. Get off the field and give the ball to your offense.

This year's schedule looks promising with just four true conference road games and Oklahoma and Texas at home. With the way Baylor plays offense, they will be a tough out this season and if the defense can make improvements then who knows? Until the defense takes the next step, Baylor will be a second tier Big 12 team but definitely one that you don't want on your schedule.

Prediction: 8-4

 

Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:

Independent: ArmyBYUIdahoNavyNew Mexico StOld Dominion
The American-  Cincinnati,  Houston, LouisvilleMemphis,  Rutgers,  SMUTempleUCFUConnUSF

 

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Student Section, This Given Sunday and Crossover Chronicles

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