Today, we break down Baylor, which finished the 2012 season as one of the hottest teams in the country.
Coach: Art Briles (67-58 overall, 10 seasons; 33-30 at Baylor, five seasons)
2012 record: 8-5 (4-5 Big 12)
Key losses: QB Nick Florence, WR Terrance Williams, WR Lanear Sampson, C Ivory Wade, S Mike Hicks
Newcomer to watch: The Bears return two starters at defensive end, but Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman is going to be a factor. Oakman is massive at 6-foot-9, 270 pounds. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett calls him “violent,” which is not the worst thing for a D-end to be termed.
Biggest games in 2013: Two games loom large on Baylor’s schedule. If the Bears can escape Manhattan, Kan., on Oct. 12 with a win, they have a very good chance to be undefeated going into a Thursday night clash with Oklahoma in Waco on Nov. 7. Baylor also plays host to Texas in the regular-season finale Dec. 7.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Bears had the second-worst defense statistically in college football last season. But the defense in late November was a far cry from the one that got torched for 70 points at West Virginia in September. During the Bears’ four-game winning streak to end the season, they forced eight interceptions and 18 tackles for loss.
With all the returning firepower on offense, the Bears are going to score points. But can they keep playing solid defense? That answer will determine whether Baylor can finally emerge as a viable Big 12 title contender.
Forecast: Few teams finished the 2012 season hotter than Baylor did. The Bears routed No. 1 Kansas State, outlasted Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, then annihilated UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
Going into this season, the Bears feature the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year (Seastrunk), return seven defensive starters and have a favorable start to the schedule. Maybe it’s time to take Baylor seriously as a Big 12 title contender. ESPN’s new advanced stats metric, EPA (expected points added), certainly appears to.
According to EPA, which accounts for the opposing unit's strength, Baylor had one of the top two offenses in college football in 2012, along with Texas A&M. The Bears also rapidly improved their defensive EPA late in the season by forcing negative plays against top-tier offenses.
There’s no reason Baylor can’t roll the momentum of last season into this one, either.
After topping 100 yards in five of his final six games in 2012, Seastrunk enters this season a Heisman hopeful. He and Martin, who added 15 touchdowns last season, supply the Bears with a lethal one-two punch out of the backfield.
The receiving corps appears loaded, too. Williams is gone, but Reese seems primed to take over as a viable No. 1 threat. Speedy freshmen Robbie Rhodes and Corey Coleman have been dynamic so far through fall camp, too.
The only unproven part of the offense is quarterback Bryce Petty. But Briles is confident Petty can keep his offense humming. Petty has prototypical size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), an NFL arm, and three years in Briles’ system learning from Robert Griffin III and Florence. What is a reasonable expectation for Petty? Briles answered, “To break every Baylor record there is offensively.”
If Petty is as good as Briles advertises -- and the Bears keep playing opportunistic defense -- Baylor will be a force to be reckoned with. And a legit conference title threat.