Hidden gems key to Baylor's rise

Baylor’s rise from the bottom of the Big 12 to the top of the conference standings can be attributed to a lot of different things. Coach Art Briles’ confidence, an exciting offensive system that attracts playmakers and a clear plan to build the program have been key.

Recruiting plays a major role as well, but the most overshadowed characteristic of the rise has been the Bears’ ability to evaluate prospects. Year after year the Bears seem to have playmakers emerge who were overlooked during their prep days.

Here are five key contributors to Baylor’s first conference championship who represent BU’s ability to evaluate prep prospects.

Running back Shock Linwood, redshirt freshman

Then: A two-star recruit in the Class of 2012, Linwood had offers from Arkansas State, North Texas, UTSA and TCU. He was committed to the Horned Frogs before a late switch to Baylor.

Now: Linwood started several games with Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin battling injuries. He finished with 125 carries for 862 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry, with eight touchdowns. His quickness and slashing style created problems for Big 12 defenses. He had four 100-yard rushing games including in wins over Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Linebacker Eddie Lackey, senior

Then: A junior college signee, Lackey had offers from Hawaii and New Mexico State when he signed with Baylor in the Class of 2012.

Now: Lackey was the anchor of Baylor’s defense, which finished atop the Big 12 in several categories. He led the team with 97 tackles, 26 more than any other Bear. He added a team-high 13 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He played as well as any defender in the Big 12 and didn’t miss a game while being a driving force behind BU’s 11-1 regular-season record.

Receiver Antwan Goodley, junior

Then: A three-star signee in the Class of 2010, Goodley had offers from Arizona and Texas A&M.

Now: Goodley was the Big 12’s most productive receiver, giving defenses fits with his size, speed and big-play ability. He finished with 67 receptions for 1,319 yards, averaging 19.69 per catch, and 13 touchdowns to finish among the top five receivers in every Big 12 category.

Defensive tackle Beau Blackshear, sophomore

Then: A three-star defensive end prospect in the Class of 2011, Blackshear had offers from Houston and TCU.

Now: Blackshear was a quiet, consistent presence in the middle of the Bears' defensive line. He started 11 games, finishing with 31 tackles including five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He’s one reason Lackey and fellow linebacker Bryce Hager were able to finish 1-2 in tackles as he helped keep blockers off the Bears’ tackling duo.

Guard Desmine Hilliard, sophomore

Then: A two-star prospect in the Class of 2011, Hilliard had offers from Kansas and Kentucky.

Now: Hilliard worked his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore and looks poised be an anchor of the Baylor offensive front in the future. The Bears' offensive line was the foundation of the eye-popping success the Bears had on offense and was the reason BU led the league in rushing at 265.17 yards per game despite battling injuries at the running back position.