<
>

Baylor Bears preview

Seth Russell takes over Baylor's high-powered offense. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

What’s next after back-to-back Big 12 championships? Head coach Art Briles and his Bears, winners of 26 of their past 30 games, sure hope it’s not another College Football Playoff rejection. Expectations have never been higher in Waco, even with the uncertainty of a new quarterback running the show.

Offense

How the Bears beat you: Baylor runs the best quick-strike offense in college football, scoring in three plays or fewer 43 times over the past two seasons. But Briles wants 80 yards per play, not 10—and that requires innovation. “We’ve got to stay a step ahead because if you look down, there’s some chomping going on at the ankles,” Briles says. “Can’t let ’em catch us.” For all their passing pyrotechnics, the Bears still run the ball on 54 percent of snaps and are five-deep at running back in 2015. They claim they can exceed last year’s pace of 87.5 plays per game (No. 1 in the FBS) now that Kendal Briles, Art’s son, is the OC.

How you beat the Bears: If teams are risk takers, they should watch the West Virginia game tape and then get after new starting quarterback Seth Russell. The Mountaineers’ 10 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and physical coverage provided the perfect amount of disruption. Texas had initial success too, with an ever-changing assault of blitzes and coverages that threw the Bears off rhythm and resulted in 7-of-22 passing. Both held Baylor to fewer than 30 points. That’s as good as it gets against an offense loaded with NFL-caliber skill talent: Baylor is the only Power 5 team to return a top-30 running back (Shock Linwood) and two top-30 receivers (Corey Coleman and KD Cannon).

Defense

How the Bears beat you: The defense’s mission since 2013 has been to force three-and-outs (115 over that time) and create turnovers (plus-26 margin). And during that span, the Bears have ranked in the top five in the FBS in both categories. The disruption begins with one of the best defensive lines in the nation last season that returns all four starters, including mammoth senior DE Shawn Oakman (51 tackles, 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recovered fumbles) and junior NT Andrew Billings (37 tackles, 11 ½ TFL). That havoc should lead to even more opportunities for a secondary that also returns four starters, led by CB Xavien Howard and FS Orion Stewart, juniors who both had 4 picks last season.

How you beat the Bears: The problem with focusing on creating turnovers is that it often leads to giving up big plays. And Big 12 teams weren’t afraid to test the Bears’ defense deep; Baylor ranked No. 107 in the FBS with 264.2 pass yards allowed per game. The low point came against Texas Tech, when the Bears permitted 13 completions of 20-plus yards and 609 pass yards. TCU, WVU and OSU also capitalized on this secondary. Both starting corners and safeties return, so the Bears believe they can get back to covering with confidence on the back end.