With a 10-3 season now in the books after a 49-38 win over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl, we’re ready to start looking ahead to Baylor’s 2016 season. Here are five questions entering the offseason.
1. Can the Bears compete for the College Football Playoff? The mission won’t change next year for Art Briles and his Bears. They want another Big 12 title and they want a spot in the playoff. There’s some reloading to do, sure, and Oklahoma will probably be viewed as the league frontrunner for 2016. But the schedule is still relatively favorable, and there shouldn’t be much of a drop-off in terms of talent even after 11 starters depart. If Baylor can enjoy better luck on the injury front, this team should be in the playoff hunt.
2. What can we expect from Seth Russell? His recovery from season-ending neck surgery is on schedule, and he got to take off his neck brace last week. That’s encouraging progress, and the senior-to-be is expected to be healthy enough to participate in spring ball. After such a scary injury, it’s natural to wonder how long it’ll take Russell to feel like he’s back to normal. Baylor looked like one of the nation’s most dominant teams during his seven starts of 2015. Can he get back to playing at an elite level, and will Jarrett Stidham push him for the job?
3. Is Andrew Billings coming back? We should get an answer on this one soon. If Billings elects to turn down the NFL draft and return for his senior season, that’d be huge. The All-American nose tackle would be the best returning defensive player in the Big 12 and the valuable leader of a defensive line that loses seniors Shawn Oakman, Jamal Palmer and Beau Blackshear.
4. How will a new-look offensive line fare? Baylor had one of the nation’s top offensive lines in 2015, but five seniors are on their way out: All-American left tackle Spencer Drango, right tackle Pat Colbert and guards Jarell Broxton, Blake Muir and Desmine Hilliard. They combined for more than 130 career starts. There will be serious competition for the four vacant starting jobs, especially with a few junior college transfers coming in, and the new guys have to live up to a high standard.
5. Who are the next great freaks? Corey Coleman is heading to the NFL, but this offense is still loaded with exciting young pieces for 2016. Johnny Jefferson put on a show in the bowl victory over UNC, rushing for 299 yards and three scores. Watch out for a rising group of young receivers, too, that'll include sophomores Chris Platt and Ishmael Zamora and incoming ESPN 300 recruits Devin Duvernay and Tren’Davian Dickson.