2014 College Football Rankings: #10 Baylor

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#10 Baylor Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#10

Big 12 PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Art Briles, 44-32 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Philip Montgomery | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Bennett

Baylor is coming off its first outright conference title since 1980 and is poised to challenge for the Big 12 title once again. The Bears return one of college football’s top offenses, led by quarterback Bryce Petty and a receiving corps that is loaded with talent. The offensive line has to be revamped, and only four starters are back on defense. However, the personnel losses shouldn’t derail Baylor from pushing Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship in 2014.

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Previewing Baylor’s Offense for 2014: 

Not that any coach is ever relaxed, but there is nothing more soothing than having a returning starter at quarterback. After patiently waiting for his turn, Bryce Petty made the most of it, passing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns and leading Baylor to its first Big 12 championship, first BCS bowl appearance and the most wins in program history (11–2).

Petty goes into the 2014 season as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. But his chances could hinge on the development and overhaul of the offensive line. It looked more like a M.A.S.H. unit in the spring, with left tackle Spencer Drango having offseason back surgery, right tackle Troy Baker a year removed from ACL surgery and three others out with injuries. And that doesn’t even take into account having to replace two-time All-American Cyril Richardson and two other starters on the line.

Even without Tevin Reese, who left as the school’s No. 3 all-time leading receiver, Petty will have plenty of weapons at his disposal. At the top of that list is unanimous All-Big 12 choice Antwan Goodley, who hauled in 71 passes for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first year as a starter.

“Now, he’s the guy. He’s the featured guy,” coach Art Briles says. “And we’ve got guys around him that certainly can take a lot of that heat off him.” That includes Levi Norwood, Corey Coleman, Clay Fuller and Jay Lee, along with freshmen Davion Hall and KD Cannon.

Two-time All-Big 12 running back Lache Seastrunk left a year early for the NFL Draft, but the Bears are still loaded at running back with Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and freshmen Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the Baylor Bears for 2014:

 

Previewing Baylor’s Defense for 2014: 

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Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has to do a total makeover of an improved unit that ranked in the top 25 most of last season, allowing 360.3 yards and 23.5 points per game.

“These guys have sat there and watched all these four- and three-year starters that we’ve had on the defensive side of the ball win us a bunch of football games, win us two bowl games, win us a conference championship and get to a BCS bowl game,” Briles says. “It’s their turn to let their witness turn into production.”

Up front, the Bears have arguably their deepest and most talented line in years. Ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer combined for 23.5 tackles for a loss and are joined by Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu, sophomore Javonte Magee and the entire five-man rotation at tackle.

“I think our front four can be as good as anybody in America,” Briles says.
Linebacker is an issue, especially with middle man Bryce Hager out with a groin injury in the spring. But former prep running back Aiavion Edwards is an emerging talent. The secondary is also a work in progress with returning safety Terrell Burt missing all of spring drills. But Bennett loves cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Terrence Singleton, while sophomore Orion Stewart is replacing All-American Ahmad Dixon at the other safety spot.

Previewing Baylor’s Specialists for 2014: 

The Bears have to break in new starters at kicker (Chris Callahan), snapper (Jimmy Landes) and holder (Andrew Frerking). But senior punter Spencer Roth is a returning All-Big 12 pick and All-America candidate who ranked sixth nationally with a 45.8-yard average.

Final Analysis 

Defending an outright conference championship for the first time in 33 years, the Bears probably have too many question marks to give Oklahoma a serious fight for the top spot. But Baylor will be in the hunt and should have no problems going bowling for a fifth straight year.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Baylor No. 10:

1. The nation’s best offense?
The numbers for Baylor’s offense in 2013 were simply staggering. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per play, led the nation with 618.2 yards per game and recorded 13 plays of at least 60 yards. Only four starters on offense return for 2014, but the catalyst for last year’s unit – quarterback Bryce Petty – is back. Expect similar production from Baylor’s offense once again.

2. A rebuilt offensive line
It’s hard to find many weaknesses about Baylor’s offense in 2014, but the line is arguably the biggest area of concern. Guard Cyril Richardson departs after a standout career, leaving big shoes to fill on the line. Tackle Spencer Drango is recovering from back surgery and is expected to return in time for the season opener. However, can Drango return to full strength by the first game? Getting right tackle Troy Baker back to full strength after an ACL tear prior to the 2013 season will be a huge plus for this unit. Protecting Petty is a must for the Bears, so this unit needs to mesh before Big 12 play starts.

3. Road game at Oklahoma
Baylor’s 41-12 victory over Oklahoma last season played a crucial role in helping the Bears claim the Big 12 title. But the roles are reversed in 2014. Baylor has to play at Oklahoma on Nov. 8, which could swing the Big 12 title back in the favor of the Sooners.

4. Rebuilding the secondary
Baylor’s turnaround on defense was an underrated storyline in last year’s Big 12 title. The Bears return only four starters for 2014 and must replace standouts like safety Ahmad Dixon, linebacker Eddie Lackey and cornerbacks Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton. The secondary is arguably the biggest concern for coordinator Phil Bennett, as this unit led the Big 12 by holding opposing quarterbacks in the conference to a 47.2 completion percentage. Bennett needs a big year from Xavien Howard and Terrell Burt.

5. Talent at the skill positions
Assuming running back Shock Linwood picks up where he left off last year, Baylor is one of the deepest teams in the nation at the skill positions. Linwood averaged 6.9 yards per carry last season and assumes the No. 1 role with Lache Seastrunk off to the NFL. And the receiving corps is loaded with speed, athleticism and depth, including Antwan Goodley (18.9 ypc), Corey Coleman, Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller.

The Debate

Baylor or Oklahoma: Who Wins the Big 12 in 2014?

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