There’s a weak link on every team, but also a strength. This series will look at the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big 12 team heading into the fall.
We begin with the defending Big 12 champs, the Baylor Bears:
Strongest position: Quarterback
When a team has one of the nation’s five best players at a position coming back, that constitutes as a major strength. That’s what Baylor has in senior Bryce Petty.
In his first season as the starter, Petty threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 14 touchdowns and finished fifth in the FBS in Adjusted QBR.
Petty’s production tailed off the final fourth of the season, but much of that was due to injuries to running back Lache Seastrunk, wideout Tevin Reese and, especially, left tackle Spencer Drango, as Petty was under duress during the month of November. Drango, a first-team All-Big 12 pick last year, is expected to make a healthy return from back surgery, and restore Baylor’s blindside pass protection.
The Big 12 has several young up-and-coming quarterbacks, notably Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, but Petty should be the class of the league again.
And with a year of starting experience under his belt, Petty could be even better in 2014.
Honorable mention for Baylor’s strongest position goes to its collection of receivers. Antwan Goodley will be a preseason All-American candidate. Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller and Jay Lee are proven commodities. And Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon have the pedigrees to become stars at some point in their careers.
Weakest position: Defensive back
The Bears had a tremendous secondary last year, as opponents completed just 48 percent of their passes against Baylor. But All-American Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl, K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson all graduated, leaving safety Terrell Burt as the only returning starter from that group.
Sophomore Orion Stewart stepped up with the best spring of Baylor’s young defensive backs and should step into the deep safety role manned by Dixon last year.
Cornerback is the much bigger question, but the Bears have some intriguing options, including Chris Sanders, a juco transfer. Sanders originally signed with Georgia out of high school, but was booted off the Bulldogs during the first year. He has the talent to boost Baylor in a big way, but first must beat out Xavien Howard and also remain on the straight-and-narrow off the field. Like Stewart, sophomore Terrence Singleton had a banner spring, and has won a starting job for now at the other corner spot.
Underscoring the lack of proven performers in the secondary, walk-on senior Collin Brence exited the spring as Baylor’s starting nickelback.
With Petty back at the helm, the Bears should put up big points again and the defensive line has a chance to be disruptive, but the young secondary will need to come together for Baylor to repeat its success from last season.